Thursday, January 19, 2006

Thoughts on an execution tonight

In a few hours over at the state prison in Raleigh, Perrie Dyon Simpson is going to be brought into a small room with a gurney and a window, on the other side of which will be several witnesses. Simpson will be placed on the gurney, strapped down and have needles inserted into the veins of his arms. Upon being given a signal from the warden, unseen technicians will push a button that will deliver three intravenous injections into Simpsons's body: Sodium thiopental to render unconsciousness. Pancuronium causing muscle paralysis. And then potassium chloride to stop his heart.

I've had mixed feelings about capital punishment over the course of my life. I used to be strongly supportive of it. But the path my spiritual life has taken me, especially in the past decade, has led me to believe that it's wrong to take life, that it's left only for God to do that. The only exception being in situations of self-defense, when killing someone is not only the right thing to do but the moral one also, however terrible one may find the idea of taking another's life.

That said, I can't see how Perrie Dyon Simpson deserves anything but death. And it would have been wrong for Governor Mike Easley to grant him clemency. Easley denied Simpson's request earlier today, clearing the way for execution after midnight tonight. Had Easley granted it, he would have nullified the decision of the jury that sentenced Simpson more than twenty years ago. If capital punishment had been abolished in North Carolina by act of legislation, Simpson could have received life in prison. But that never happened... and it would be wrong to decree otherwise by decision of the executive when there is no possible mitigating circumstance in this affair. It may be one of the few things about having a system of checks and balances that we still have in our government, and that has to be respected and upheld. And unfortunately for Simpson, he's going to reinforce that tenet of republican government with his life.

But it was his choice over two decades ago that led him to this night, and no other's. And call me "hypocrite" if you wish but in spite of the part of me that hates the thought of another man dying, justice has to be served, and punishment for evil meted out if there is to be any semblance of law in a society. And if capital punishment is the route that the people of this state have chosen, then few paid for their ticket more than Perrie Dyon Simpson. More than twenty-one years later and this is still something that literally sickens me to think about. It was on a summer night in 1984 that Simpson and his girlfriend Stephany Eurie came to the house of 92-year old retired preacher Jean E. Darter in Reidsville, my old hometown. The day before Darter had given Simpson and Eurie four dollars, some food and use of his home's telephone. When they came back the following night Simpson repaid Darter's kindness with quite possibly the most gruesome murder that anyone in this area ever heard of. I was ten years old when this happened, and I'll never forget the stories I heard about how they found Darter's body... stories that turned out to be all too true. Someone I came to know several years later served on the jury that sentenced Simpson to death: he said that he was against capital punishment too. But the things - like the crime-scene photographs - that he saw in the courtroom shivered his blood too much that he had no choice but to hand down the death penalty... said he would have felt guilty to not have given it to Simpson.

You know, to take the life of anyone, for any reason, is the most terrible failure of all. It means that despite everything you could have possibly done, and despite every desire you had to avoid bloodshed at all costs, you have failed to convince another person of the wrongfulness of their actions. And depleting every other course of action, the only action left to take... indeed, the only action demanded... is to deprive that person of mortal life. That's the core of the belief in the "just war", I think: war is something to be abhorred above all other things on this earth, but sometimes the corruptness of human nature leads to war without alternative. We just have to make damned sure that there is no other option left but to go to war, and for the right reasons: none of which have to do with political or financial gain. But I digress...

Perrie Dyon Simpson is going to die tonight. This society failed to utterly convince him that the brutal murder of his fellow man is wrong. But he failed us by refusing to live by rules that are above worldly jurisdiction: the same rules that most of us do abide by. And tonight he's going to pay for that failure with his life.

Maybe capital punishment is a moral thing after all: maybe this is one way how we defend the right for each of us to live as God would have us do so. But necessary though it may be, I still do not enjoy the thought of another man being deprived of that life for any reason...

...but then, that it has to be this way isn't really God's fault, is it?