By Kay Helbling
With the conviction of Joel Courtney for the kidnap, rape, torture and death of Brook Wilberger, as with all horrific crimes, comes the discussion of the death penalty. There are those who argue for and against it on religious grounds—“eye for an eye” vs. “thou shall not kill”. There are those who argue for and against on practical grounds—“see that he never kills again” vs. “it costs more to go through the many layers of appeal processes than to simply house for life.” All these arguments have merit.
I certainly could pick a side or two I agree with on both a religious or practical argument. However, when placed in a position to defend or advocate for the death penalty, my reasoning is marked by a comment made by a Texas Governor almost a decade ago. He was in a contentious political race and his opponents were using the number of convicts put to death in the Texas prisons as a way to show him as a man with a “dark heart”.
He commented that it was not about whether he was for or against putting a criminal to death, it was about following the law of the state, and the law in the state of Texas required the death penalty. As he spoke I could see the depth of the pain in his eyes and thought to myself, “These criminals continue their crime spree. Even while in prison they leave a path of pain of the innocent. This Governor is being victimized by having to carry the weight of this man’s life in his hands.”
Besides the usual victims, each person who carries out the death penalty must wrestle with the wrong or right of the part they were required to play in taking someone’s life or witnessing the taking of a life. Imagine a Governor who doesn’t believe in the death penalty and sees no legal justification for a stay of execution. He must grant the order to take a life. The prison guards must prepare and attend to the convict. The doctors administer the lethal dose. The news reporters must witness the execution to cover the story. Family members who already are victimized by the murder must live through years of trials and appeals before the final justice is administered. All are affected for the rest of their lives.
Even in trial and execution the murderer continues his spree of torture. Instead, I believe the humane approach is to have a true life prison sentence. Not as an act of humanity toward the criminal—he deserves none—but as an act of humanity for the innocent.
The family of Brooke Wilberger have seen the beast and will hopefully be spared some degree of continued pain. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
“Death penalty: To ease a family, spare a beast? ” kval.com
“Closure comes slowly in capital cases” . Registerguard
Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner, and a teacher for ten. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now enjoying an empty nest with her best friend—her husband.