March 25, 2002
It is strange how fundamentalists will vigorously defend
the rights of a small collection of cells numbering in the
low powers of two, yet support the death penalty at the same
time. It is even stranger how quickly they will shift their
gears when one of their own commits murder. Suddenly, the
rhetoric changes from "what part of 'thou shalt not kill'
don't you understand?" to "she was mentally incapacitated
and therefore not responsible for what she did." The sharp
line of transition between black and white suddenly softens
into the shades of gray that fundamentalists have been insisting
for eons do not exist.
I am strongly opposed to the death penalty, whether the
victim is some nameless stranger or someone close to me. I
oppose the death penalty because it is impossible to be objective
enough to apply it evenly across the board. If Andrea Yates
hadn't received so much media attention, if she didn't receive
so much support from the fundamentalist Christians who joined
the usual anti-death penalty people in an odd-bedfellows sort
of alliance to defend her, or if she were, say, African-American,
she would most certainly be on Death Row right now. Fundamentalist
Christianity didn't save Karla Faye Tucker; instead of showing
what might be construed as mercy, understanding, or sympathy,
all apparently traits unbecoming a conservative Republican
candidate for President of the United States, then-Governor
George W. Bush publicly laughed at her. Why should fundamentalist
Christianity have saved Andrea Yates, who killed five children,
who did nothing to her, in a bathtub full of water? What a
difference media attention makes.
Betty Beets, killed her abusive husband, was also executed
in Texas last year. I doubt the attorney representing her
was anywhere near the caliber of Ms. Yates defense counsel.
Judging from the picture of her shown on some anti-death penalty
websites, she also wasn't as, shall we say, photogenic, as
Ms. Yates. Of course, killing someone who fundamentalists
say you should submit to, even if that someone is abusive
to the point where one might argue that the deed was done
in self-defense, is not the same as drowning one's own children
one at a time, chasing the oldest one (who caught on to what
was going on) through the house.
I am not disagreeing with the Yates verdict. Despite passionate
arguments that she was mentally incapacitated, a jury who
had the benefit of far better testimony than is usually the
case in the Lone Star State decided that she was indeed guilty,
yet decided against sending her to Death Row. So be it. My
complaint is that most defendants, including many who had
good reasons to do what they did, aren't dealt with as fairly
as Ms. Yates was, particularly in places like Texas. Furthermore,
regardless of whether one personally believes the death penalty
is actually an effective means of justice, the failure to
be sufficiently objective in dispensing death sentences undermines
whatever deterrent value such punishment is supposed to have
in reducing violent crime.
Is Texas finally waking up? Until the mentally ill, retarded,
youthful offenders, or spuriously convicted who remain on
Texas' Death Row have their sentences reviewed and adjusted
in accordance with the Yates precedent, I seriously doubt
it. Until this happens, I will remain steadfast in my belief
that the Yates sentencing was the product of Establishment
Clause defying, double-standard politics, nothing more.
The author is a recovering Republican who publishes a somewhat partisan webzine
in his spare time.