Perhaps due to my own naiveté and lack of awareness on the matter, I was wholeheartedly in support of the death penalty before the age of 17. This is not to say that I thought that everyone who commits a crime should be put to death. Rather, I thought that individuals who were convicted of homicide and other severe crimes deserved to be punished accordingly. I was very much in the “an eye for an eye” mindset, albeit I was ignoring the second part of the phrase.
The summer before our freshman year of high school, my best friend’s cousin was brutally raped and murdered while out jogging. I don’t think I can ever adequately articulate the rage and hatred I harbored towards this man who I had never met before. I had never met my friend’s cousin either, but witnessing the pain and heartache that this one person caused her and her family, who I was very close to, unleashed something in me that I had never felt before. This man had taken the life of another—a beautiful person who had hopes for the future and plans for a family— and I felt that it was only fair that he be treated the same way.
I was raised in the Catholic Church, and a pretty prominent tenet of the faith is that all life is precious and deserves to be treated equally. While I would not say that I identify as a Catholic, I think that this is a belief that is shared amongst many different people. I also attended a Catholic high school, and in the religion class of my sophomore year, we covered the death penalty in one of our units. We all shared our feelings and thoughts on the death penalty, and it seemed that the class was pretty evenly split between those who were for it and those who were against it. To conclude the lesson, our teacher had us watch the movie Dead Man Walking. about a man, played by Sean Penn, who is convicted on death row, and a nun, played by Susan Sarandon, who attempts to have his sentence reduced to life imprisonment and ultimately counsels him through his execution.
Although I was initially adamant that I couldn’t be budged, the movie changed my perspective entirely, to say the least. Penn manages to garner sympathy for his character, who was a racist, arrogant, sexist man who killed a teenage boy and raped his teenage girlfriend; he made a murderer seem human, and I don’t think anyone in the classroom that day left without tears that day.
While I do believe that there are some individuals who are truly evil and there is no chance that they will ever change their ways, some people are raised in unfortunate circumstances and are a product of their upbringing. Some people act in self-defense. No matter the case, I am now a rather firm believer in rehabilitation, and I believe that the most severe sentence that a judge should be able to assign is life imprisonment. I think the main reason why I think that the death penalty is so awful is because of how many people are wrongly convicted of crimes and later exonerated. It is one thing to sentence an innocent person to life in jail and later uncover that they were innocent; it is another to put an innocent person to death and uncover the truth too late.
In the case of Melissa Lucio, a Texas woman who is currently on death row for the death of her 2-year old daughter in 2007, new evidence has recently been uncovered that may support the fact that her daughter’s death was, in fact, an accident. Not only has one of the jurors who convicted Lucio a decade ago spoke out and said that they felt pressured to convict her, Lucio admitted to murdering her child under duress. While there is much more to be said in regard to this specific case, it is just one example of how an innocent person could be wrongfully executed for a crime they did not commit at the hands of a system that failed them. If I had to use one word to describe the death penalty, I would say it is barbaric. An eye for an eye makes the world blind. Do criminals deserve to be punished? Yes, absolutely, but even if you are not religious, like myself, how can you support the ending of another life? This is perhaps one of very few issues where I will never be able to understand the viewpoint of someone who supports the opposite position to me, and I say this as someone who once supported the death penalty. Hopefully, our current president, who is in opposition to capital punishment, will do something to outlaw the death penalty in the 27 states where it is still legal.