By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
I ask you to simply take a moment to reflect on the headline to this column. My question to you is, as a society that has the death penalty, what makes us different than those we execute even if they are guilty? Where do we get the right to take life any more than they?
Are you pro-life? Then why are you for the death penalty? Didn’t you say you were pro-life and you believe that God gives life and only God can take life? If that is the case, then how can you (meaning all of us) take life? Isn’t there an inconsistency here?
Oh, I heard a good justification from a right-wing radio station the other day that the answer is a simple one. Being pro-life is supporting an innocent child, while being supportive of the death penalty is because the perpetrator of a crime is not innocent but guilty. Really?
Can you for one moment believe that here in this country we have never executed an innocent person? If not, then you believe that we have executed innocent human beings (God’s children)! Since we are fallible and religious human beings, shouldn’t we leave those decisions up to God and let vengeance be up to Him, if that is even possible for a kind and loving God who forgives “70 times 7,” as the Bible tells us? Wow, these are not easy questions to answer if we simply take a moment to think them through.
Well, I have thought them through and have come to the realization that I am pro-life. I am truly pro-life, and that is that I am opposed to abortion (this may shock my Democratic friends) and I am opposed to the death penalty (this may shock my Republican friends). I am truly pro-life!
I spent an entire career in law enforcement, including the position of U.S. Marshal. Marshals are charged as their duty by law to supervise federal executions. There is a provision in the law that allows for a Marshal to opt out because of philosophical or religious grounds. Had I been confronted with that decision, I would have recused myself on those grounds. During my term, there was one incident that it might have happened.
Prison life isn’t easy, as some might believe. To think that you could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole would certainly cause me to prefer to be executed. I am certain that many who are sentenced in that way would agree with me.
Just this past week, we saw the execution of Troy Davis by the State of Georgia, despite a worldwide movement of people, including the Pope and former presidents, calling for the execution not to be carried out. Seven of nine witnesses at his trial recanted their testimony and there was no DNA or physical evidence offered at trial some 22 years ago to prove his “guilt.” Was he guilty or innocent; we will never know.
When seven of nine witnesses recant their testimony, is that enough to create doubt? What was the situation when they first offered their testimony 22-plus years ago in the Southern State of Georgia, accusing this black man of killing an off duty police officer?
Regardless of whether the victim of this terrible crime was a police officer or an ordinary citizen, it matters not. The question is simply guilt or innocence. The other question is the sentence of death and its application, just or unjust and in whose eyes? I firmly believe the sentence of death is simply wrong.
Had he been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and later his “innocence” had been proven, we could at least make it as right as may be possible under the circumstances. We could release him and hopefully still be able to find the guilty party with no statute of limitations for capital offenses. In the death-sentence case, that can never be possible!
Since DNA has been introduced as evidence to convict people, we have also found that DNA has also been introduced to prove innocence to a significant number of people, several on death row. What if we had executed them? Some may say, well it only occurred in a few cases or that guy had been a criminal all along. Hey, we make a few mistakes, so what! I simply ask, what if you were the person wrongly accused and you were put to death? So what!
Aren’t we better than this as a country? I would certainly hope so. As a matter of fact, I firmly believe that we are. We simply have to not let our emotions control what our mind tells us differently.
In the United States there are 34 states with the death penalty and 16 states without it. Thankfully, the State of Maine does not have it. There have been attempts to get bills passed and simple sanity has prevailed. Four of the six New England States, except Connecticut and New Hampshire, do not have the death penalty.
We here in Maine stand with the following countries that have abolished or never had the death penalty. They are: Albania, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niue, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome And Principe, Senegal, Serbia (including Kosovo), Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, Togo, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu and Venezuela.
Unfortunately, these are the countries that have the death penalty and, of course, the United States of America stands with them. Should we be proud to stand with these countries? Here they are: Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Chad, China, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad And Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States Of America, Viet Nam, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
I could go on with statistics that show that it is far more costly to execute a prisoner rather than incarcerate him/her for life. I could go on to show that it is not a deterrent to commit murder because if it were, why would we have murders? I could go on to show that by incarceration for life, we can protect society as well as by execution. On and on, but I’ll let you explore the pros and cons to the death penalty. Certainly, you have my opinion.
All in all, I find no justifiable reason for abortion and the death penalty. Now, I know that I have upset a great many people. But, know this folks, as a columnist (if I may call myself that, since I write a weekly column and I just happen to be a mayor), I am entitled to an opinion and that is what columnists do. I, in good conscience, cannot be deterred by my conscious beliefs. I share them with you for your consideration.
But know this, I am a true pro-lifer. Are you? Think about it!
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.