News that the state of California had executed its oldest death row inmate hardly caught my attention. D.'s only comment after we heard about Clarence Ray Allen's failed appeals on the radio this morning was, while he hates the death penalty as much as anyone, "if it isn't cruel and unusual punishment to execute a 55-year-old man, then it isn't cruel and unusual to execute a 75-year-old man." I told him he could feel secure in the knowledge that Governor Schwarzenneger and the California Supreme Court agreed with him.
I hate the death penalty, too. I hate it (among other reasons) because it substitutes revenge, one of humankind's basest impulses, for justice and mercy, which are among the more elevated and elevating aspects of the intellects God gave us. I've heard it complained that such arguments can only be made by people who haven't lost loved ones to violent crimes. That's exactly correct, but I think its correctness only proves my point. No one has ever expressed that idea better than my old law school friend, J.D., who was at the time one of the staunchest law-and-order hardasses I'd ever met. J.D. said, "If someone did something to hurt my mother, I wouldn't want them in jail for life. I'd want to kill them with my bare hands." She paused, and then added, "that's why I'm against the death penalty."
Another reason to hate the death penalty is the hypocrisy evidenced by so many of its supporters and agents, as illustrated so aptly in a CNN story on Mr. Allen's demise:
Having suffered a heart attack back in September, Allen had asked prison authorities to let him die if he went into cardiac arrest before his execution, a request prison officials said they would not honor.
"At no point are we not going to value the sanctity of life," said prison spokesman Vernell Crittendon. "We would resuscitate him," then execute him.