Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Rhoades Execution

Today the Idaho Department of Corrections announced that inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades had been served with a death warrant. The state of Idaho will execute the death row inmate on November 18th. It will be the first execution of a prisoner conducted by the state of Idaho since 1994. Having exhausted all of his appeals, including a lawsuit against the state challenging the legality of the method of execution, he will be put to death by lethal injection.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you likely noticed last month when my attention turned to the Georgia execution of Troy Davis. As I said repeatedly then, I cannot, will not and do not support the death penalty. The case of Troy Davis made the news because there was a complete lack of proof of his guilt. Uproar surrounding the execution of Troy Davis arose due to his apparent innocence. That was not the only reason to oppose his execution. Those of us opposed to the death penalty also had our sights on an execution taking place in Texas--the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer. Brewer was found guilty of the murder of James Byrd, Jr. and there was never any doubt as to his guilt. The Brewer and Davis cases could not have been any more different, but their result the same. I find it perplexing when others support putting to death one prisoner, Brewer, but not another, Davis.

My personal belief about the death penalty takes into account two things. First, as was discussed around the execution of Troy Davis, the impact of carrying out an execution on the lives of the prison guards, staff, doctors and wardens. Taking a life, even if it is state sanctioned has horrendous costs. And second, the potential of executing an innocent man. Far too many men and women on death row have been exonerated which suggests the obvious--that the justice system is not perfect and mistakes are made. The exonerations also mean that inevitably we have put to death innocent prisoners.

Despite believing that the death penalty is flawed, as is the justice system that accounts for inmates on death row, I have found the announcement that Idaho will execute Paul Ezra Rhoades challenging. I find it challenging not because I believe he should be put to death for his crimes, but because I thought about how it reflects on me that I don't. Why do I say this? A personal connection.

Paul Ezra Rhoades was convicted in Idaho of three murders, though all told he is believed to have murdered at least six people. One of the three murders he was convicted of in Idaho was the sister of a family friend. I know what her death did to her family. I have seen the cost, the pain and the anger. However, knowing what I do, I cannot fathom any amount of closure or relief coming from the state executing Rhoades. It will not bring back his victims and it will not make what he did any less evil. If the law enforcement officials who brought Rhoades to justice will not find any satisfaction in his execution, what satisfaction can the state find in their killing him?

Unfortunately, in my life I have known the families of two victims of horrific murders. The murderer of the first victim was convicted and sentenced to death, but died on death row before the state could execute him. Why I say I have been challenged by how it reflects on me that I don't believe Rhoades should be executed is because I have thankfully never before been in the position to question how my opposition to the death penalty meshed with knowing the pain, loss and anger of someone whose loved one was taken by someone who is actually about to be executed. My personal connection in this case has only solidified my belief that the death penalty serves no reasonable purpose. It brings no closure. It deters no crime. It kills the guilty and occasionally the innocent. Is that a trade we are willing to make? I'm not. It solves no problem that lifetime incarceration can't. It sanctions the act of vengeance without returning the innocence that was lost in the commission of the crime itself. The cost is just too high.

When Paul Ezra Rhoades is put to death on November 18th, nothing will have changed for the families of his victims and his death will eliminate no major burden for the state of Idaho. He will simply be the fourteenth inmate executed in Idaho since statehood and one less person on Idaho's death row.

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