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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Goodbye Indonesia, I will miss you

Andrew Chan, left, Myuran Sukumaran in Bali's Kerobokan prison
Within days of my arrival, Indonesia's president, Joko Widodo, rejected the clemency pleas of Bali Nine heroin smugglers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, despite their remarkable rehabilitation.

From this moment their death by firing squad seemed inevitable.

Reporting on the lead-up to the executions was like watching a film, heart in mouth, that you already know ends tragically. I barely slept for weeks.

Relations between the two countries soured, exacerbated by Tony's Abbott's disastrous reminder of the billion dollars in aid Australia had donated after the 2004 tsunami.

"Australia and Indonesia are like divorced parents who have to stay together for the sake of the children," one Indonesian official told me.

The anger some Australians felt towards Indonesia at the time was visceral. I deplore the death penalty – now more than ever – but felt a responsibility not to fan the flames of hate.

Many Indonesians see drug smuggling through a different prism to Australians; a crime akin to cold-blooded murder or terrorism because it can lead to the deaths of addicts.

And there were also Indonesians who were deeply affected; among them the guards and fellow prisoners who became close to Chan and Sukumaran and their indefatigable lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, who has been fighting to end the death penalty in Indonesia since 1979.

Mulya would later describe the night the Australians were shot as the darkest moment of his life. "I failed. I lost," he tweeted, heartbroken, at 4am.

For a long time I didn't let myself acknowledge the executions had affected me. It seemed nothing in the face of the grief faced by Chan and Sukumaran's loved ones.

But I was haunted by photos of them as children, Sukumaran with a broad toothy grin and Chan an impish smirk.

For weeks afterwards I dreamed my son, 18 months old at the time, fell into a swimming pool. I would dive in and try to rescue him but each time his slippery, muscular body would squirm out of my hands until I realised I was powerless to save him. I would wake soaked in sweat, again and again.

I remember reading former Melbourne radio journalist Brian Morley's account of witnessing the hanging of Ronald Ryan in Melbourne and how it changed him. I marvelled he was still alive to tell the story. The last execution carried out in Australia seemed so long ago although it was only 1967.

Jokowi last year suggested Indonesians would eventually change their minds on execution laws, as citizens of other countries have done in the past.

I hope one day to write a retrospective piece when the death penalty seems as remote and archaic in Indonesia as it does in Australia.

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Source: Brisbane Times, Jewel Topsfield, January 13, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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