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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 r…

Ohio: Retired warden supports clemency for death-row inmate Ray Tibbetts

Raymond Tibbets
The Ohio Parole Board will hear the case of Ray Tibbetts on Thursday.

I spent almost 30 years of my life working in the Ohio prison system, beginning as a chaplain at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. I later worked in a number of other positions, eventually serving as warden at Madison, London and Pickaway correctional institutions. My time working directly with inmates showed me what my faith had always taught me was true: All life has value, even those who have committed horrible and despicable acts and that change and rehabilitation are possible.

Based on my experience, I believe that Ray Tibbetts’ death sentence should be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In February, Gov. John Kasich asked the Ohio Parole Board to take another look at Tibbetts’ case because of a highly unusual circumstance: A juror, Ross Geiger, came forward to ask for mercy for Tibbetts.

In a letter to the governor, the juror said that if he had heard the detailed evidence about the brutality and abuse Tibbetts suffered as a child and other strong mitigating evidence that wasn’t presented at trial, he would have voted for a sentence of life without parole. Under our rules in Ohio, if one juror — in this case, Geiger — had voted for life without parole, Tibbetts would not have ended up on death row.

As Geiger explained in his letter, Tibbetts’ trial attorneys utterly failed to present compelling evidence that would have caused him to spare Tibbetts’ life. Tibbetts was severely abused and repeatedly abandoned throughout his childhood. When he was age 2, Tibbetts and his siblings were placed in foster care. Even though the prosecutor at trial told the jury that foster care was the best thing that ever happened to Tibbetts, he and his siblings were malnourished, routinely beaten and humiliated.

Tibbetts and his siblings endured a variety of cruel punishments such as being tied in their beds, lying in their own urine all night, being forced to stand until they collapsed and being denied food but forced, as they cried from hunger, to watch their foster family eat.

All of the siblings were deeply scarred by their upbringing with one committing suicide and others suffering with mental illness, addiction, homelessness and incarceration. For Tibbetts, his abusive childhood resulted in serious drug and alcohol addiction as an adult.

Backgrounds like Tibbetts’ are all too common for people who enter our prison system. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction recognizes this, and like the department’s name suggests, is dedicated to not only protecting the public, but also offering rehabilitative opportunities to the incarcerated.

Considering all that Tibbetts went through as a child, his ability to overcome and find success and sobriety as an adult inmate is a credit to the department.

I understand Tibbetts’ life has been transformed through his Christian faith and serves as a spiritual resource to other incarcerated men. He is active in a prison ministry and provides messages of hope, support and redemption through correspondence with others who are incarcerated. He is no longer the troubled criminal, addicted to drugs and alcohol, as he was when he entered death row 20 years ago. He is remorseful, reflective and reformed.

To be sure, Tibbetts must be held accountable for his actions, but executing a changed man who committed a terrible deed does not make our justice system just. There is nothing redemptive about the death penalty. It not only removes the offender, no matter how far removed from the original offense, but it also affects those who carry out the execution.

Correctional personnel, from corrections officers up through the ranks to wardens and above, also carry the lingering weight of taking a life, a burden no one should have to carry.

By all accounts, by the grace of God, Tibbetts has experienced a radical transformation. I understand he is a model inmate, a positive influence inside the cellblock as he shares his story. If Tibbetts is granted clemency, he will never return to free society. He will be able to continue functioning as an example of a changed life and a redeemed person, an asset though limited by his confinement.

For Tibbetts, court appeals are over. But the parole board, with its recommendation, and Gov. Kasich, with his ultimate decision, can fix this injustice. I pray that they find the strength to do what is right, affirming truth and acknowledging the value of a changed life, and spare the life of Ray Tibbetts.

Alexander served as one of the first chaplains at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility and in several administrative positions there. He also is a former warden of the Madison, London, and Pickaway correctional institutions. He resides in Delaware, Ohio.

Source: Akron Beacon Journal, George D. Alexander, June 11, 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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