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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…

Tennessee: Death penalty's toll on state's executioners

US execution
The criminal justice system is divided into 3 distinct but equally important components -- law enforcement, courts and corrections.

There is no textbook that can adequately prepare students for what they will face if they decide to pursue a career in corrections in Tennessee or any state with the death penalty.

That's especially the case, if they decide to work with inmates on death row or with the team that carries out executions.

At LeMoyne-Owen College, it is my job to help prepare students who want to become law enforcement officers, court personnel professionals, or correctional staff/officials for the realities of the profession.

While my colleagues and I do our best to provide an accurate account, there are limits to how much we can prepare a criminal justice professional to be responsible for taking the life of another, even if it is state-condoned.

The toll that this grave responsibility will take on a person is unpredictable. We have seen this all too clearly when our soldiers return home from battle suffering from great emotional distress.

Tennessee plans to execute Billy Ray Irick on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, after an almost nine-year hiatus with no executions. The state is also planning to use a compounded version of the drug midazolam as part of the lethal injection cocktail, a drug that has caused problematic executions nationwide.

A number of correctional staff/officials have started speaking out about their own experiences of carrying out executions, and the impact their involvement has had on them mentally, emotionally, and physically. Their stories are disturbing.

On Aug. 2, 2018, at Evergreen Presbyterian Church, Frank Thompson will share his experiences as superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary from 1994-1998. In this capacity, he supervised the only 2 executions that the state carried out in the modern era of the death penalty.

When Thompson began his career as superintendent of the prison, he was a death penalty supporter. Today, knowing what the process has done to him and some of his former staff, he no longer supports the death penalty.

In a 2016 opinion piece in The New York Times, Thompson reflected:

"After each execution, I had staff members who decided they did not want to be asked to serve in that capacity again. Others quietly sought employment elsewhere. A few told me they were having trouble sleeping, and I worried they would develop post-traumatic stress disorder if they had to go through it another time.

"Together, we had spent many hours planning and carrying out the deaths of 2 people. The state-ordered killing of a person is premeditated and calculated, and inevitably some of those involved incur collateral damage. I have seen it. It's hard to avoid giving up some of your empathy and humanity to aid in the killing of another human being. The effects can lead to all the places you'd expect: drug use, alcohol abuse, depression and suicide."

I am confident that Tennessee's correctional staff will strive to carry out executions with the utmost professionalism. Additionally, I believe that asking state employees to participate in the killing of another human being is too much of a burden, particularly given the high profile problems with executions using midazolam in other states and the added trauma that a problematic execution can cause.

Source: The Commercial Appeal, Opinion; Bruce Cole, July 30, 2018. Mr. Cole is director of the Accelerated Studies for Adults and Professionals Criminal Justice Program at LeMoyne-Owen College.


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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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