07/07/2011 06:19 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2011

Can the Death Penalty Deliver Justice or Peace?

Humberto Leal García Jr., who was convicted in 1994 in San Antonio Texas of brutally raping and bludgeoning 16-year-old Adria Sauceda to death with a block of asphalt, is scheduled to die by injection today (July 7) in Texas.

I have a 16-year-old daughter. I can well imagine murdering Leal myself. I have prayed, today, for the soul of Adria Sauceda and for the consolation of those who love her.

The case is complicated -- and unique in that the convict scheduled for execution this evening is a Mexican national who has lived in the United States since he was a toddler. Leal's attorney maintains that his rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations were violated. Many legal experts and others fear such a breach sets dangerous precedent for United States citizens arrested and charged with crimes in other nations.

In one sense, however, Leal's case is not unique. Leal is not the only convict on Death Row in Texas. Texas executed a man a little over a week ago, bringing the June total to three. Five more inmates are scheduled for execution in Texas this summer. Unless Leal is granted a stay today, he will be strapped to a table and put to death on the taxpayer's nickel with the help of pharmaceuticals no medical doctor can ever, in good faith, administer. Many people of faith will cheer.

While I find it almost impossible to sympathize with Leal's suffering, I believe, as a person of faith, it is unjust and immoral for any state in the United States to put this killer to death.

Though I pray for the soul of the the child Leal murdered, and for the solace of those who continue to mourn, I hold out hope today, that Leal will receive the stay of execution that will preserve his life.

Certainly "people of faith" so to speak have no monopoly on the kind of ethics and morality that drive the anti-death penalty argument. My hunch is that atheists probably surpass (in my opinion, as in so much else, morally and ethically speaking) their "religious" counterparts when it comes to knowing the truth about the death penalty. Still, perhaps because I am one, it vexes me to know that so many "Christians" zealously support the execution of criminals.

My fellow progressives in the Roman Catholic Church have a pretty good track record when it comes to opposing the death penalty -- and we are joined in this by Catholics of all stripes, some of whom see the death penalty as a "pro-life" issue.

On the other hand, some conservative "cafeteria Catholics" engage in mighty strenuous rationalizing when it comes to parsing Vatican teaching in such a way as to make it possible to wriggle free of the pontiff's teaching and arrive at a Christ-friendly rationale for killing inmates. For the doctrinally strict constructionist Roman Catholic, this is quite a push. Deft sophistry is needed, because both John Paul II and the current pontiff have argued in favor of the abolition of the death penalty in all but very rare cases. Ironic, in the context of the Leal case, is that it was only a year ago that Benedict XVI praised Mexico for abolishing the death penalty:

It cannot be overemphasized that the right to life must be recognized in all its fullness... In this context, I joyfully welcome the initiative by which Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2005...

It was a little over a year ago that I had the privilege of hearing former prison warden Ron McAndrew speak on the subject of the death penalty. McAndrew spoke of working his way up from the bottom rung of Florida's correctional system, spending 23 years as a warden and presiding over executions (by both electric chair and lethal injection) in Florida. He described how a botched execution -- a chair malfunctioned, and the convict's head caught fire, and McAndrew gave the order to continue -- and the custom of faintly celebratory post-execution breakfasts led him to arrive at the firm belief that state execution was a grave, intolerable wrong.

Looking back, I wish I had never been involved in carrying out the death penalty. We have an alternative that doesn't lower us to the level of the killer: permanent imprisonment. It is cheaper, keeps society safe and offers swift justice to the victims


Although I heard the Roman Catholic McAndrew recount his "conversion" (as he called it) while seated in a mostly Roman Catholic audience in a Catholic parish hall, I was struck by feeling that McAndrews had been "double-teamed" by secular ethics and God. (You can read McAndrew's story in his own words on Ron To hear McAndrew tell it, capital punishment not only debases the spirit of those who execute -- it also, in a sense, lets the convict off easy:

Sentencing someone to life without the possibility of parole has to be the most horrible punishment on earth ... Killing them is releasing them of being locked up in a little six foot by nine foot concrete-and-steel cell.

The death penalty does not reduce the incidence of murder; rather, it contributes to a climate of murder. It does not save money; it costs money.

So what is the upside? Does the sweet, salty taste of bloody vengeance truly satisfy?

According to a report that appeared in the July 6 Atlantic, "our [U.S.] league of capital punishment nations" puts us on a list with the following nations: India, Japan, Nigeria, Uganda, Botswana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, etc.

The company we keep in refusing to abolish the death penalty in the United States reveals much.

Were he to weigh in on the mater of the death penalty, what would Yeshua say?

I confess that as the mother of a 16-year-old daughter, I understand all too well the desire to see Humberto Leal García Jr. dead. I understand too how his death might seem to promise a tiny measure of peace. But my faith tells me that it's false hope and a promise destined to be broken.

Strapping Leal to a table tonight and stopping his heart will not un-break the hearts of those who mourn the Adria Sauceda. Nor will it bring anyone peace.