I have problems with the pro-death penalty and the anti-death penalty crowds. Those who support the death penalty as a deterrent to crime tend to not want to admit that the system can be wrong at times and has executed innocent people in the past. For the most part the death penalty crowd is made up of knee-jerk reactionaries who not only favor capital punishment but favor expatiated death for the convicted. They view greater safeguards against wrongful convictions as a weakness in fighting crime and are upset that it takes so long to kill the convicted. Often they dismiss the possibility of people being wrongfully convicted (and outright dismiss the very real factors of race and class); because they have such an undying love for law-enforcement and it is hard for the crowd that supports the death-penalty to admit that police can also make mistakes.
Those belonging to organizations opposing the death penalty have their own shortcomings. It is not enough for them to oppose the death penalty on moral and ethical grounds; they have to also make those sentenced to die out to be angels and believe any bullshit story of innocence invented by the defense. There are few who can make me as nauseous as self-righteous naïve liberals and capital punishment is one of their biggest issues. When they gather for these vigils on the night of executions one who didn’t know better would get the impression that the state is getting ready to snuff out Mother Teresa. Lost in their argument are the victims of the crime.
The State of Missouri executed Marlin Gray last week while I was in Virginia. Gray was convicted for being the leader of a group of young men who raped and killed Robin and Julie Kerry on the Chain of Rocks Bridge in North St. Louis is 1991.
Let us first state that this was a particularly brutal crime in which two young sisters were raped back to back by the accused and were then forced to jump off the bridge along with a male cousin.
Now, because of some procedural errors, police misconduct and racial overtones many called for the life of Gray to be speared; few actually believed his claims of innocence. Examining the facts it seems as if there was police misconduct, but this is St. Louis so what can you expect, and again in this racially-divided city a group of black men killing two young white girls is going to create some racial issues and tensions. Procedural errors: well as someone who puts the profession of prosecutors somewhere between that of child-molesters and mercenaries ( for the most part) I am not surprised to see those kinds of errors.
The bottom-line for me in my feelings on this case is that no one could show me any conclusive evidence that Gray was innocent and on the flip side there was overwhelming evidence of a terrible crime. So I am shedding no tears for Gray, or his accomplices who are serving life-sentences, and I am mourning for the Kerry family and the senseless loss of life that led to those killings.
1991 was a bloody year in St. Louis; crime was out of control, gang-wars raged all throughout the metro area and that summer was particularly brutal with a number of high profile gang-killings. St. Louis was out of control at that time and this murder happened in the context of that time. Some friends of mine knew Gray and a couple of the other convicted killers. Some of them embraced Islam after being incarcerated and received religious counseling from the Islamic Institute of Learning. Some Muslim brothers grew close to them and wanted them to be released and said, “look what they did was in their jahiliya (pre-Islamic days) and they are Muslims now so we should pray for their release and help them to that end.” When I disagreed with that opinion we went to a sheikh and asked him to give an Islamic opinion on the topic and he responded that “Masha’Allah he is Muslim now, but the crime has been committed and he must receive the punishment for that crime and if he has true faith at this time he should accept the punishment.” The new shahadah gets a clean-slate in Islam; but any pre-existing crimes must be adjudicated.
In America I am generally opposed to the death-penalty. Not because there is anything immoral about capitol-punishment; but because human error inevitably means that innocent people will die, and that given the way our system works those who will die will mostly be poor and people of color. Allah has ordained in the Quran that the death-penalty is a just punishment for the convicted killer; but the Sunnah encourages other ways of dealing with the crime and safeguards against wrongful convictions. A Muslim can never say that the death-penalty is un-Islamic, but we can say that society should protect against the wrongful use of it, and I don’t know if that can be done in our criminal justice system that revolves around money, race and class and not justice. However, the victims of these crimes need justice and I will not become one of the naïve who sits outside of the court house begging for mercy for grown men who raped and killed two young women. Maybe I do not favor the death-penalty in America, that does not mean that there are not instances were it was correctly implemented.