Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Can the death sentence be justiifed?

I don't normally watch real crime/true crime programmes on television - even Crimewatch. I tend to find them sensationalist and, sometimes, gratuitous. But last Monday night, flicking through the channels in a fruitless search for something decent to watch, I caught the end of an ITV programme relating to the "Babes in the wood" murders. The programme itself was mediocre, but what caught my attention were the police video interviews with the killer as they slowly broke him down into confessing to the murders of 11 year old Susan Blatchford and 12 year old Gary Hanlon in 1970.

The murderer was a despicable creature by the name of Ron Jebson. Already serving a life sentence for murdering 8 year old Rosemary Papper, Jebson displayed such enormous contempt for the young girl he'd raped and murdered as he bragged of his crime to the detectives trying to eke out a confession for the "Babes in the Wood" murders. I won't repeat the things he was saying, but I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at such callousness and shaking with rage at such wanton evil.

Eventually, they succeeded and the odious creep finally couldn't resist admitting his filthy deeds. I had to admire the patience and restraint shown by the police officers - I'm not sure I could have resisted smashing my fists into his smirking face.

Anyway, to get back to the point of this post, as a Christian I've always disagreed with the idea of the death penalty. Don't get me wrong - I believe that the idea of abolishing the death penalty was sold to the public on the back of a "life will mean life" argument. Clearly the state has gone back on this contract and the situation we have now where murderers are released after 8 or 10 years is nothing short of disgraceful - but I was still of the opinion that the death sentence was not acceptable in a Christian society.

However, watching this programme last night has made me question that stance. This "man" - I actually find it hard to type that word in relation to the grotesque creature that is Jebson - should hang for his crimes. The parents of the murdered children did not get "closure" (I hate that phrase) from Jebson's confession and I can understand that they must feel that he has escaped justice. He was already serving a life sentence for murdering a child. Nothing has changed - his "punishment" of additional life sentences for more murders means nothing. Seeing Jebson hang may have helped those parents - and it is the victims we should consider first and foremost. On the other hand, had he been hung for the murder of Rosemary Papper, Jebson could not have confessed to the murder of the "Babes in the wood" and the parents of Susan Blatchford and Gary Hanlon would still not know who killed their children.

That one programme - or the small part I saw - has created something of a dilemma for me. Of course I believe that Jebson will suffer for all eternity for his disgusting sins once his miserable life finally ends - but why shouldn't that end be a little more premature? Maybe there is a good case to be made for the death penalty after all.

1 comment:

Tom Tyler said...

As a Christian, I've travelled down that road of questioning and indecision re the death penalty before, Stan. You're by no means alone in your journey. There is no clear-cut Christian stance on this, as far as I can see- one can be a Christian and be for or against it (or undecided). Personally I used to be dead set against it (no pun intended) on the "thou shalt not kill" grounds. Then I came to understand that "kill" meant "murder" according to the original Hebrew text, and that deliberate murder was a different thing from (a) killing an enemy in the battlefield of war, and (b) lawful judicial taking of life as a punishment for crime. These days I accept the moral legality of the death penalty in extreme circumstances. But that's just my view, and it could well change again. It's a difficult area to decide upon, and you'll have to use your own intellect and understanding to come to a view you feel comfortable with. I think that the very fact that a person questions it and doesn't leap blindly to a conclusion but wants to test it out, is a sign of maturity and humanity.