When I hear opponents to the death penalty speak about the criminals they hope to save from execution, they often mention that the decks were stacked against these criminals. An astonishing number of people who receive death sentences had upbringings fraught with poverty, abuse and addiction. Certainly there is some wisdom in considering someone’s background when judging their criminal behavior, but in the case of the death sentence recently handed down in California for Scott Peterson we can cast that argument aside. With Peterson, we are faced with a man who doesn’t fit the stereotypical profile of people on death row. He did not grow up disadvantaged. He was the captain of his high school golf team and a tutor to younger students; he cared for mentally retarded children and worked his way through college. Some of the traditional arguments used against the death penalty don’t hold much water when faced with a crime so calculated and cold-blooded as Peterson’s (the murder of his wife, Lacie and unborn son, Connor) and yet, though our blood may boil at the heinousness of his crime we are also called to deeper reflection.
After hearing about the jury’s death sentence, I tried to place myself in the shoes of Lacie Peterson’s mother and I can’t imagine that anything other than vengeance was streaking through her mind.
“If that were my daughter,” I thought, “I’d want to throw the switch myself.”
Somehow it seems easier to kill Peterson, doesn’t it? He is a man who had it all, who had no reason to kill his wife and who seemingly did it to return to a free-wheeling life with no commitments. He seems colder, more calculated; a cunning rich kid who throws a murderous tantrum when he didn’t get his way. Will any of us lose any sleep if he dies? Will any of us sleep easier?
But should the government allow my rage (or anyone else’s) to have the last word? Isn’t the government supposed to try to “form a more perfect union?” In my book, killing someone is far from a perfect solution.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that when “non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor” we are bound to use those means of punishment for criminals. I highly doubt that Scott Peterson poses a threat to any of us if he is locked up behind bars for the rest of his life. The catechism continues with “[non-lethal means] are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.”
Lacie had dignity. Scott has already lost his dignity with his rampage against her and her unborn child Connor. Who will be the next person to lose dignity? If the courts have their way we need not look any further than ourselves.
We do not have the right to be as cold and as calculated as Peterson was. With execution, we make a plan to kill, we have no remorse, we even quietly dispose of the body. By letting the government execute Scott Peterson in our name we become tacit accomplices in cold blooded murderer as well. We hide behind our neat and tidy laws that state we have the right to kill, even those who have killed others senselessly and we make it seem very right, very moral, and very justified. We resort to the quick fix solution of sweeping Scott Peterson under the rug in lieu of sending him to prison for the rest of his life. We don’t want to pay for it and we don’t want to deal with our own anger against people like Scott Peterson. It’s easier to kill the bastard.
Scott Peterson is someone who is hard to love. Can we ever love him? Can we even try not to hate him?
In the gospels, Jesus calls us to be concerned for “the least” of our brothers and sisters. I believe that Scott Peterson fits the bill.
Because I can’t think of a person of whom I think less.
And as a self-professed Christian, those words alone should make it all the harder to kill him.