Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Galley Brother B.J. sends along this AP story about the European reaction to Tookie Williams's execution. It contains this very strange formulation:
Williams was convicted in connection with four killings during a pair of armed robberies in 1979. But he never wavered from his claim of innocence and refused to confess to crimes he did not commit, even if doing so would save his life.

I'm not a student of this case, but Williams wasn't convicted "in connection" with the killings--he was convicted for murdering four people. And so far as I can tell, only the fringey, Free-Mumia types believed that Williams did not commit these murders.

And then there's the AP report's strange, Darkness at Noon notion that the State somehow told Williams that they would stop the execution if he would only admit to the murders. Again, without knowing all the details of the case, I find it hard to believe that this happened.

(Also, if you read further down in the AP story, you'll see that the reporters don't find the moral pronouncements of the Vatican so objectionable when they fit with the journalists religious agenda. If the Vatican is against homosexual priests, then they're hopeless retrogrades; but if they're against the death penalty, then they're our moral tutors. Funny how that works.)

In sum: The Europeans are idiots and the AP report is at least severely flawed, and maybe much worse. And yet, despite having to keep company with these people as well as the Hollywood idiots who spent last week parading for Tookie, his execution--like all executions--was a bad thing. In many ways, Tookie was the poster-child for the death penalty: Clearly, if you're going to have capital punishment, it's meant for bad guys like Williams.

But when it is avoidable, the state--we--should not be in the business of taking lives. For the broader arguments as to why, see Cardinal Dulles and Jody Bottum, both of whom do so better than I could hope to.

Update, 11:54 a.m.: Reader Jay Homnick cites Gov. Schwarzenegger's statement on the Williams case as evidence that had Williams admitted his guilt, he would have been saved: Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption. In this case, the one thing that would be the clearest indication of complete remorse and full redemption is the one thing Williams will not do."

I'm not sure that this is exactly what the governor means. Was the offer on the table for Williams? Or was Schwarzenegger using this idea of atonement as a smokescreen.

While I'm happy to believe in atonement, the idea that redemption should commute a death mark seems faulty to me. Tookie Williams or Carla Faye Tucker are no more deserving of life because they have reformed and no less deserving of life if they haven't reformed. And how are we to judge genuine reformation and atonement, which is much harder to establish than guilt?


Anonymous said...

Bottum's article is a useful reminder to me of why I'm not a Christian. They are soft, weak and foolish.

When it comes to punishing violent criminals you cannot achieve a just result without an element of vengeance. Tempering that vengeance is the key. We don't draw and quarter people, nor do we hack off their limbs and let them bleed out. Lethal injection is a breezy summer day compared to the pain and terror inflicted on the murdered by their murderers. George Will has said it best when he wrote that vengeance distinguishes punishment from therapy.

Life imprisonment? The murderer is still capable of enjoying life; reading a book, smiling, joking, ruminating, exercising, savoring a meal or a smoke, all of the everyday pleasures that he has deprived his victims of for eternity. That is a cosmic injustice that cannot be allowed to stand.

Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord? Get in line pal.

Jay D. Homnick said...

Here's a line from Schwarzenegger's (extraordinarily well-written) statement that supports the Darkness At Noon premise: "Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption. In this case, the one thing that would be the clearest indication of complete remorse and full redemption is the one thing Williams will not do."

Here's a url for the statement:

And one for my article:

el blogero said...

Well done analysis of the AP article by Galley Slaves, and well stated reasoning by Bottum. As an anti-death penalty conservative and a Catholic, I often find myself making the same case as Bottum.

Anonymous said...

Look, you don't even have to go overseas for misguided attempts to cover this story. On Tuesday, the WSJ described Tootie as penitent in its' pade 1 news summary column. Penitent, of course, means expressing remourse for one's misdeads or sins. Since Tootkie claimed his innocence, he certainly couldn't be penitent. A journalistic disgrace, no matter your opinion on the death penalty. In fact, I would suggest this as an example of agenda journalism, and it discourages any sober discussion of the death penalty due to the flagrant dishonesty in characterizing the convict.

Anonymous said...


I'm very leary of the Church's new push on the death penalty. I tend to suspect Catholic pronouncements on the death penalty that seem brand new and against the Tradition. Jesus had a perfect "teaching moment" on the cross when one of the two criminals stated "we deserve what is done to us but he is innocent." He didn't say anything about the death penalty, he chose to note that even in death the "good" thief would be with him in heaven. Jesus had every opportunity to oppose the death penalty, like he opposed divorce long established, he did not. In so far as the Church teaches the death penalty should be dealt only in heinous cases, after due process and a chance at repentence in the hereafter it ought to be heeded. This new, "no death penalty" position strikes me as a piety of a dessicated Europe and not a living Faith.

When you remove the death penalty you make crime more likely, remove respect for the law for most victim's families and subject prison guards and law enforcement to greater risk. Moreover, when you do it the way Europe has done it, by intimidation and simply stating that any polity making such laws will be thrown out of the EU, you lose public legitimacy in general. If the multiple murder whose next victim is my wife or child and does not face even the possibility of death why would I not kill him myself?

As a "soft, weak and foolish" Catholic (first poster)it strikes me that the continued use of the death penalty is a recognition of man's fallen nature, and its removal a refusal to understand the nature of man and the evil of murder on the victim, the family and the society.

Finally, in that story Arnold is listed as an Austrian citizen. What's up with that? Shouldn't Californians insist that their Governor not be subject to a foreign power? Tookie should have complained a foreign national was given the clemency right.


Anonymous said...

Took, Took, Tookie, goodbye.

Jay D. Homnick said...

I pointed out the quote from Schwarzenegger, but in theory I agree with Jonathan. As the Talmud puts it: "Repentance commutes sentences in the Heavenly Court, not in the earthly court."

bob jones said...

For anyone who's interested, LA District Attorney Steve Cooley's response to Stanley William's petition for executive clemency shows that the state had a strong case. It's publicly avalaible:

As for myself, I'll call the recently deceased by his given name and surname. The nickname makes him sound cuddly, and reformed or not (only God knows), he wasn't that.