On September 1, 1979, eight-year-old Cary Medlin and her step-brother were riding bikes in their neighborhood. They were approached by a man in an old car who claimed to know her father, and convinced Cary to show him where she lived. This was the last time Cary was seen alive. Robert Coe abducted Cary, sexually molested her, and when strangulation didn’t kill her, stabbed her and watched her bleed to death. As her parents agonized over their missing child, Coe continued his daily routine until suspicious family members alerted police. Coe finally admitted to the killing, and revealed that as he was raping little Cary, she said over and over to him, “Jesus loves you, Jesus loves you”.
On the evening of September 24, 1983, two-year-old Leslie English was tucked into bed by her mother. Leslie’s grandfather checked in on her a little later, wrapping the covers tight, and gently kissed her goodnight before going to bed himself. That very night, Leslie’s uncle, Eddie Crawford, crept into her bedroom, picked her up and carried her out of the house. Crawford then brutally raped two-year-old Leslie, strangled her to death, and left her tiny body, clothed only in her pajama top, in the woods.
Robert Coe, following a stay of execution, was finally put to death by the state of Tennessee on April 19, 2000, what would have been six months before Cary’s 30th birthday. Eddie Crawford has not yet been executed, due to the ongoing appeals by his lawyers stating that he is mentally retarded.
While capital punishment is being debated in the United States, these are the people that tend to be overlooked. These little girls, whose lives were violently stolen from them, whose last moments were filled with terror, are the ones who get pushed to the wayside. We cry out for the rights of the accused, and forget about the rights of the victims.
While I have always supported the death penalty, I never really thought about why. I am opposed to abortion and so-called mercy killing on the grounds that we do not have the right to “play God”, taking life away as we, in our limited wisdom, see fit. However, I instinctively support capital punishment. Why? What is it that is so different about the death penalty that I feel that it is acceptable, while other instances of taking someone’s life is inexcusable?
The Bible clearly gives the government the right to enforce the law in Romans 13:1 which says, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” The government also has the right, according to the Bible, to take the life of one who has committed premeditated murder. Exodus 21:14 says, “But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My alter, that he may die.” This is why I oppose abortion and “mercy killing” and still support the death penalty.
So while we have established why the Christian supports the death penalty, what about those who do not believe in the Bible? I point simply to the cases mentioned at the beginning of this essay. There are people in this world who have committed crimes so heinous that they have forfeited their right to live. Those who have violently murdered small children, who have killed simply for the sake of killing, who are so inherently evil that they cannot be trusted to ever live among regular citizens, deserve to die. This is not to say that we have the right to personally take revenge on those that wrong us, only that there is a system in place, our criminal justice system, that protects those of us who follow the law, and punishes those who do not, even unto death.
Those who are opposed to the death penalty offer many reasons why capital punishment is cruel or unfair. The cruelty of the death penalty is actually minimized by the advances of medical technology, with the practice of lethal injection offering a quick and virtually painless death. Death penalty opponents point to the possibility of an innocent man being put to death and the statistics showing that blacks are executed more than whites. These points give us no reason to do away with capital punishment altogether, but rather encourage us to improve the system to ensure that only the guilty are put to death, and that there is no racism within the application of sentences.
As the debate over capital punishment continues, we would be wise to remember Leslie English, Cary Medlin, and the thousands of others that that have had their lives so violently taken from them, and then imagine a world where their killers could one day walk free.
References: , 13 November 2004; New King James Version Bible.