Only one of his cases wound up on death row -- the one he prosecuted.
The Pope has just mentioned the death penalty. ("Mention" is the weightiest description one can ascribe to the Pope's incessant commentary.) The Bear thought he would toss his own few biscuits into the brunch.
- The more traditionalist the Catholics (or conservative the Protestants) the more favorable they are to the death penalty. The Bear has found it ironic that a religion whose chief symbol is a man being executed should not find some spill-over compassion on the practice in our own day. Are political leanings always or necessarily a predictor of religious views?
- In one mock jury done in trial preparation, the most effective argument in favor of life was mercy. People still respond to an appeal to the sheer grace of mercy.
- The best argument against the death penalty is that we know for certain innocent people are occasionally imprisoned, usually through one or both of mistaken eyewitness evidence or false confession. Many wrongfully imprisoned prisoners have been freed. The Bear cannot recall a wrongfully executed person come back to life.
- Long imprisonment is, indeed, a severe punishment. Sometimes it seems like the fight is over execution vs. letting someone go entirely. The Pope even spoke against life without parole (LWOP). While the Bear thinks it is proper for the Pope to be the voice of mercy in this matter, he has no strong feelings about LWOP. As a practical matter, few senior citizens are a menace to society, and the Bear sees no harm to promising inmates a light at the end of the tunnel, however remote. A man with hope is more likely to incline to good than a man who knows he will only leave prison in a box.
- The father of all murderers was Cain, whom God did not only decline to kill, but forbade others from killing. Of course, the later code provides for execution for nearly anything, including fighting with your parents! The Bible certainly does not forbid capital punishment, nor was the Church a stranger to it.
- Capital punishment made more sense before the modern corrections system made long-term imprisonment a practical reality.
- Everyone imagines the appeal to victims' families' "need for closure," or revenge is a strong argument. But since when do we allow the most interested parties' indulgence in their worst -- if perfectly understandable -- instincts to drive policy? For, surely, we can agree that the grieving parent who forgives a murderer is heroically like Christ, who forgave his murderers? Isn't that the better course, for those who can? If someone -- God forbid -- harmed a family member of the Bear, heroic charity is the last thing you would see. But he would have to admit he was more of a Bear, and less of a Christian. Why should the law be driven by the desires of the very most interested parties, rather than step back and act disinterestedly?
- Capital punishment is not a deterrence. It's just not. The Bear has studied many murders in minute detail, and got to know many murderers better than their own mothers. Fact: people who kill other people are not thinking ahead. Of course, there are always exceptions, but the typical murderer is stupid and drunk and/or high and kills on the spur of the moment, or with a poorly though-out plan that leaves out important details like how to dispose of the body or escape. These are not masterminds who will consider the death penalty before killing. For one reason, they don't think they'll be caught, or don't even consider the possibility.
- There are particularly heartless, selfish, and premeditated crimes that seem to bury the Pope's words in their sheer enormity. One thinks of Chris Coleman, who pleaded guilty to an elaborate scheme to murder his lovely wife and two beautiful sons in order to run off with a dog track waitress. It is an odd thing to compare murders, although lawyers find themselves having to do it all the time. Every murder leaves a hole in the world, and in people's heart, but seem seem particularly wicked. A hard discussion on capital punishment can't leave out those crimes, but emotion shouldn't dominate policy.
- There are psychopaths, who are intraspecies predators. There is evidence that their brains function differently. They don't get better, and they aren't treatable. They are dangerous on the outside, but what if their brains rob them of empathy and otherwise predispose them to violence? Oddly, they couple the best arguments for both sides: they are the "mad dogs" if ever there were, yet they also aren't completely responsible due to (research strongly suggests) brains that don't work right.
- The current experiment with drawn-out and botched lethal injection is a failure. If we're going to do it, there are older, and surer, methods.
You might imagine the Bear would be an ardent opponent of capital punishment. His career has undoubtedly made him more willing to listen to the Church on this matter, but he isn't much of a movement Bear.
From his own experience, the Bear can say one thing. He has seen a criminal on television, and felt the visceral hatred rise, only to end up representing that very person. The more you learn about someone, the more you see him as a person, albeit a person who has committed a murder. It is hard to contemplate someone you know being executed. Those who support the death penalty always deny the humanity of the accused. "Monster," or "inhuman," or "animal" are words you will always hear around a murder case.
The Bear learned that there are no monsters. There are only people who are capable of doing very bad things, and that the difference between him and a murderer is one of degree, not kind. He honors the image of God in the victim, but also in the killer, no matter how disfigured it may be. It is easy to kill a monster. Few people ever get to know the unique person facing execution, or they might think twice.
So these, then, are the Bear's thoughts on the death penalty. They have been formed by an unusual career, and articulated by the Church. The Bear does not expect anyone to agree with him, nor does he think anyone has to. You probably have to have been there to get some of this. The Church's position on the death penalty is in some ways a novelty, although the Bear thinks it is sound.