At 1.52pm on the 23rd July 2014, Joseph Wood was injected with lethal drugs on the order of the State of Arizona. He had been sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend, Debbie Dietz, and her father, Gene Dietz in 1989. Lethal injection is currently the U.S.A.’s method of choice for administering the death penalty which is supposed to be quick and relatively painless. The argument is that lethal injection is more humane than most other methods.
However, Joseph Wood’s execution, which should have lasted no longer than 20 minutes, saw Mr. Wood desperately gasping for air for 1 hour and 57 minutes before he finally passed away. His death was so slow that after an hour, his lawyers began a request to the Supreme Court to have the procedure stopped on the grounds that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Before a decision could be made, Mr. Wood breathed his last breath.
It is hard to comprehend how, not only allowing, but causing a human being to go through such a horrific ordeal can constitute justice. It may be many other things: pay back, punishment, pain relief, but it is not justice. When asked about his feelings towards the botched death of Mr. Wood, Debbie Dietz’s Brother-In-Law responded: “This man conducted a horrifying murder and you guys are going ‘let’s worry about the drugs.’ Why didn’t they give him a bullet? Why didn’t we give him, Drano, a corrosive drain cleaner?”
My heart breaks when I read quotes like this. Not only am I sorry for the initial ordeal the family had to experience, but it also pains me to know that they live that ordeal over and over again, every moment of their lives. The Dietz family have had to carry 25 years of anger, hurt and hatred. They deserve peace.
There is a Buddha quote which says: ‘Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’ The death penalty ultimately does not solve anything. Whilst it may even the scorecard, it does not clear it. We need a justice system which enables the families of victims to recover and which removes the burden of anger and hatred.
Eradicating the death penalty will take a lot of work from a lot of people. It requires reforming our schools, our communities, our housing and our prison system, so that victims can have faith in the fact that rehabilitation of offenders can and will work. We need to create a victim support service which successfully helps families recover from trauma so that they no longer feel the need to see another human being die in order to feel better. None of these are easy feats.
The death penalty is the easy and lazy option, and It does not stop people from murdering others. It is a quick way of appeasing people’s pain with no regard for the long-term impact. Families who have lost loved ones in the most horrific of circumstances deserve better than a quick-fix. They deserve an outcome which means no one else will ever have to suffer what they suffered. The death penalty cannot provide that outcome.
The death penalty is an affront to love, truth and justice, which are the three ideals that most victims’ families are in desperate search of. Our justice system cannot be ruled by vengeance. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” The ideals of love, truth and justice need to underpin every part of society, not just our justice system, because then, and only then, will we have any hope of eradicating the heinous crimes which cause so much grief.