Wednesday, 28 July 2010

An eye for an eye?

When I visited the public library last weekend I spotted a Grisham book that I had not read - The Innocent Man. I only came across it because it had been wrongly shelved in the fiction area. Part of the blurb reads: "If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you". Now, I do not agree with the death penalty - I don't think I ever have. My main problem with it is that there have been times when an innocent person was executed, but neither can I agree with the "eye for an eye" philosophy.

(As an aside, I find it a little confusing that the Old Testament talks of an eye for an eye, whereas in the New Testament we are urged to turn the other cheek and to forgive our enemies.)

Having stated my opinion, I must accept that proponents of the death sentence do have points with some validity. They might, for instance, worry that a life sentence is not quite what it purports to be and that some murderers will be released from prison after serving only 14 or 15 years. Do we, they ask, really want to release a murderer so he can do it again? But they are overlooking the fact that the vast majority of murders are committed against family members and the released murderer poses little or no threat to society in general. As I understand it, only seldom is a murder committed at random, and in those cases the guilty party is imprisoned for very much longer periods; indeed, they are often imprisoned for the rest of their lives.

It is when those who want to bring back hanging resort to complaining about the cost of keeping a man (or woman) in jail that I start to be concerned about their pro-death penalty stance. Yes, I know it costs many thousands of pounds a year to lock up someone, but that doesn't strike me as a very good reason for killing them instead.

Then there are the difficult cases, the people who might be described as truly evil, like Fred & Rose West, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Yes, their crimes were horrific, but I can't be sure that they were not insane as opposed to evil. Is there such a thing as a truly evil person? I'm not entirely sure there is.

But to get back to the book. Reading it, one forms the opinion that justice in the Oklahoma town of Ada was, back in the years when those events occurred, very much a hit or miss affair. But is that picture accurate? District Attorney Bill Peterson was sufficiently incensed to set up a web site to counter Grisham's alleged inaccuracies.

I suppose the reader pays his money and makes his choice, but it doesn't alter the fact that another innocent man was very nearly put to death.

1 comment:

Uncle Skip, said...

I suppose it is all really about justice. Then, of course, one has to define justice, which is not necessarily about winning or losing. To my way of thinking it certainly isn't about an eye for an eye.

If there really aren't any truly evil people, there certainly are some who have a stilted view of right and wrong.

Good post... maybe the library was making a statement when they shelved the book amongst the fiction?