Thursday, 26 May 2016

Life and Death

In the US, states with the death penalty often take years to carry out the death sentence. Decades even.

So a man can commit murder in the heat of passion at age 25, may be caught and charged with the crime, convicted and sentenced to death... and then wait 20 years on death row while his lawyers and the system work out all the appeals and avenues to commute his death sentence.

In the meantime, over 20 years or so, he would have settled into prison routine. He is facing death, but in the meantime, he lives. And for as long as he lives, there is hope. Even if he is in prison.

But maybe he comes to accept his guilt, comes to terms with his crime, comes to understand that what he did at 25 was impulsive and wrong.

And he finds religion.

Or philosophy.

Because nothing helps one sees the futility of life, like impending death.

And he gets older.

The passion of youth fades and flickers out. He matures even in the prison system. He sees young hotheads enter prison, see them swagger as he once swaggered. Hear them boast and bluster as he once did. Recognise himself in them. And feel regret if not remorse.

And time passes and life goes on, inexorably towards his execution.

At 45, 20 years after he committed the crime of passion, he is not the same man at 25. Today, in that same moment, knowing what he knows now, feeling what he feels now, he would not act impulsively.

But he has to pay for that crime, for that youthful folly, and the irony is that in his maturity, he is no longer resentful, no longer rebellious, not longer defiant. He accepts his sentence, he faces his execution with equanimity and serenity.

And the wrong man is executed.

A 45 year old mature man of peace and serenity was executed for the crime of a hot-blooded, passionate, impulsive, selfish, self-centred 25 year old.

Philosophically, it was a miscarriage of justice.

Ironically, it was a miscarriage of justice, precisely because the US wants to ensure that death row prisoners have EVERY opportunity to appeal their conviction and/or sentence, or have their death sentence commuted to a less terminal sentence in order to avoid a miscarriage of justice.

There are two conclusions one might draw from stories like this.

One, the death sentence is inhumane and serves no purpose.

Two, we gotta execute these death row prisoners faster, while they are defiant and rebellious not after they have matured.

Which brings me to the case of Jabing Kho.

Thanks to his lawyers, and all the false hope raised via all the last minute attempts to save his life, I am sure he was absolutely unprepared for his execution, and was figuratively dragged kicking and screaming to his hanging.

I do not think his lawyers did him any favours with their tactics.

But it is obvious to me that the man we executed (yes, I will take responsibility for his execution. I may not have done anything to sentence him to death, but he was executed on behalf of the People of Singapore. And while I agree there are some issues about the death penalty, I am not against it.) was significantly the same man who killed the victim of his robbery.

There was no miscarriage of justice.

Thanks in part to the contribution of his lawyers. They kept his spirits up, his hopes up, only to be dashed when the ill-advised appeals failed.

Do I have to be so cruel?

From my perspective, the cruelty was from his lawyers. I hope they realise what they have done.

The best thing for a condemned man to do is to make peace with himself, find serenity, and forgiveness.

Instead, I can imagine Jabing's last hours were spent in fearful disbelief and unwarranted hope.

So maybe we should do away with the death penalty?

After all, a 20 year imprisonment might well lead to rehabilitation and redemption.


It was not simply the passage of time in the US death row that changed those men. It was the death sentence hanging over their heads that focused their mind.

And no, we cannot have a death penalty that we do not carry out. It would become obvious, what we are doing, and it would undermine the whole system.

And in any case, while there are death row prisoners who found religion or philosophy, does everyone?

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