Pro-life stance should extend to clemency for murderers

Published 5:40 pm Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It was not surprising that Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant rejected clemency for death row inmate Curtis Jackson in the hours prior to Jackson’s execution June 5.

Bryant, in the wake of the pardon fiasco of his predecessor Haley Barbour, had gone on record in the first days of his tenure that he would not grant clemency to any convicts except in cases where there is “clear and convincing evidence that someone has been wrongly convicted.”

When Bryant drew that line, he might not have envisioned a case like Jackson’s, where the surviving victims of a heinous crime were the ones petitioning him most for mercy.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

It would have taken courage for Bryant to back off from his own words. Mississippi is a heavily pro-death penalty state, and most politicians play up to those passions. But if the governor is sincere about his pro-life convictions, he should have shown that courage and helped Mississippi along in rethinking its embrace of capital punishment. …

Commuting Jackson’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole would have been the humane response and in keeping with Bryant’s own Christian profession of respect for life.

If you believe human life as sacred, which is the bedrock principle of the anti-abortion movement that Bryant supports, then that belief should extend within the prison gates, too. It is as inconsistent for pro-lifers to support the death penalty as it is for pro-choicers to oppose it.

From a practical standpoint, the death penalty is also of dubious value. Executing an inmate does not really save the taxpayers any money, given the costs of the years of appeals — 22 years in Jackson’s case — before a death sentence is carried out. By the time it does occur, whatever psychological deterrent it might provide to other violent crimes has been lost. …

There are some criminals who are so deranged, so unrepentant of the suffering they have caused, so likely to continue to kill if given the opportunity …

By the same token, there are some death-row cases that don’t fit that description. Jackson’s appears to have been one of them. By all accounts, he was truly sorry for what he did. His family — the only direct victims of his crime — pleaded for his life not just in the past week but 21 years ago when he was being sentenced.

It was not right for Bryant to ignore that.