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Justice, forgiveness and the death penalty

 
In the past week, two Mississippi death-row inmates have been executed. 
At 6:18 p.m. Tuesday, Jan Michael Brawner, 34, was pronounced dead after being executed by lethal injection at the Mississippi State Petitionary at Parchman. He was sentenced to death for murder after admitting to fatally shooting his 3-year-old daughter, ex-wife and her parents. Before the execution he said he deserved to die and “maybe this will bring you a little peace,” as quoted in Clarion-Ledger’s “Killer of 4 in ’01 executed.” Phil Bryant, Mississippi governor, and the Mississippi Supreme Court both declined to stop the execution.
This follows just days after the execution of Henry Curtis Jackson on June 5. Jackson was sentenced to death for the killings of his four nieces and nephews, all of which were under the age of 5. Prior to his execution, Jackson’s sisters, who were the mothers of the slain children, pleaded to Bryant to grant clemency, which would have spared Jackson’s life, because they had forgiven him for what he did and could not bear any more death. Bryant, who admitted that he was touched by the sisters’ pleas, said it was his job as governor to uphold justice and declined to grant clemency.
The Death Penalty has long been a highly debated topic. Currently, Mississippi is one of 33 states who have some form of a Death Penalty statute. The Death Penalty in Mississippi is protected under Mississippi Code 97-3-21, which states that a person convicted of capital murder should be sentenced to death, life imprisonment without the eligibility of parole or life imprisonment. Under Mississippi Code Annotated 99-19-101, a death sentence is determined by a jury. Following a conviction of capital murder or other capital offense, a separate sentencing is conducted to determine whether the convicted receives the death penalty or other sentencing. The Mississippi Supreme Court then reviews the sentencing in order to assure the sentence was not a result of prejudice on part of the jury and not an excessive or disproportionate penalty in relation to the crime. Article 5, section 124 of the Mississippi Constitution grants the governor the power to grant reprieves and pardons, a last-chance shot for those sentenced to death.   
This power places the governor in a difficult position. Some decisions are admittedly easier than others, as in the Brawner case where he willingly accepted his fate. While others, such as the Jackson case where the mothers of the slain children were begging for a pardon on behalf of the murderer, are decidedly more difficult. 
Twice within almost a week, the governor had to ask himself a question few of us ask ourselves: Do we have the power to justifiably take the life of another?  
Legally, the answer is yes. Throughout history, however, we have learned that just because something is legally protected does not always make it right. Laws and rulings get overturned. What one generation thinks is acceptable, the next generation finds deplorable. Is the death penalty one such law? Seventeen other states have already declared it so, and even in the states that have death penalty laws, there is still much debate.
This heated debate teeters on the balance of forgiveness versus justice, made even more heated in religious states like Mississippi. There are many passages within the Bible pro-death penalty proponents can point to in support of the death penalty. However, there is also an overall theme of forgiveness. 
Does the execution of a murderer actually bring peace? If these mothers can find it in their hearts to forgive, shouldn’t we? Does the death penalty just perpetuate killing? Is it truly our place to give the ultimate verdict? 
Perhaps it is time we answer such questions.
 
Anna Rush is a second-year law student from Hattiesburg. She graduated from Mississippi State University in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @annakrush.