Botched Execution: Gruesome But Just
Clayton Lockett died an agonizing death. He was supposed to die from lethal injection, but when his veins collapsed after he had received just one of the three required chemicals, things went terribly wrong. After writhing in excruciating pain, he died of a heart attack some 43 minutes later.
Let’s compare his suffering with that of his victim. Stephanie Neiman was just one month out of high school when she and a friend dropped by the home of Bobbie Bornt. In a case of tragic timing, they arrived just as Clayton Lockett and two accomplices were trying to collect some money Bornt owed them.
Neiman’s friend was pulled into the house and hit in the face with a shotgun. With a gun to her head, she called Stephanie to come in. When Stephanie entered the house, she too was hit in the face with a shotgun.
The two young women were bound with duct tape, and Stephanie was forced to watch as all three thugs sodomized her friend. Then they were driven to a rural location, where Stephanie was shot twice in the chest because she would not surrender her keys and the alarm code for the truck.
Then she was buried alive.
As grisly as Lockett’s death was, he did not suffer nearly as much as his victim. His death was gruesome but just. If the punishment is to fit the crime, his supporters have no real reason to complain. He justly received the death penalty for his unconscionable crime, and die he did.
If Stephanie had only two choices, I’m quite sure she would prefer to die the way Lockett died rather than the way she died.
It must be added that no one supports the practice of agonizing executions, and they are rightly proscribed in our Constitution. Lockett’s ghastly death was accidental, not intentional. An execution should be humane and swift. (Death by firing squad remains the most humane of all the methods. The criminal is dead before his body has time to register pain.)
This sordid business naturally raises the question of whether the death penalty itself is indeed just. The answer from Scripture is an unequivocal yes.
God himself authorizes the use of the death penalty in Genesis 9:5-6:
From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
Here God delegates his own authority to man, in the form of civil government, to execute murderers. Capital punishment had been forbidden by God prior to the flood, so man could see what a world without the death penalty – a liberal paradise – would look like. With no justice to restrain evil, it was not long before “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and…every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).
It’s worth noting in passing that the Sixth Commandment is not a prohibition against all killing but rather a prohibition against homicide. All modern translations read “You shall not murder” rather than “You shall not kill.” Since the very next chapter in the Bible, Exodus 21, contains a list of no less than four crimes that require the perpetrator to be “put to death,” it’s clear that Exodus 20:13 does not prohibit capital punishment.
Lest we think capital punishment is only an Old Testament concept, the authorization to civil government to carry out this ultimate form of justice is renewed in the New Testament. There we are told, in Romans 13, that civil government, which is “instituted by God” (v.1) “does not bear the sword in vain” (v.4).
Now the sword, quite obviously, is an instrument of lethal force. And for what purpose does civil authority bear the sword? He is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (v. 5). When the state uses authority delegated to it by God himself to punish those who infringe on the right to life, liberty and property, God’s justice is being carried out. If such justice is administered fairly and speedily, there is no need for the ordinary citizen to take justice into his own hands, and society can be peaceful and orderly.
Bottom line: Clayton Lockett’s death should not lead us to re-examine the death penalty, only the way it’s carried out. The death penalty for cold-blooded murder was right in the days of Noah and it is right today.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)
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