Lori Falce: The death penalty shouldn’t be easy
I struggle with the death penalty.
I want to be the kind of person who feels forgiveness in my heart and embraces the redemptive possibility of prison.
I’d like to feel the certainty of those who are all-in on the eye-for-an-eye aspects of capital punishment.
I’m not there either.
I covered my first murder case when I was 18. Stephen Rex Edmiston sits on death row 30 years later. His victim, Bobbi Jo Matthew, should be 32 now. Instead, her scalped and ruined body has been long since buried while Edmiston has appealed and been denied and had his death warrant come up and had it be suspended.
I threw up the first time I read the grisly description of what happened to tiny Bobbi Jo. I believe in my heart that no one who could do that has a soul. I hunger for vengeance for her the way my body screams for air when I hold my breath.
But there is another me. The analytical me. The one who lives in statistics and documents. The one who has known judges to be wrong and prosecutors to be overzealous and evidence to be mishandled. I believe that those things are not common, but not common isn’t the same thing as rare and even further away from nonexistent.
I empathize with the Dor Hadash and New Light congregations that urged the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to accept life in prison for accused Tree of Life shooter Robert Bowers rather than the death penalty that prosecutors have since announced they will pursue.
“We have been depleted by the ordeal of this year,” New Light Rabbi Jonathan Perlman wrote to AG William Barr.
I understand. And I am torn by whether I could have that kind of grace or whether I would demand blood.
Opponents of the death penalty argue that it isn’t a deterrent. Proponents respond that it might not be for everyone, but it is for the one person who can never commit that crime again. It’s a lethal logic that is hard to deny.
But those opponents are also not wrong when they ask us to be better than the criminals.
I wrestle with my teeter-tottering positions. I want retribution and I want rehabilitation, and the two forces resist each other like magnets. I am, it seems, the very embodiment of Pennsylvania as it hems and haws about whether it is really a death penalty state or not.
What I want, I can’t have. I want to live in a world that doesn’t need to decide between killing people or locking up killers. Barring that, I’d like absolute surety that the decisions we make and the judgments we arrive at are correct, and still that will never happen.
Instead, I have to hope that we try to get it right, that we improve our judicial system where we can and we listen to the people on both sides of the argument. It is complicated and messy and hard, and that’s a relief.
Because deciding to end a life should always be a struggle.
Lori Falce is a Tribune-Review community engagement editor. You can contact Lori at [email protected].