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A JOURNEY OF DEATH FOR 4000 YEARS
A Writing By California Death Row Prisoner Armenia Levi Cudjo Jr. 1999
Throughout Middle Eastern, European and Western histories one has either seen or heard of evil taking place, being fully aware that the events taking place were evil, yet they refuse to intervene simply because no one else is. People like this often follow the lead of the majority, not because it was necessarily the right thing to do, but because they simply wanted to be socially accepted among their peers. Such persons could be best characterized as Bystanders.
In relation to the Death Penalty, the big question at the forefront of the debate is: WHAT IS THE ETHICAL AND MORAL UNDERPINNINGS OF THE DEATH PENALTY AND ARE THEY JUST? To answer this question, I will venture back to the origin of the death penalty, insofar as it being written into statutory law codes, in both, Religious and Secular (non religious) societies. It should be noted that Religious death penalty laws were established and enforced by the Church. Secular death penalty laws, most of which were adopted from the Church, are enforced by the state and federal government (Secular society).
I cannot continue without informing the reader that this is not a CONDEMNATION of either Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, or any other religion. This is, however, a CONDEMNATION of how people in society have used and are still using the religious doctrines: as a tool for personal economic and political gain; as a tool to justify ethnic cleansing and class separation; as a tool to enslave people; and as a tool to justify killing human beings in the name of so-called justice.
Those who have supported the use of the death penalty throughout history to this present day, often recite a portion of an Old Testament Biblical verse a "life for life" (Exodus 21:23), as their ethical and/or moral justification to have the death penalty law available, and in many instances, to actually execute the penalty. The argument then, as it is now, is that the death penalty was an ideal means, for a select few, to maintain social control over unstable societies. It is believed by many that this "ideal means of social control" was ordained or enacted by God, who personally gave them to Moses, according to ancient Hebrew Biblical Scriptures.
Building onto the TEN COMMANDMENTS (Exodus 20:1-17), Hebrew religious scholars wrote the Mosaic death penalty codes (Exodus 21:12-27; Leviticus 20:9-13, 15, 16 and 27; Numbers 15:32-36; and Deuteronomy 17:1-7; 19:16-21), collectively, these established the codified laws of retribution, revenge, or retaliation (Lex Talionis), in the Hebrew religious society. At the time, the methods of execution was, DEATH BY: Burning, Stoning, and Hanging, for more than eighteen different crimes or sins, including premeditated murder. However, of the more than eighteen different crimes or sins PUNISHABLE BY DEATH, only ONE was specifically enacted to exterminate a human life for taking a human life (Exodus 21:12), supposedly to protect human life, except the life of a slave or servant. The unethical and immoral dilemma here was: If the death penalty is an ethical or morally just means of punishment, then why was it not used to protect the lives of slaves and servants?
The rest of the death penalty statutes were used to execute those presumably guilty of: adultery; incest between father and daughter or between mother and son; or bestiality; bearing false witness against another in a court of law; and to enforce the Hebrew religious customs, traditions, and belief in ONE God. NON-DEATH PENALTY crimes or sins were designed to PROTECT the PROPERTY of others, which included human property (slaves and servants).
The death penalty, as used in ancient Hebrew culture, was NOT justly or equally applied to protect ALL HUMAN LIFE (slaves and servants being excluded). Some say the death penalty was used as a means of maintaining order within the Hebrew religious nomadic society, but more emphasis was placed on protecting sexual virtue, and protecting the PROPERTY of the elite classes, than on protecting human life. Eventually these Hebrew punishment practices were written into the laws of Secular society, by both religious and secular writers. The earliest known Secular death penalty laws date back to an ancient Mesopotamian society, and were written down by the King, Hammurabi (1760 B.C.), commonly referred to as the "Code of Hammurabi." This Code consisted of nearly 300 sections, and covered in detail the everyday relations of those who lived in Hammurabi's Mesopotamian empire. Just as the Hebrew Doctrine did, Hammurabi's death penalty statutes also placed more value on property than on human life. T. Walter Wallbank writes:
If a man has stolen goods
from a temple or house, he SHALL be put to DEATH; and he that has
received the stolen property from him SHALL be put to DEATH.
If a man has broken into a house, he SHALL be killed in front of the place where he broke through and buried there.
If a man has committed highway robbery and has been caught, that man SHALL be put to DEATH.
If a man has knocked out the eye of a NOBLE, his eye SHALL be knocked out. 21 (emphasis added).
In Hammurabi's empire, 3700 years ago, penalties, including the death penalty, varied; it was primarily based on the social/economic status of the accused and the social/economic status of the alleged victim; just as it is today. According to T.W. Wallbank, other parts of Hammurabi's Code was similar to modern laws, and were designed to "prevent the strong from oppressing the weak." (wallbank, p. 32). Even so, the Code of Hammurabi was clearly designed to protect the PROPERTY of the NOBLE classes; poor people didn't own anything worth stealing.
Under Secular law today, many crimes that were punishable by DEATH in ancient Hebrew and Hammurabi's time, have been abolished, however some of them survived well into the late twentieth century in America. For example, today one cannot be sentence to death for committing adultery or stealing goods from a temple or house. But, today the death penalty still exist for premeditated murder, multiple murder, or murder during the commission or attempted commission of a felony, i.e. either robbery, burglary, kidnaping, rape, etc.
Ironically, in Secular society today the justification offered is the same, "life for life," Hebrew religious ideology; whatever happen to the "separation of church and state doctrine?" The "life for life" ideology was and is still not altogether true in every instance. For example, if someone suddenly kills another, without premeditation, lying in wait, or without taking the victim's PROPERTY; the penalty of DEATH does not apply, under to Secular law. However, if the perpetrator: premeditates, lies in wait, or takes PERSONAL PROPERTY, then kills the victim, the penalty of death would or could be implemented. Clearly, today's death penalty laws are also geared more towards protecting PERSONAL PROPERTY, than protecting ALL human life.
Even so, the social/economic status of the accused killer and the victim is still a key factor in determining whether the accused killer's penalty will be death or something less. For instance, if a poor person stands accused of murdering and taking the personal property of a wealthy person, the poor person will certainly be sentenced to death. On the other hand, if a wealthy person stands accused of murdering a poor person, the wealthy person most certainly WILL NOT receive the death penalty. The value of a poor person's life is degraded down to nothingness under the law. Generally, wealthy persons would only have to pay a fine to the state and restitution to the victim's family. This was standard practice during ancient Hebrew times, Hammurabi's time, and throughout American history to the present day, under Secular law.
Some examples where the social/economic status was a key factor in determining whether the accused would face the death penalty are: the O.J. Simpson double murder case; the William Dupont premeditated murder case; the Dan White premeditated double murder case. In the Simpson and Dupont cases, respectively, the victims social/economic status were FAR less than the defendants. In the latter case, in 1978, Dan White, who was a former member of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, walked into City Hall, shot and killed Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was a leader in the gay community.
Dan White's defense was, "diminished capacity,' because he ate "Twinkies," while he was under tremendous stress which caused him to go into a killing rage. The Defense became known as the 'Twinkie Defense,' it was believed, he was found guilty of two counts of voluntary manslaughter, and sentenced to a prison term. This was a luxury that was not granted to Manny Babbitt, not because his behavior on the night of December 23, 1980 didn't qualify as "diminished capacity" but because of his social -economic status (he was a poor black man with no political influence), he failed the test. Manny was sentence to death in 1982 for burglarizing the home of an elderly women, 78 year old Leah Schendel, and beating her with his fist; she subsequently died of a heart attack as a result of the beating.
Jim Doyle wrote that within
the first month on Manny's arrival in Vietnam, he suffered a "dissociative
reaction," and was found "aimlessly wandering around with complete amnesia
for a 20-hour period. 2/ He was briefly hospitalized
for psychiatric observation, then returned to combat.
At the time of Manny' s crime, he was under the influence of alcohol,
marijuana, and PCP, and he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD); a condition he developed as a result of his participation in FIERCE
CLOSE-ORDER COMBAT in Vietnam between December 1967 and July 1969, including
the "77-Day Siege of Khe Sanh,"
from January 1968 to April 1968. After Manny's discharged in 1969, his dissociative behavior, brought on by the post traumatic stress of combat, continued up to the night of his crime, in 1980, which landed him on California's death row. Manny was executed on May 4, 1999.
The point of all this is, Manny Babbitt's social/economic status DISQUALIFIED as a candidate for "diminished capacity defense. On the other hand, Dan White's social status among his peers in the political and/or judicial arena, was acceptable, and qualified him for an acceptable "diminished capacity" defense. Apparently, he was more favorable than Moscone and Milk. I'll let the reader draw their own conclusion as to why. But I will say this, IF the defendant in either the Simpson, Dupont or White cases, was a poor person with NO political influence, he or she would have been sentenced to death.
Also, just as it was in ancient times, and more so in modern time, with the inception of Slavery in America, in conjunction with social/economic status, RACE or ETHNICITY also plays a role in whether or not the accused will face a death sentence. For example, Africans who were KIDNAPED from their homeland, thrust into American society as SLAVE PROPERTY, and designated NON-HUMAN, they often fell VICTIM to the death penalty at the hand of so-called righteous men, in both, religious and secular societies.
They either met their fate in a court of law or extra-judiciously (Without a Trial), by slaveowners and others, for almost every IMAGINABLE sin or crime, whether misdemeanor or felony; sound familiar? In many instances, they were FALSELY accused, and whether a slaves or freemen, they were executed (lynched) simply because of their RACE.
Lawrence M. Friedman writes that in 1919, the NAACP documented 3,209 cases of African Americans who "fell victim to lynch mobs between 1889 and 1965." This is not to mention the bodies that have never been discovered. This EVIL behavior was not only driven by RACE HATRED, in many instances, it was also driven by religious beliefs, customs, and tradition (that the life of a slave is worthless); sound familiar? Such EVIL behavior was encouraged and/or tolerated by BYSTANDERS, and to some extent it was supported by Secular law through the postbellum and antebellum period, and well into the late 20th century in America. Thus far, I have not seen ANY moral or ethical justifications for the death penalty today, either in the Hebrew Scriptures or in Secular law.
The death penalty, under the Old Testament Hebrew Doctrine and under today's Secular law, both: clearly indicate that killing a human being is ethically and morally wrong; both doctrines define the wrongful killing of a human being; and both indicate the punishment handed out for such acts, DEATH. However, the New Testament (Christian Doctrine), suggests a stance of spiritual FORGIVENESS and MERCY from a death sentence. In response to the Ten Commandments and ALL of the Mosaic punuishment codes, particularly the death penalty, according to the Book of Matthew (5:17), Jesus said: "Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law [Ten Commandments] or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to FULFILL." (emphasis added).
One may wonder why Matthew (5:17) is significant in relation to the death penalty; the answer is simple. Under the Christian Doctrine it's understood that the human body of Jesus was sent to DIE for all past, present, and future sins of MANKIND, thus FULFILLING the Law (the penalty of DEATH). Under the Mosaic punishment laws, the penalty of DEATH was handed out for almost every IMAGINABLE crime or sin committed at the time, sound familiar! Such penalties of death were handed out almost exclusively to the meek, politically weak, poor, and uneducated people--those with NO earthly sustenance. According to the Christian Scripture, such persons, in the EYES of Jesus, are the most WORTHY OF MERCY from the penalty of death. In the Book of Romans (5:18), the Apostle Paul said:
Therefore, as through one man's [Adam's] offense JUDGMENT came to all men, resulting in CONDEMNATION, even through one Man's (Jesus'] righteous act, the free gift came to all men, resulting in JUSTIFICATION OF LIFE. (emphasis added).
In other words, Jesus came in the flesh of man to suffer the ultimate penalty, by sacrificing a "life for life" (his own life) to save mankind from DEATH. Through this "righteous act," he fulfilled the Law of DEATH. Not just saving man from a spiritual death, but from a physical death at the hand of mankind. Biblical Scripture also indicates, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans (10:4):
For Christ is the END of the LAW FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS to everyone who believes. (emphasis added). Jesus' LIFE and DEATH was a plea of mercy to all men and women who sought to extinguish the most SACRED creation (human life), either maliciously or in the name of protecting the PROPERTY of the self-professed "righteous" persons. This may explain why John (8:7) indicates that Jesus said, "He who is without sin (or crime] among you, let him throw a stone at her first. (emphasis added). In this instance, a woman was accused of being a prostitute, and was sentenced to DEATH BY STONING, however, because of Jesus' statement everyone turned and walked away, and the woman's life was spared. The point is, EVERYONE who has committed or even thought about committing any of the aforementioned crimes or sins is guilty of committed a capital offense, according to the New Testament Book of Matthew (5:21-30; 7:1-6).
There are other religious Doctrines that are similar to the Hebrew and Christian Doctrines, which is the Islamic Doctrine (The Holy Quran). It also supports both, the "life for life" ideology and the idea of MERCY regarding the death penalty, in the Holy Quran (17:33), it reads:
Nor take life--which Allah [God] Has made sacred--except For just cause. And if Anyone is slain wrongfully, We have given his heir Authority (to demand Qisas [retribution] Or to FORGIVE): but let him Not exceed bounds in the matter Of taking life: for he Is helped (by the Law). 6/ (emphasis added).
Indeed, this verse supports the Hebrew Doctrine's "life for life" ideology. However, like the Christian Doctrine, the Holy Quran also provides a means of punishment other than death. For example, when a person is accused and found guilty in a secular court of law of murder, the victim's immediate family can request another means of punishment other than death, as long as the request is within reason, such as, FORGIVENESS for the guilty person, and can asked the court (judge) to order the accused to pay the family a reasonable amount of money for their loss, or perform a reasonable amount of labor for the benefit of the imediate family of the murdered victim for a certain period of time. It is also written in the Holy Quran (2:178-79):
0' ye who believe The law of equality Is prescribed to you in cases of murder: The free for the free, The slave for the slave, The woman for the woman. But if any REMISSION Is made by the brother Of the slain, then grant Any reasonable demand, And compensate him With handsome gratitude. This is a concession And a MERCY From your Lord. 71 (emphasis added).
This Islamic Scripture (law) only applies to first degree (intentional) murder, and it also supports the idea of MERCY (remission, forgiveness or pardon) from the penalty of DEATH. Any other degree of murder, such as manslaughter, there is no death penalty. So, two of the major religions of the world (Christianity and Islam) provide a MORE ethical, moral, and just means of punishment for first degree murder. Since ALL human life is SACRED, then ALL human beings ought to do everything within their power to preserve ALL human life, especially all those who share the common belief in ONE GOD (Jews, Christians, and Muslims).
Essentially, American Secular law also provides alternatives to the death penalty for first degree murder, which is not surprising since it's based on the aforementioned Religious Doctrines. This fact alone supports the idea that ALL human life is sacred, and in reality, there really isn't OVERWHELMING support for executing human life, as some would have us believe. If there was, then this "OVERWHELMING" majority would vote out any Secular laws providing alternative punishments, such as Life Without the Possibility of Parole, or 25 years to Life would not exist!
Unfortunately, because of the fact that there are alternatives to the death penalty, the penalty itself becomes a political gambit, an unethical and immoral tool used for SOCIO-POLITICAL. GAIN, seemingly with no end in sight. Meanwhile, the pace of killing human beings quickens, because politicians passed, and President Bill Clinton signed a Bill into law, on April 24, 1996, called the "Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act" 81 (AEDPA)--Habeas Corpus Reform--in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing tragedy. At first glance, one might ask, what does "Antiterrorism" or the "Oklahoma City bombing tragedy" have to do with inmates who were on death row at the time the Bill was enacted? The answer is, absolutely nothing! The Habeas Corpus Reform portion of the Act was attached to the Antiterrorism Bill, and presented as ONE BILL, thereby guaranteeing passage, because at the time the President did not have "line-by-line" VETO POWER. By presenting the Bill, at that time, it would have been political suicide for President Clinton to VETO the entire Bill.
The "Habeas Corpus Reform" portion of the Act, places STRICT TIME LIMITS on death row inmates Appeals process. The problem is, if an INNOCENT person cannot discover and produce evidence tending to establish their innocence or if a guilty person cannot discover and produce evidence that they didn't get a fair trial, in time to meet the STRICT TIME LIMITS, they will pay the ultimate price for their tardiness, DEATH! Lawrence M. Friedman writes:
Law is a code of behavior, a collection of rules of conduct; procedures are only means to an end. When the rules fail to work, or when they produce what people THINK of as "wrong" results, or "unjust" results, there is a temptation to go private and not endure the law's delay. (Friedman, p. 192).
In part, this is the kind of thinking which motivated people, in the PAST, to participate in and tolerate LYNCHING African Americans and others; they did not want to wait for the LAW to take it's course. It is also this same kind of thinking by people, TODAY, which motivates politicians to take actions, in haste, to VOID or CIRCUMVENT the LAW'S procedural safeguards, such as due process, equal protection, and fairness; all of which are the essence of the Constitution' 5 Bill Of Rights. This, "never mind what it takes attitude," is what gives birth to what amounts to, JUDICIAL LYNCHING ACTS, such as the so-called Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act; so long as it serves as a "means to an end."
Indeed, this Act, coupled with the fact that the death penalty is being arbitrarily and disproportionately applied against poor people of color, poor white, and the mentally ill, who do not get a fair trial to begin with, is most certainly a Judicial LYNCHING or a type of GENOCIDE. During ancient Hebrew and Hammurabi's time, and during Jesus' time, poor persons were almost exclusively the victims of similar death penalty practices. I'm still searching for the ethical and/or moral underpennings for the use of the death penalty; the search if FUTILE.
After NEARLY 4000 years of BLOOD VENGEANCE--since the establishment of the Mosaic and Hammurabi's Death Penalty Statutes--you'd think we would be convinced there's NOTHING ethical or moral about the use of the death penalty. It is neither a DETERRENT to crime or sin, nor does it protect ALL human life! In this 4000 year QUEST FOR BLOOD, COUNTLESS INNOCENT human beings have been wrongfully tried, convicted, and executed under death penalty law; many others extra-judiciously (Summarily Lynched Without A Trial), and some currently stand at the gates of DEATH throughout America, waiting for their opportunity for justice, DENIED! The bottom line is, he death penalty has NEVER been or EVER will be an ideal representation of justice.
Every single human being
has redeeming qualities, no matter what they've done in their past.
In my opinion, All human beings are on an ever evolving state of existence,
individually and collectively, and all of us have the potential to become
better persons with time. There can NEVER be true justice in a system
that festers with corruption, wrongful convictions, and a form of punishment
that is IRREVERSIBLE. Therefore, since there can NEVER be a FLAWLESS
justice system, one must ask, why should we have the death penalty?
There's only ONE answer, REVENGE, pure and simple!
Such a practice should be abolished, indefinitely!
1. Nelson, Thomas. "THE HOLY BIBLE" New King James Version, Red Letter Edition. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, Inc., 1983.
2. Wallbank, T. Walter,
et, al. and Its People. Glenview, ILL:
"History and Life: The World Scott, Foresman & Co., 1977.
3. DOyle, Jim, Staff Writer, San Francisco Chronicle, TuesdayD
April 13, 1999, p. A-17.
4. Carbone, Gerald
M. "Manny Babbitt's Road to PROVIDENCE SUNDAY JOURNAL,
September 27, 1998, No. 39. Providence Journal Co. Providence,
Death Row." Volume CXII,
5. Friedman, Lawrence M. "Crime and Punishment in American History." New York: BasicBooks, 1993. pp. 190-191. See also: The Report by the NAACP, "Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918." (1919), pp. 7-8; Kissimee Valley Gazette (Florida, April 28, 1899), reprinted in Ralph Ginzburg, ed. "100 Years of Lynching" (1962), pp. 10-11; and W. Fitzhugh Brundage. "Lynching in the New South." Univ. of ILL. Press.
6. Ah, Abdullah Yusuf. "THE HOLY QURAN" New Revised Brentwood, Maryland: Amana Corp. (1409 A.H./1989 (Also see: Footnote. 2216).
7. Ibid. See also: Footnotes. 182-85.
8. 104th Congress, Second
Session (January 3, 1996), H.R. 2703; Title IX--Habeas Corpus Reform,
as presented to the House of Representatives. See
also: Foley, Timothy J. et, al. "The New Federal
Habeas: An Overview." California Attorneys for Criminal
Justice (CACJ/Forum) 1996, Vol. 23, No.
2, pp. 48-61.
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