Charles Rehn - Democrat for President 2004

A Conversation With America
Questions That Must Be Answered
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The Death Penalty

Updated 7/4/2008:

I've left my previous remarks below, but I have to say that upon reflection of my own beliefs and feelings, setting aside the "training" ive received in the past that convinced me I wasn't totally against it in the past, I must say that I now absolutely oppose it.

I will have  agreat deal more to say about the reformation of the penal system, reorienting prisons and centers to be rehabilitative instead of punitive, as well as plans for reviewing all previous executive Orders, and a full review of the Justice Department and its priorities.

Prior position

This is one of those issues where I will admit my feelings are conflicted.

I do not take the idea of killing people, under any circumstances, lightly. The same as I do not take the issue of abortion lightly.

I was "trained" if you will, to believe in the death penalty. Ultimately, I would say that I approve of the death penalty so long as it truly is the opinion of citizens that it should be applied, so long as it is done humanely. So long as it is absolutely certain that all the evidence and technolgoy available has been fairly presented and proves guilt.

In my "hopes", I would hope that conditions would not occur that require an execution. However, I am also clear that there are those who go over the line, who kill for blood or with complete disregard of or appreciation for life, and their incarceration would serve little purpose.

But I do not believe the death penalty prevents crime, let alone murder.

In my studies last summer, I went out of my way to look up in the Bible what it had to say about the death penalty. It wasn't quite what I wanted to hear or what I expected.

It supported the idea of the death penalty. But it also made it very clear that anyone who testified for the purpose of seeking the death of another was guilty of murder themselves.

To me, that would suggest that our test is that if we convict someone of murder, and testify to the facts which would, by their revealing, convict someone of the crime, that, in the case of murder, if it is the custom of the law to apply the penalty of death, then it is justified and righteous, but that we should not testify for that penalty because it would  presumably be done out of vindictiveness, regardless of or despite justice, as defined by the law of the land.

An interesting spiritual twist to consider.

Beyond the moral issues, I believe there are additional ethical questions. Questions about making absolutely certain of guilt before someone is put to death, particularly in cases that were tried prior to the existence of DNA testing.  It only makes sense if you really believe in justice.

I can't imagine what it would be like to face death for a crime you know you didn't commit.

My father used to play devil's advocate on this topic in discussions.  He'd say, when it comes to murder and capital punishment, circumstantial evidence isn't enough. You have to know absolutely for certain.

It's why I find the O.J. Simpson case so compelling.  I watched every day of that case on tv. I've often said that, based on the presentation of evidence and burden of proof, that I would not have convicted O.J. Simpson.

Most would conclude that means I believe he is innocent. The truth is, based on the evidence, and the circumstances, individuals and procedures involved in the improper handling of evidence, that I do not feel certain of his guilt, and therefore must presume innocence. The bottom line, based on the evidence presented, I don't know.

It's always important that we look at the details instead of relying on common impressions or easy answers when solving such crimes or shaping public opinion regarding guilt or implication of guilt.

Otherwise, we will be promoting a lynch mob mentality, easily manipulated to focus anger and frustration at individuals or a people, or to influence prospective jurors, ever more anxious and encouraged to seek revenge instead of justice.

That kind of thinking generates even more hostility and violence as a rippling effect of the fervor created by exposure to the violence we're constantly reminded of. It perpetuates a cycle that must be broken.

The Innocence Project specializing in criminal cases where DNA evidence may assist in overturning incorrect convictions before DNA testing was available.

Juries Reject Death Penalty in Nearly All Federal Trials   "It reflects that the tide is turning in this country with regard to attitudes about the death penalty," Mr. Vinegrad said. "There has been so much publicity about wrongfully convicted defendants on death row that people sitting on juries are reluctant to impose the ultimate sanction."


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