Kelly Gissendaner and the Death Penalty

I’m very thrilled about Kelly Gissendaner’s stayed execution. If you haven’t heard about Kelly, Kelly is a death row inmate in Georgia who was scheduled to be killed this week. In 1997, Kelly recruited her boyfriend to murder her husband, and in 1998, Kelly was convicted of murder and charged with the death penalty. So far, Kelly’s execution has been postponed twice. Here’s hoping it never happens.

What makes Kelly the source of so much media attention is the fact that she seems to have drastically reformed herself in prison. She even got a theology degree and has been ministering to other prisoners and helping them reform themselves as well.

The official reason that Georgia gave for postponing the execution was that the lethal injection serum looked “cloudy,” but I believe that the real cause was the groundswell of Georgians and Americans who spoke out against the execution.

What’s really cloudy is the logic behind the death penalty. It’s more expensive to execute a prisoner than to imprison him for life because of the lengthy appeals process. But that process is necessary because 4% or more of death row inmates are exonerated or found innocent after their execution. Can you imagine if 4% of airplanes crashed? The moral logic is even less sound. We enforce the idea that its wrong to kill, by killing? Our Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment, but what can be more cruel than death?

It’s especially saddening to know that the death penalty is championed by Christians more than any other group of people. They justify the “eye for an eye” mentality of the death penalty, when Jesus said, “You have heard it said an eye for an eye, but I say, do not resist an evildoer… love your enemy.” We worship a man who greatest miracle was overcoming the death penalty, and no group is as pro death penalty as Christians. Is their greater hypocrisy than that?

The death penalty isn’t justice, it’s murder.

I know you will say that the people on death row are there because they themselves committed murder. You’re right. They’re murderers. We shouldn’t be. Killing someone will never bring someone else back from the dead. It will never right the wrong. It will only add to the pain and suffering.

We have to ask ourselves not only if the criminal deserves to die (he/she doesn’t), but if we as a society have the right to kill (we don’t). The real problem with the death penalty isn’t only that it neglects the inherent humanity of the criminal, but in allowing ourselves to execute prisoners, we deny that most basic human aspect of ourselves that tells us killing is wrong. We are lesser because we give into the aimless temptation to be violent and vindictive. We betray the piece of God that lives in others and in ourselves.

My biggest hope for Kelly Gissendaner’s case is that we don’t stop at Kelly. Kelly is an exceptional example of the redemptive power of criminal justice when it seeks to be reformative rather than punitive. Kelly’s example and transformation allows us to question if we are so much more righteous than her that we can choose to kill her (we aren’t). But we have to remember that Kelly is no more righteous than any other person on death row. Kelly doesn’t deserve to live because she has expressed her sincere sorrow and regret, because she has redeemed herself, because she has transformed herself, because she has become a minister, or because she is reforming other prisoners. Kelly deserves to live because she is a human being.

There are 14 more executions scheduled in 2015 (sickeningly, nearly all of them are in the “bible belt”). Don’t stop at Kelly. Let Kelly remind you of the inherent potential for good that lives in all people. But never stop.

Emmett Eldred - Hollidaysburg COB, Middle PA District

Emmett Eldred is a sophomore Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

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