Capital Punishment and the Character of God

By Alan Bean

Troy Davis wasn’t the only man executed yesterday in America.  Lawrence Russell Brewer, the man convicted in the infamous dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas met his maker via lethal injection.  So far as I know, there were few protesters camped out in Huntsville Texas when Brewer died.  Georgia may have killed an innocent man (in which case, execution morphs into murder–the state has no mandate to kill the innocent); Texas executed a poster child for the death penalty.
If anyone deserved to die by lethal injection it was Larry Brewer.  A white supremacist with a sadistic streak, Brewer may be the least sympathetic victim of capital punishment on record.  Judged by purely pragmatic standards, the world is a better place without this guy.
But Larry Brewer was created in the image of God.  He didn’t invent racism, he took it in with his mother’s milk.  Brewer became a white supremacist in a Texas prison.  Some people find God in prison; others find Satan.  Larry was one of those.
Larry is our boy, a product of a world he didn’t create.  Is he responsible for his actions?  Certainly.  There were thousands of white ignorant white supremacists in southeast Texas the day James Byrd died, only one of them decided to litter the road with the body parts of a randomly selected black man.
I don’t know why Brewer did what he did.  We’re a clever bunch, but the mystery of human iniquity eludes us.  Crimes of passion we understand because we are passionate beings and many of our passions are irrational.  Monstrous cruelty eludes our understanding. 
We don’t understand Larry Brewer, but God does.
When the state takes a human life it defines that life as disposable.  On who’s authority?  The Roman Catholic Church respectfully disagrees.  I’m not a Roman Catholic, but I can’t argue with their stance on the death penalty.  I don’t just agree with it; I am convinced by the moral logic undergirding it.
Capital punishment isn’t just wrong when the facts are ambiguous; it is simply wrong.
True, the “eye for an eye” morality appears in the Bible, but Jesus explicitly rejects this ancient lex talionis.  To quote the Gideon’s  King James Bible I just removed from a drawer in my motel room, Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  But I say unto you that you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also . . . Ye have that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.”
Is Jesus the human face of God?  I believe he is.  Can Jesus unravel the mystery of iniquity?  I believe he can.  And on the basis of that belief I reject the death penalty.  Forced to choose between Jesus and Rick (236 and counting) Perry, I go with Jesus.
It has been argued, of course, that the Sermon on the Mount only relates to personal morality and cannot be applied to the actions of the state.  Thus we are to be merciful in our personal dealings while  we enthusaistically embrace the punitive brutality of the state.
Jesus calls us to be children of God but we have chosen another father.
The merciful God and father of Jesus will welcome Larry just as he has welcomed Troy.  God will have mercy on our souls (and ours) because that’s who God is.
Capital punishment is about the character of God. 

White supremacist gang member executed in Texas for dragging death of black man 13 years ago

By Associated Press, Published: September 21

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — White supremacist gang member Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed Wednesday evening for the infamous dragging death slaying of James Byrd Jr., a black man from East Texas.

Byrd, 49, was chained to the back of a pickup truck and pulled whip-like to his death along a bumpy asphalt road in one of the most grisly hate crime murders in recent Texas history.

Brewer, 44, was asked if he had any final words, to which he replied: “No. I have no final statement.”

He glanced at his parents watching through a nearby window, took several deep breaths and closed his eyes. A single tear hung on the edge of his right eye as he was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m., 10 minutes after the lethal drugs began flowing into his arms, both covered with intricate black tattoos.

Byrd’s sisters also were among the witnesses in an adjacent room.

“Hopefully, today’s execution of Brewer can remind all of us that racial hatred and prejudice leads to terrible consequence for the victim, the victim’s family, for the perpetrator and for the perpetrator’s family,” Clara Taylor, one of Byrd’s sisters, said.

She called the punishment “a step in the right direction.”

“We’re making progress,” Taylor said. “I know he was guilty so I have no qualms about the death penalty.”

Appeals to the courts for Brewer were exhausted and no last-day attempts to save his life were filed.

Besides Brewer, John William King, now 36, also was convicted of capital murder and sent to death row for Byrd’s death, which shocked the nation for its brutality. King’s conviction and death sentence remain under appeal. A third man, Shawn Berry, 36, received a life prison term.

“One down and one to go,” Billy Rowles, the retired Jasper County sheriff who first investigated the horrific scene, said. “That’s kind of cruel but that’s reality.”

It was about 2:30 a.m. on a Sunday, June 7, 1998, when witnesses saw Byrd walking on a road not far from his home in Jasper, a town of more than 7,000 about 125 miles northeast of Houston. Many folks knew he lived off disability checks, couldn’t afford his own car and walked where he needed to go. Another witness then saw him riding in the bed of a dark pickup.

Six hours later and some 10 miles away on Huff Creek Road, the bloody mess found after daybreak was thought at first to be animal road kill. Rowles, a former Texas state trooper who had taken office as sheriff the previous year, believed it was a hit-and-run fatality but evidence didn’t match up with someone caught beneath a vehicle. Body parts were scattered and the blood trail began with footprints at what appeared to be the scene of a scuffle.

“I didn’t go down that road too far before I knew this was going to be a bad deal,” he said at Brewer’s trial.

Fingerprints taken from the headless torso identified the victim as Byrd.

Testimony showed the three men and Byrd drove out into the county about 10 miles and stopped along an isolated logging road. A fight broke out and the outnumbered Byrd was tied to the truck bumper with a 24½-foot logging chain. Three miles later, what was left of his shredded remains was dumped between a black church and cemetery where the pavement ended on the remote road.

Brewer, King and Berry were in custody by the end of the next day.

The crime put Jasper under a national spotlight and lured the likes of the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Panthers, among others, to try to exploit the notoriety of the case which continues — many say unfairly — to brand Jasper more than a decade later.

King was tried first, in Jasper. Brewer’s trial was moved 150 miles away to Bryan. Berry was tried back in Jasper. DNA showed Byrd’s blood on all three of them.

Brewer was from Sulphur Springs, about 180 miles to the northwest, and had been convicted of cocaine possession. He met King, a convicted burglar from Jasper, in a Texas prison where they got involved in a KKK splinter group known as the Confederate Knights of America and adorned themselves with racist tattoos. Evidence showed Brewer had violated parole and was involved in a number of burglaries and thefts in the Jasper area.

King had become friends with Berry and moved into Berry’s place. Evidence showed Brewer came to Jasper to stay with them.