Wednesday, June 22, 2016

After 62 Executions: "I Will Never Do It Again"

AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
Virginia re-instated the death penalty in 1978 but did not resume executing death row inmates until 1982. Overall the Old Dominion holds the record of being third in the nation in total number of executions (after Texas and Oklahoma), but put only one person to death in 2015.

Jerry Givens was the state's chief executioner from 1982-1999, responsible for 62 state-sponsored deaths during that period. Near the end of his career with the Department of Corrections Givens had two experiences that led to his eventually opposing capital punishment.

The first had to do with the case of Earl Washington, Jr., who had an IQ of 69 and was scheduled to die in the electric chair in 1995. Just days before his execution, his attorneys were able to secure a stay, and subsequent DNA testing resulted in his being proved innocent. 

That was very disturbing to Givens. "If I execute an innocent person, I'm no better than the people on death row," he said.

Meanwhile he learned that there had been 325 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States, including 15 in Virginia. Some of them were capital cases.

The second experience, this one personal, resulted in his becoming even more mistrustful of the criminal justice system. State prosecutors charged him with conspiring with a friend to launder drug money. Although he has always maintained his innocence, he was nevertheless convicted and sent to prison for four years.

According to a Washington Post article, Givens said God asked him if he would have executed his Son if he were on death row (which Jesus once was), and Givens realized he could no longer support the death penalty.

Since then Givens has been active in giving anti-capital punishment speeches across the country. He also testified against a bill introduced in January 2014 to restore the use of the electric chair if the state found it necessary due to problems getting proper lethal injection drugs. After his testimony, in which he described how electrocutions often left prisoners' bodies with severe burns and blisters, a legislative committee failed to agree on the bill, dead locking in a tie vote.

According to the Post, Givens continues to wonder if any of the people he executed were innocent. "The only thing I can do is pray to God to forgive me if I did." he said, "but I do know this - I will never do it again."

For more detail, here's a link to one of several Washington Post stories:

Proverbs 24:11-12 New Living Translation (NLT)

Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die;
    save them as they stagger to their death.
Don’t excuse yourself by saying, “Look, we didn’t know.”
    For God understands all hearts, and he sees you.
He who guards your soul knows you knew.

   He will repay all people as their actions deserve.

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