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Can Execution Be Merciful?

Paul Donnelly wrote an essay, Upon Penalty of Life, for the New York Times Magazine this past week. Donnelly's brother and his wife were killed by Christopher Di Meo. And Donnelly's essay argues that the most merciful thing for Di Meo would be to receive the death penalty. Donnelly is, in his words, a lapsed believer. And yet he wants to forgive his brother's murderer. And he wants to want good things for this man. He concludes:

"When we were kids, my dad used to turn the TV off and we'd all kneel on the living-room floor to say an Our Father before bed: "as we forgive those who trespass against us." I'm long since lapsed, but I've struggled with what's required of me, with this guy. I finally realized talk is cheap: I can say I forgive him, but so what?

"To me, it comes down to making a hard, practical decision about morality — exactly the kind of thing the death-penalty law avoids. I've decided that forgiving DiMeo means giving him an effective chance to save his soul. And life in prison ain't it.

"Prisons are not forgiving places. DiMeo himself has said that he didn't "do well in prison." And what he will have to do to survive there is unlikely to save his soul. He will live in fear, as long as he can. After all, we all know we are going to die, but we don't think about it much. That's because we don't know when.

"So when I thought about his soul (and the data on killers: a third of guys spared from Death Row in the 1970s went on to commit serious assaults in prison), I came to believe a death sentence for DiMeo would have been a gift. There's no inspiration like a deadline."

In a time when many Christians are rethinking the death penalty, what do you think? Is it merciful to sentence a killer to death?

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