by Dan Richards
My wife Jessica and I live in a small town called Lakeland, just forty-five minutes down the interstate from Orlando, FL — the site of a vicious incident in which the then three-year-old Caylee Anthony’s skeletal remains were found over five months after she was reported missing. The case, which took some time to gather steam, became national public attention relatively late and despite having lived in Lakeland for the past two years, Jessica and I knew pretty much nothing about it up until two weeks ago. We tend to avoid the news, local and national, like the plague (to our benefit, we believe). We don’t watch much live TV but rather, like most tech-savvy, poor, graduate student twenty-somethings, watch our shows via Netflix, ethically-gray websites, and DVDs. One of such shows is Dexter — but I’ll get to that later.
After catching myself up on what I had missed; getting to converse with some of my friends who had been following the case; watching curiously as the frustrated Facebook statuses of my “friends” (who cared so much about the trial that they would buy snacks while watching the process unfold on TV) flooded my newsfeed; and subsequently hearing the verdict earlier this week, many things crossed my mind. I began thinking about the American judicial system which time and time again seems to frustrate and fail the very citizens it is intended to serve. I began thinking about how mental illness would almost have to be a primary factor in such an act of parental negligence/violence, no matter which side of the story you believe. I began thinking about how sad I am going to be whenever I think about how happy Casey Anthony is when no one is looking at her behind closed doors. However, regardless of what I think about the verdict, about whether my heart and mind think she is guilty or not guilty, this case ultimately made me think most about capital punishment and how this state law might deter the actions of jurors more than it deters the actions of its intended audience: those with the capacity to commit such crimes.
As a Christian who believes the Bible in its most literal sense, I have little difficulty justifying my disdain for the death penalty. To actually read through and interpret the New Testament and then believe that we as humans have the power and authority to end another’s life, regardless of their reckless actions, is just too much dissonance for me to reconcile. Humans are not meant to endure the feeling of taking another person’s life. So then why, I ask, do we put twelve jurors in the unfortunate position of having to deal with just such a possibility?
After hearing the jurors come out and engage in rather melodramatic dialogue with CBS news anchors about their true feelings about the trial, one begins to understand that the unbearable pressure of having to look at evidence objectively while knowing full well that the life of another hinges upon their decision greatly impacts the outcome of the trial. The interviews with the jurors, while all very unique individuals, were essentially the same, echoing each other with statements like, “I couldn’t live with that decision, could you?” or “Sentencing someone to death means that I am no better than Casey Anthony.” Fair enough. I’m not blaming the jurors – I am blaming the law of capital punishment as it stands in Florida in 2011 for not doing what is intended to do, and I am also blaming Florida state lawmakers for not doing anything about it. The very law that is aimed directly at discouraging the heinous acts of Casey Anthony is in and of itself the very reason why people like Casey Anthony are allowed to live free without incurring punishment. (Aside: Have you noticed what my own personal verdict is yet?) Twelve jurors — twelve average, law-abiding, family-having, conscience-possessing humans — are expected to take on the burden of killing someone for the rest of their lives in order to show that the justice systems works? in order to assuage the violent desires of the American public? The jurors plainly admitted that a verdict of guilty was much more likely if the charge were manslaughter (extended jail time) and not first-degree murder (death sentence). Stable citizens generally do not want the blood of others to stain their hands. I firmly believe, and wish was the case, that had Florida not been a death penalty state but a state that sentenced first-degree murderers to a lifetime in prison, Casey Anthony would be slowly accumulating gray hair in a place where the doors are made of steel bars and the palm trees exist only beyond the confines of barbed wire.
Yet, I am not that mad. My outrage level, in its usual position, rests much lower than that of the American — and specifically Florida — public. While intellectually I acknowledge that the fallacious belief in capital punishment as an effective deterrent to crime needs to be eradicated (and almost is), emotionally I feel at peace about the situation. And I get the feeling that many Christians are in a similar place. While out for lunch today with Jessica and our friend, Ben, we began inevitably talking about the outcome of the trial and our feelings about it, when Ben uttered very obvious and simple, but powerful words: “God is going to take care of her.” This did not come from a concern for vengeance, nor did it come from an insatiable desire for the blood of the guilty; rather, it came from a place of peace, from acceptance of the unfairness of this world and from solace attained solely through an understanding of the nature of God and the afterlife. Christians have an advantage in dealing or coping with such blood-boiling instances by having confidence in the swift and fair judgment of God. God comes through even when America’s justice system does not.
And in a way, isn’t this why we all love the show Dexter? Doesn’t our interest and excitement in witty serial killers with a sharp moral compass stem from the frustration we endure in the justice system? I admittedly find it entertaining to see a rogue blood spatter analyst who works for the Miami Police Department personally take murderers, rapists, and child molesters into his own latex-confined hands. Fortunately, it’s fiction, so my entertainment with such a premise ends when the cameras are turned off. Perhaps my trust in Michael C. Hall’s character, without being blasphemous, is similar to my trust in God. When people undeserving of escaping of “wrath” of the justice system go free, I take solace in the fact that at some point justice will be served. Is this why Dexter is such a popular show? Is God our real-life Dexter, the one who settles fairly all trials?
I think, in some capacity, there is truth between this correlation, however strange the parallel may seem. And I think, if I’m one of the writers or directors of the popular television series, I’m hoping in a strange way that the American justice system continues set the guilty free.
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