From Joseph Bottums, at First Things, on the bloody execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner last week in Utah:

They did it, the blood-hungry fools. Last night, just after midnight out in Draper, Utah, they trussed up Ronnie Lee Gardner like a scarecrow, pinned a target on him, and pumped four .30-caliber bullets into his chest.

This execution was so unnecessary, and because it was unnecessary, it was simply and completely wrong. They shouldn’t have done it–because they didn’t have to do it.

The odd thing is that Gardner might have made a good example for legitimate imposition of the death penalty, once upon a time. He had a history of escapes, and, on trial in 1985 for the barroom murder of Melvyn Otterstrom, he was smuggled a gun and shot down an attorney named Michael Burdell in a botched attempt at a getaway from the Salt Lake courthouse. He was an open threat to the public, and the system appeared incapable of containing him. The ordinary course of social justice might well have required his death.

But that was twenty-five years ago. For more than two decades, the Utah State prison proved competent to restrain him–and to age him from the murderous twenty-four-year-old into a less dangerous forty-nine-year old….

More to the point, there is nothing in Paul that demands death in every situation of punishment. And if we don’t have to kill a prisoner, in the ordinary social justice that demands protection of citizens, then we have a responsibility not to kill a prisoner. The death of Ronnie Lee Gardner last night, four .30-caliber bullets in his heart, was unauthorized, wrong, and foolish.

We have so devolved that we kill even while we cannot explain how we are allowed to take matters of life and death into our hands. And that is a door I fear to watch our government–or any government–walk through.

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