Torah: Tookie’s Execution Was A Miscarriage of Justice
Tookie should not have been executed.
He may have been a bad man, but he was done in by bad law.
Tookie should not have been executed by the State of California, because his conviction was based on evidence that runs afoul of decency and the laws of the Torah itself. He may have deserved to die, and there may even be poetic justice in that it was injustice that took the life of an unjust man. But his conviction was also a breach of the law – the expectations of our Torah.
Tookie was not executed because he may have contributed, directly and otherwise, to the deaths of hundreds of people. He was convicted for the deaths of four people. The jury convicted him on nothing stronger than the testimony of convicted felons, some of the worst slime known to man. Regarding three of the victims, the testimony was not even about the murder, but about Tookie bragging in jail about his having committed the murders. As I understand it, halacha is quite clear about where the evidential bar must be set in Noachide law. The single witness (to the deed, not to an incident of jailhouse braggadocio) must be observant of the Seven Noachide laws. So says the Chazon Ish. (Avodas Kochavim 69:3 s.v veha.). In Bava Kama (10:15 s.v. v’nireh d’im), he modifies this considerably, taking into account that most of the non-Jewish world is far from perfect regarding a number of the seven laws. The minimum he sets, however, is observance of laws that the majority of people do adhere to: strictures about theft and murder. Those whose testimony doomed Tookie struck out on both counts.
I reject the notion that capital punishment is inherently barbaric and inhumane. The most vocal opponents of the death penalty as completely unjustifiable are the heads of the EU. It is hard to find a more convincing argument in support of court-mandated executions.
I reject the notion that a condemned prisoner can “redeem” himself in any manner or form. The death penalty, once accepted by a given society, is a statement that there are some crimes that simply revoke a person’s license to live. It takes into account the fact that humans can and do change, and rejects that as sufficient to continue existence in the company of civilized humanity. The champions of redemption were most prominently avatars of the entertainment industry. It is hard to find a more convincing argument to reject it, than that is endorsed by the single group least endowed with education, intelligence, stability, or morality. (I specific exclude Mike Farrell, whom I know, respect, and profoundly disagree with.)
Tookie went to his execution maintaining his innocence. I am not ready to smugly declare him wrong. I don’t doubt that he was fully capable of those murders. So were his accusers; so were thousands of Crips, and thousands of Bloods, and thousands of other Angelenos.
In our rush to differ with those who claim that the death penalty is never justified (and heterodox rabbis who never lose an opportunity to proclaim to the world that Judaism stands for the polar opposite position of what the Torah says), we ought not be guilty of what we charge our opponents of doing: ignoring the Torah. The Torah does allow for taking life. It also sets standards of evidence. The evidence is there (as far as I see it) that these standards were not met.
We should not be cheering for something the Torah does not endorse.