Clare Nonhebel writes movingly in the latest edition of the Baptist Times about how she came to correspond with a prisoner on death row in an American prison.
Romell Broom grew up with every imaginable disadvantage. Still, his crimes were bad enough, and he was sentenced to die.
But the “killing team” tasked with ending his life by lethal injection tried for two hours to find a vein, and in the end gave it up as a bad job. He was returned to his cell, and more than a year later he is still there.
In recent weeks we have learned that the drugs that are used for these executions – one a sedative, another to paralyze and another to kill – are provided by a British company.
The mother of another prisoner, whose execution was successful, appeared recently before members of Parliament to call for a ban on such exports. Patches Rhode’s words before the hearing are worth quoting.
“I was under the impression that Great Britain is against the death penalty and that any exports [aiding it] would be illegal.
“I didn’t know that [the Government] allowed such drugs to leave the country.”
Indeed. And many readers will share her bewilderment.
Her son’s case is, if anything, particularly troubling, in that the anesthetic supplied by Acton-based Dream Pharma appears to have been ineffective.
Brandon Rhode had in any case been so terrified of the execution that he had tried to kill himself. He was saved for execution by prison doctors and spent the last week of his life strapped to a chair.
The fact that his eyes remained open throughout the “procedure” suggests to Patches Rhode that he was conscious throughout. “So,” she says, “I am left with the thought of my child stretched out on a table and trying to scream but being unable.”
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It is difficult to read such a sentence without a chill. It is useless to pretend that either Romell Broom or Brandon Rhodes were innocent; their crimes were terrible. But that is not the point.
Clare concludes her piece about Broom by saying: “With all its horror, poignancy and pain inflicted and received, it is a life created by God.”
Every human being, no matter what they have done, is a child of God, and just as much beloved by him as the greatest saint who ever lived.
If we do not believe this, we do not really believe in grace, and we have sunk to a sub-Christian level of morality.
And if we believe it, we will be absolutely clear that all punishment has to allow for repentance and redemption, and – where possible – rehabilitation. Execution is the only punishment that takes away all possibility of change.
Anyone with a heart should feel deeply and passionately for the victims of terrible crimes, and no one who has not been wronged enough to understand the desire for vengeance should be quick to demand mercy.
But Christians cannot compromise where grace is concerned.
As citizens of a country that turned its back on the death penalty more than 40 years ago, we cannot quietly accept that the United Kingdom is involved in it overseas by a shabby sort of proxy.
Is this not a cause for Christian conscience?
Mark Woods is editor of Britain’s Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.