Execution in Tennessee

Today, the state of Tennessee carried out it’s first execution of a condemned criminal since 2009. Billy Ray Irick, 59, was executed by lethal injection and died at 7:48pm. Irick was convicted in 1986 of the rape and murder of seven-year-old Paula Dyer.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III said that “justice was finally served” for Paula Dyer. But, that is surely a cynical concept of justice AG Slatery is promoting. It seems more like revenge than justice. Justice, properly understood, is the restoration of what was lost to the victim of a crime. What was restored for Paula Dyer or even for her family in the execution of her murderer?

Irick lived with Paula Dyer’s family at the time of the 1985 rape and murder and court records show they reported that Irick heard voices. In the days prior to Paula’s death, Irick was seen chasing a young girl with a machete. Irick was babysitting the family’s children the night of the rape and murder while her parents were at work. He called Paula’s step-father and told him he could not wake Paula. On their return home, Paula’s parents found her dead. Irick attempted to hitchhike out of town, but was quickly apprehended by police. He was tried and convicted of the rape and murder the next year.

Over the years, Irick attempted to prove himself mentally unfit to be executed and managed several stays of his execution. Another stay was requested from the Supreme Court on the grounds that the drugs used for lethal injection in Tennessee do not spare criminals a torturous death. Justice Elena Kagan denied the request.

Billy Ray Irick lived for 32 years on death row. Over the course of those decades, he never had the opportunity to harm anyone again. The justification for capital punishment lies in the civil authority’s legitimate duty to safeguard society. In extreme cases, when that cannot be accomplished in any other way, civil authority may resort to the execution of criminals who pose a continued threat to others. But, Billy Ray Irick did not pose a continued threat to anyone, being locked away in a prison. What did the state of Tennessee accomplish in his execution? Revenge, pure and simple.

Pope Francis recently stated that the death penalty is “inadmissible” given our ability to secure for life those who have been convicted of violent crimes and who might cause future harm to others. He has directed that the text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church be revised to reflect this position.

Bishops Richard Stika of Knoxville and J. Mark Spalding of Nashville issued a joint statement saying, “The state has the obligation to protect all people and to impose just punishment for crimes, but in the modern world the death penalty is not required for either of these ends.”

I pray for the repose of the souls of Billy Ray Irick and Paula Dyer and for peace for Paula’s family. I pray, too, that the state of Tennessee will wake up to the travesty of justice the death penalty represents.

Two more executions have been scheduled in Tennessee before the end of the year.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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