Saturday, May 29, 2010


A prayerful vigil was held Thursday afternoon (5-27) in front of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile—a vigil to mark the execution of Thomas Whisenhant for rape and murder, and to pray for his victim, Cheryl Payton, and her family. The majority of those present at the vigil were from Our Savior parish.

My comment there was simple enough: what Thomas Whisenhant did to Cheryl Payton back in 1976, was evil. He may or may not have been morally responsible (seeing that he was also earlier diagnosed as psychotic with paranoid schizophrenia). But taking his life was not the answer.

The feelings of Ms Payton’s family, as expressed in Friday’s Mobile Press-Register, confirm this, it seems to me. Before he died, Mr Whisenhant smiled and tried to lift up his left hand to respond to those who supported him. Relatives, the news article stated, saw this as an act of hostility. Why? Were they only seeing him through the lens of anger (surely understandable, but which blurs the vision nevertheless)?

Beyond this, Ms Payton’s brother was quoted as saying, “There really wasn’t justice served today. We watched him die an easy death.” Perhaps he did. But if death itself is not the point of capital punishment, what else would have been necessary to satisfy the family? “He died a much easier death than my wife,” Ms Payton’s widower, Douglas, said. Does this mean that we need (or that people want) to inflict death by torture rather than by lethal injection? Is death itself not the point…?

Please—I regard the rage and the hurt and the anger of the Payton family as completely understandable. But these feelings lead to expressions of a desire that is really about revenge and not about “justice being served” or experiencing “closure.” The rage and hurt and anger go on, even after the execution. And this family does not deserve to be held in the grip of these feelings—no family does.

This is why the most painful thing they could be asked to do is the one thing that can release them and heal them—it is the act of forgiveness. They cannot be reconciled with Mr Whisenhant now (they probably never could). But if they could begin to pray for peace for him, as well as for their beloved Cheryl; if they could begin to pray for themselves, for the grace and strength to let go the hate; they could begin to become whole persons again. They deserve this.

1 comment:

  1. I have not always agreed with you on some issues, but I have to say that one of the things you have opened up my heart and mind to, is this very issue. Not so long ago I believed the death penalty to be morally acceptable when justified. I understand now that murder/execution is never the answer to murder or any other capital crime. It helps no one. Everyone/all of us are now victims of this evil. My prayers go out for all of us, but most especially for the victims and others intimately involved with the execution of this man. May God pour out his mercy. Thank you for not remaining silent and for taking a stance and saying no to this evil.