Pro: Criminal justice system should not be used for vengeance
Louis Jones Jr. died with his family and friends watching.
He softly sang "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross" until his heart stopped pumping and his eyes slowly closed.
"They opened the door or the curtain, and he was standing there, with a sheet over him as if he is in the hospital," remembered Dr. Jason Fry. "You couldn't even see where the needles went into the arm to deliver the fatal drugs. It looked very antiseptic."
But everyone in the room, including Jones' young daughter, knew antiseptic-looking or not, Jones was not coming out alive.
Fry, former senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Victoria from 2005-09, said those in favor of the death penalty should watch an execution to understand what they support.
"Before I got involved, I did not have a real strong opinion about the death penalty. I was not opposed to it. . But there were two things that were true for me at that time - it was strictly an academic issue; I had no personal experience with a real situation. And secondly, I was rather ignorant about the realities of the death penalty and how it works in Texas and in the United States," said Fry, now a pastor in Fredericksburg.
Fry got involved with Jones through a prison ministry in 1995 while Jones was in San Angelo on trial for raping and killing 19-year-old Tracie Joy McBride.
Jones was guilty of the crime, confessing two weeks after the murder and leading detectives to the body. He deserved to be punished severely, Fry said, but the death penalty was not the answer and only created additional victims, such as Jones' 14-year-old daughter and elderly mother.
"It is not even really about justice, in my view. If someone is raped, the government doesn't rape the perpetrator. That is not about justice; it is really about vengeance," Fry said.
Additionally, Fry said the death penalty is too expensive, placing a burden on state budgets, and is not an effective deterrent.
Analysis in Lubbock County, for example, shows that non-death penalty murder trials cost the county about $3,000. A death penalty trial costs the county about $1 million, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor, though he supports the death penalty, said the costs are often a heavy burden on area governments.
"I don't know how you would address that cost aspect, but I just know it is has an effect on cases that may have been eligible for it and they decided not to do it," O'Connor said.
Also, Fry said there is always the potential of convicting and killing the wrong man, with 18 people proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. The most recent exoneration of someone on death row was in 2012, according to the Innocence Project.
Victoria County District Attorney Steve Tyler said he supports the death penalty, but the appeals process must be fully used for it to be just.
John Quintanilla Jr., of Victoria, is set to be executed July 16 for the murder of Victor Billings, a former chief deputy for the Jackson County Sheriff's Office. Quintanilla's appeals process is exhausted, but Tyler said he is still researching and checking the case even today.
"We want to go through this last process, and we have plenty of time between now and July," Tyler said. "I think the public, they expect us to be very thorough when they are asked as jurors to consider the death penalty. They want to know, and they trust we are going to do everything as carefully as possible."
Finally, O'Connor said the death penalty should not be used as a means to lower jail occupancy.
"I don't think you can use a death sentence from a perspective to manage occupancy. I would not even see that as a component," O'Connor said. "To me, it is a penalty that is consequence related."
The Rev. David King, pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Palacios, said the death penalty is not about serving justice.
"The Methodist Church opposes the death penalty, and I'm not necessarily a company man, but they believe it denies Christ the opportunity to redeem or transform someone, and I think what he is doing in me now is redeeming and transforming," King said.
Though a victim of an assault himself, King said the death penalty dehumanizes the perpetrator and the victim, which is not God's wish.
"I don't think it makes us a better society. It feeds the lowest part of us, the least noble part of us, when we start taking people's lives out retribution," King said.