July 15, 2005


The Right’s selective attraction
to the death penalty

by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

Was Larry Griffin, who was executed in 1995, really guilty or did we get the wrong man?

Griffin was executed by the state of Missouri for a 1980 killing during a drive-by shooting in St. Louis. Now the Innocence Project, a group headed by famed O.J. Simpson attorney, Barry Scheck, says they have evidence that has even convinced the victim’s family that Griffin was innocent. Griffin insisted he was innocent until the end.

Shouldn’t one of these cases be enough for the most civilized nation on earth to halt this practice? It seems not.

Politicians, conservative nor most liberals, will not touch the issue for fear of alienating their base and being labeled soft of crime. And since the 1988 Presidential election when Michael Dukakis lost to George H.W. Bush partly because it was perceived he was a wimp on criminals like Willie Horton, not standing up against the death penalty is a matter of political survival.

I admit that I have been temporarily moved to that basic instinct to want to see perpetrators of the most horrible crimes get the ultimate punishment. Criminals who have committed the most heinous crimes, such as the man who killed little Pamela Butler in Kansas City, KS several years ago or Joseph Duncan III, who has a long history of sexually abusing children and is now accused in the kidnapping of Shasta Groene and her brother Dylan in Idaho in May.

It was sickening listening to Dennis Rader, the self-proclaimed BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) serial killer describe, in gruesome detail, how he killed ten people in the Wichita area and terrorized a city over a 30-year period. The man, who blames demons for the evil he inflicted on his victims and their families, then told a Wichita television station he had already staked out and identified another victim before he was caught.

“It’s unbelievable they just can’t take people like that out and shoot them,” my husband said, who was also angered over the matter-of-fact testimony Rader gave the court during his guilty plea.

When I allow those feelings to flow, I then remember cases such as Griffin’s, and other cases in which justice has not been administered in a fair and balanced manner.

For example, the case of Brian Deneke, a 19-year old punk rocker from Amarillo, TX. Described as a “left leaning misfit” in what one cable documentary described as “the reddest town in the reddest state in the country,” Deneke was deliberately hit and killed by a car driven by 17-year-old Dustin Camp on Dec. 12, 1997. Camp was one of “them,” part of the town that reveres the Texas mantra: God, football and country. In short, Deneke was killed for being different.

During the trial, the class valedictorian testified that after driving over Deneke, Camp backed up, running over Deneke’s head. Camp’s reaction? He joked about the cracking sound Deneke’s skull made as it was crushed.

Did a jury of Camp’s peers find him guilty of first-degree murder and sentence him to death for taking another young life? No. A jury of Camp’s peers found him guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him to ten years probation. Camp would not have served a day in prison had he not broken the terms of his probation and been turned in by a townsperson with a sense of justice.
“What,” Deneke’s friends asked the prosecutor after the trial, “would have happened if we had killed one of them?”

“You would have been sentenced to death,” they reported he told them without hesitation.

And then there is Eric Rudolph. Rudolph, best known for the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996 that killed one person and wounded over 100. At one of his two women’s clinic bombings, he killed an off-duty police officer hired to protect patients because abortions are performed there. He also bombed a lesbian bar. Rudolf maimed hundreds and killed two, including a civil servant in a profession this country rightly hailed as heroes after 9-11, yet the government did not seek the death penalty in Rudolph’s case.

Rudolph is a self-proclaimed “Army of God” member who is anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-foreigner. At least some high-level government officials believed they would not get a conviction from right-leaning jurists who may sympathize with his views.

I guess the death penalty is only appropriate if the convicted are the Godless Left.

Which brings us back to Dennis Rader, who was president of his evangelical church when he was arrested in Wichita. Michael Clark, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita, has publicly stood by Rader and visited him numerous times while Rader was awaiting trial.

In an article by “Zondervan Church Source,” a Christian communications company, Clark said his job was to be Rader’s “spiritual mentor and guide” and “nothing would make me question his integrity or faithfulness to this church.”

I have to question Clark’s reaction to a man who not only killed nearly a dozen people, including an 11-year-old child, but taunted police with letters. He even sent a doll depicting the little girl, who was bound and gagged and hung from plumbing pipes in her basement.

Was Clark not horrified because Rader was supposedly a God-fearing evangelical who attended church and brought spaghetti to church potluck dinners, instead of being a shadowy figure who never pretended to accept Christ?

Clark also was quoted as saying he had no intention of removing Rader from the church’s membership rolls and said, “Dennis will continue to remain a part of the body of Christ here as long as he wants to be a part of us.”

Seems to me that Rader’s ruse still hasn’t sunk in. And although the death penalty was never on the table for Rader because Kansas did not have the death penalty at the time of Rader’s crimes, I have to wonder if the “red” in one of the other top red states in the country would have supported it for him.

The Right is their own worst enemy in support of the death penalty because it seems they are only willing to impose it on criminals who don’t fit their mold and those who don’t hold the same beliefs.

So when that anger over a horrendous crime fills me and I think I would like to see the ultimate sentence imposed, I will forever hold more of Clark’s words in my mind: “I let God be the judge. The moment we categorize sin, we’re playing God.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell can be contacted at Her blog is at


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