No one should be judged by their darkest moment
By KATHLEEN ELLIS for The Bryan-College Eagle

His name on the list took me by surprise. I used to know his dad, a member of my church in Waco. We had long conversations about his son, Granville Riddle, who was on Texas’ death row.

As the appeals process went on, it seemed quite possible that his sentence could be reduced or even overturned. But Granville Riddle’s name is on the execution list for Jan. 30. His time is running out.

Since those conversations in Waco I have learned more about capital punishment. For example, the death penalty is unfairly applied. It depends mainly on where the crime took place and the quality of court-appointed legal counsel. Without adequate resources for defense, even innocent men and women too often face the ultimate punishment. The old saying is true: those without the capital get the punishment.

One thing is clear. Death row inmates are almost universally poor. Virtually all of them have been defended by overworked attorneys who have limited resources. More than once these defendants have been represented by sleeping lawyers. Far too often they have been represented by unprepared, unqualified lawyers, many of whom have been disciplined by the State Bar of Texas.

The cost to taxpayers for a capital murder trial, appeals, and execution is extremely high. In 1992, The Dallas Morning News found that the cost to Texas taxpayers averages $2.3 million per case for a capital trial and its appeals. By comparison, the cost of housing an inmate in a single-cell, maximum-security unit for life is approximately $750,000.

We know that both opponents and supporters of capital punishment find basic arguments in their readings of scripture. For example, the book of Genesis tells us that Cain killed his brother Abel, but the Lord did not take Cain’s life. Instead, Cain was banished to a life separated from the Lord and his community, a fugitive and a wanderer for the rest of his days. Yet “the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.”

This kind of banishment in ancient days cannot be our answer, but questions remain. Faith communities almost without exception oppose capital punishment in their official statements. As a result, more and more members in the pews are asking these questions within their hearts and among their neighbors.

The only time Jesus was consulted by the death penalty, he refused to cast the first stone. What, then, shall we do?

How can we most faithfully uphold reverence for human life and also uphold safety through basic legal and moral standards? Too often we do an extremely poor job of intervention in high-risk situations: young people who live on the margin of society without a safety net. Education continues to face cutbacks while prisons multiply.

For these and many other reasons, The Bryan-College Station Eagle editorial staff has endorsed a moratorium against execution while a blue ribbon panel studies every step in the legal process.

No one should be judged entirely by the worst thing he has ever done. Granville Riddle killed a man after a drunken barroom brawl when he was 19. But he is also an artist whose oil paintings are remarkable. And remembering those conversations with his father, I know that Granville is more than the worst thing he ever did.

• The Rev. Kathleen Ellis is a Unitarian Universalist minister based in Austin.