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Triple Déjà vu: Punishments Lacking Principles

Three different states. Three arranged murders. Same unjustifiable death sentences.

Kelly Gissendaner was executed this week in Georgia for arranging to have her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, kill her husband. Owen, who committed the murder, agreed to testify against Gissendaner and received a life sentence. Owen will be eligible for parole release in seven years. Gissendaner, who did not commit the actual killing, is now (and forever) dead by lethal injection at the hands of the state.

Richard Glossip was convicted in Oklahoma of hiring a man named Michael Sneed to kill a motel owner. Sneed, the man who committed the murder, testified against Glossip in exchange for a life sentence. Glossip, who has maintained his innocence throughout his case, was sentenced to die by lethal injection. His execution has been stayed four different times, most recently this past week, due to problems with the state’s lethal injection protocol. Sneed remains in prison.

Kimber Edwards was convicted in Missouri for hiring a man named Orthell Wilson to kill Edwards’ wife. Wilson, the man who committed the murder, testified against Edwards in exchange for a life sentence. Wilson now swears that the only reason he testified against Edwards was to avoid the death penalty, and that Wilson alone committed the murder. Edwards is scheduled to be executed on October 6th.

While Gissendander admitted her involvement in the crime, both Glossip and Edwards have compelling stories that point to their actual innocence. Yet, both are on death row, with their executions imminently looming.

Let’s assume we can put their potential innocence claims aside — for me, a near impossibility. But even assuming their guilt, there’s still something very wrong with this picture.

I think we can all agree that it is reprehensible to ask another person to commit murder. But isn’t it worse to actually go ahead and commit that murder?

How is it legally proportionate, or fair, or just, that Gissendaner was executed and that Glossip and Edwards face execution, while the actual killers have each been sentenced to a lesser punishment? If the death penalty is supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst, then isn’t it arbitrary that the actual killers receive a less severe punishment than the people who allegedly asked them to do so?

But three different state trials resulted in the same unfair outcomes: death for those that did not physically participate in the killings, and life for those who did.

Looking at each of these cases is like having a really bad case of triple déjà vu.

Published in the Huffington Post 10/02/2015.

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