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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Frances Newton to be Executed on September 14, 2005

Please understand, I am not one to jump on bandwagons, especially the bandwagon of preventing the execution of someone who may be guilty. That being said, I am opposed to the death penalty as is often practiced in America. Far too often, based on social economic issues, and others, individuals are not provided fair representation and thus a fair trial. A link providing research of the death penalty and its effectiveness is provided here:

Don't get me wrong, over the years I have had numerous instances that I have been affronted with taking a position on the death penalty. Growing up in the South, with a trace of Baptist roots in my family background, I could not help but be approached and taught, "the way of God," on this issue. Over the years though, I have had to question the need for the death penalty for a variety of reasons.

Four things come to mind regarding my own struggle with this issue. The first was living in Tulsa Oklahoma during the time of the Morrow Federal Building Bombing in Oklahoma City. Having friends who were affected by the bombing had an impact on me. Also visiting the bomb site and spending a great deal of time there shortly after the bombing had an impact. In the case of Timothy McVeigh I found myself struggling with this issue. Here was an individual who wanted to be put to death for his crimes, and we as a country were quick to oblige his wishes. I know numerous family members of McVeigh's victims opposed to putting him to death, just because he wanted it. I did, and still do struggle with this one because of the admission of guilt, and desire to not fight the system from McVeigh himself. Unfortunately, there are unanswered questions that went to the grave at the time of his execution.

Another event comes from living here in Wichita Kansas. Everyone in our community was on pins and needles because of the resurgence of BTK the serial killer. I'll never forget, even in my own neighborhood just months ago being concerned because the police were investigating my next door neighbor for a possible BTK link regarding an attempted break in. There were similarities that had the neighbors concerned at the time and many were on the look out for BTK.

Then my son and I were at a wrestling tournament, eating lunch just 2 blocks away when all of the police blocked off the road to Dennis Raders' house. There we were, eating lunch, watching the bomb squad trucks, all of the police cars, the KBI, and others blocking off the road, and surrounding his house, all within our view. After watching the sentencing hearing, hearing of his confession, and then his comments that he had given his life to Christ I became even more confused. I mean, after all, what if he was legit in his profession of faith. Don't get me wrong I wouldn't want him out walking around again, but why does one who commits such heinous crimes get life in prison while another gets the death penalty?

The third thing that has directed my position was the murder of my Aunt Ruth. She had helped raise me so she was far more than just an Aunt. I was supposed to be with her that Christmas but my daughter had had to have knee surgery in late December so we couldn't go. I'll never forget coming home and getting the phone call on December 21 after seeing the movie The Titanic. Ruth, and her boy friend, had been brutally murdered, and my cousin was in serious condition and we were told that he may not live. Her estranged husband, whom she was legally separated from, had broken into her house, killed her and her boy friend, and then shot my cousin in the back and tried to kill him. I realized that if I had been there as I was supposed to, that my life, and the lives of my family may have also been taken.

It was some months later while sitting across from him in jail that I told him that I could love him as a brother if he gave his life to Christ. Many have commented that must have been hard. Truth is, it was, but, not nearly as hard as it was to sit there and listen to his response, "That bitch deserved what she got!" That response will forever be stuck in my head. He is still in prison, serving 2 consecutive life sentences plus a 40 year conviction on top of that. The family requested that he get that as opposed to the prosecutors desire to seek the death penalty. We didn't want to see a long drawn out trial and all of the dirt that may come up. There was no justification of the brutal murder, but we realized he would never leave prison.

One thing that is unique about my position on the death penalty is that in all of the cases mentioned above, the individuals were guilty of their crime, there was and is, no doubt of that fact. The last thing causing me to struggle with the issue of the death penalty has just come to my attention in the last week. As far as I can tell, the circumstances and underlying theme of guilt is drastically different in this fourth case.

Frances Elaine Newton was convicted of the murder of her husband and two children, in 1987. She was scheduled to be executed on December 1 of 2004 but the governor of Texas gave a stay in the execution. The new execution date is scheduled to be carried out September 14, 2005, 15 days from the writing of this post. To say the least, there is a great deal of controversy in this case with evidence that seems to indicate her innocence.

I grew up in the inner city, grew up around crime, and have done many things I am not proud of. I have reformed though and have even worked closely in the prison systems over the years, including a stint working in the segregation (solitary confinement) units in one of the Kansas prisons. I am used to having people try to manipulate me, and tell me things, which aren’t true. Especially in regards to criminal activity.

Now don't get me wrong, there are things about this case that raises some questions, and certainly questions about credibility. That credibility however, is not just with the person accused of the crimes, it is with the credibility of a system that botches investigations, and public defenders that are so bad on death penalty cases that they are removed from practicing that type of law. To say the very least, after investigation of the case at hand, one has to have at a minimum a "reasonable doubt" as to the guilt of Frances Newton, who for years has stood firm as to her innocence, as have those around her. There is even the reporting of another individual confessing to their commiting of the crime she has been prosecuted for.

Another thing that seems to leave little doubt to me is the conversion of Frances Newton. While many jail-celled conversions are ploys to escape from the punishment that society has for the individual, there seems to be a sincerity within the tone and comments of Frances that was convincing enough that even the 700 Club did a televised interview with her.

Frances seems to be at peace if she is executed because she realizes in her own words, "For me to die is gain. We talk about how we want to go to heaven, and this is just a chance for me to possibly get there a little sooner." This still young, 40 year old, attractive black woman speaks with an intelligence and attitude not often seen in a death row inmate. Maybe she has me fooled, I don't know, but I have to ask myself is my inaction in a case like this worth taking a chance on. For me, the answer is no. Especially when the consequences are death by lethal injection for someone who may very well be innocent.

Is this a movie review? Certainly not, but it is a movie waiting to happen. I don’t know yet whether the movie will have a happy or sad ending. I do know that for now, as the story unfolds, I am glued to wondering, hoping, and praying for justice. Justice that will value life. I would also like to see justice for those who operate a system that would allow for a botched investigation, especially in the life of someone who may very well be innocent.

Various links:

Free Frances Web Site:

Democracy Now Article and Video and Audio Links:

New York Times Article:

700 Club Interview:

Dutch Television Interview:


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