This week the State of Missouri executed Jeffrey Ferguson. By all accounts Ferguson had changed his life in prison. Hooked on drugs and alcohol at the time he murdered Kelli Hall in 1989, he spent the last two decades in prison as a model inmate. Ferguson had devoted himself to making the prison a compassionate, safer environment for staff and guards. He helped establish a hospice program for dying inmates, he worked with the prison restorative justice program helping crime victims to heal, and he provided spiritual guidance through the prison ministry program to inmates, some of whom would one day return to society.
Without question, Ferguson committed a heinous crime. Our hearts go out to the Hall family for the suffering they have endured but, sadly, nothing will return Kelli to them. In denying Ferguson’s clemency application, Governor Nixon upheld the execution as the “appropriate sentence.”
But one can legitimately wonder how this sentence, twenty-five years after the crime, is “appropriate.” Supporters of the death penalty often cite deterrence as a reason to execute someone, but Ferguson was no longer a threat to society. He had earned the respect and trust of both staff and inmates. The prison chaplain wrote in his clemency letter, “If Jeff were to be released, I would not have a problem with him living next door to me.”
Did this execution bring a sense of justice? Catholic tradition supports restorative justice whereby the offender is to be held accountable for his crime, but must work to make amends. Ferguson could have spent the rest of his life in prison, doing the good work that he was doing-making a valuable contribution to society. A life without parole sentence would have still resulted in his death in prison.
In reality Ferguson’s execution was nothing more than retribution, taking one life for another. But revenge rarely brings comfort or healing. The execution of a man, who at this point in his life, was a caring, contributing member of society, makes no sense. Society has gained nothing by this execution. We are all diminished.
Posted: March 28, 2014