Monday, August 24, 2009


Reflecting on a Tragedy

By now, I imagine that most Tennesseans are aware of the trial underway in Knoxville for one of the four people charged in the carjacking, rape, and murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, a young Knoxville couple, in 2007.

Every aspect of this case is horrific. And frankly, a case such as this keeps the fervor for the death penalty strong as the details are so gruesome and ghastly that one can hardly read or hear about them.

I read the story in the Tennessean yesterday about the first defendant currently on trial, Letalvius Cobbins, who recently took the stand in his own defense. Cobbins pled guilty to rape but not to murder. Though he did apologize for his participation, it was too little too late for the victims' families. Some of his comments, which I won't go into here but you can read about, caused Channon Christian's father to come out of his seat and call Cobbins "a liar." I cannot imagine what that man is going through as he sits in that courtroom everyday and hears the details of this crime over and over again.

I am sure that my blog posting concerning this case will receive many comments--some supportive and others very angry. I get that. Besides all the problems with the death penalty system as a whole including fairness, cost, and accuracy, the core of my opposition to the death penalty actually comes from my faith.

What tends to happen in cases such as this one is that all the energy becomes focused on the perpetrators and what they deserve. The hard truth is that we as a society could do to them exactly what they did to Channon and Christopher over and over again, and it will never bring those wonderful, young people back.

However, I, for one, condemn the behavior of these four perpetrators and never want their terrible actions to dictate my own. Instead, I want to respond in the way I believe that God calls me to, a way which chooses to treat them differently than they chose to treat Channon and Christopher.

Does this mean that there should be no accountability for these four? Absolutely not. Tennessee has life without the possibility of parole and a hard life sentence of 51 years minimum before a person is even eligible for parole. These are real consequences but consequences that don't make me into a killer like them.

TCASK recently made the decision to officially change our organization's name. We will be sharing more about this decision in the days ahead, but the TCASK Board voted on August 15 to change our name to Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. We chose this name for many reasons, one of which is that we want the public to understand that our opposition to the death penalty does not mean that we don't think people need to be held accountable. We believe that those who commit horrible crimes must face up to them. However, we do not think that killing perpetrators solves our problems or truly addresses how or why such things happen.

The questions that come to me over and over as I read about this trial is, "What happened in the lives of these four young people that made them capable of such vile acts? What could we have done as a society to address the warning signs much sooner?" Sadly, I fear such questions may never be addressed in the clamor to see them executed.

Regardless of the outcome of this trial, my prayer is that all the families involved in this nightmare can find some peace and that there will come a day when we no longer need or want the death penalty for anyone.
Comments :
As beautifully said as something could be under such tragic circumstances.
...thank you....
...please keep speaking / writing both empathetically and with sensitivity but also clearly and unequivocally in opposition to capital punishment....
...the transition from TCASK to TCADP is not only philosophically relevant but also vis-a-other abolitionist groups - e. g., CUADP - introduces a level of homgenization nationally which may be politically beneficial....
...with wishes for sustained success and in peace....
Letalvis Cobbins should have fried for what he did. Stacy who posted this article had better hope she is not taken by people like him and beaten, raped, beaten and raped some more and then stuffed in a garbage can to die over the period of 24 hours. While her boyfriend is beaten raped and then shot and burned. No Mercy for these victims. Why be a bleeding heart for these ruthless and heartless cold-blooded killers. I can't understand that line of thinking. I don't want my tax dollars feeding and putting a roof over his head while he watches cable TV and works out in the gym.
Your tax dollars are going towards this regardless, and even more if he receives the death penalty.
THIS is where Letalvis Cobbins LIVES now
Riverbend Maximum Security Institution Riverbend's designated capacity is 714 offenders. Of that number, 480 are classified as high risk.
rehabilitative programs.
Education programs at the prison include GED and Adult Basic Education. There are also vocational classes available for printing, commercial cleaning, residential construction, cabinet making/millwork and computer information systems. TRICOR, the prison industry, also manages a data entry plant and print shop at the prison. Inmates not involved in academic vocation, or industry programs are required to work in support service roles throughout the facility.

Interesting Facts...
Received first inmates on Sept. 28, 1989
Total construction cost: $35 million
Annual operating budget: $24 million
320,000 square feet of operating space
Security Designation - Maximum
Accredited by ACA

(Annual operating budget: $24 million) and thats just one of the TN prisons, everybody is trying to save money but to me this is a BIG waste of OUR taxes...Pro death penalty from Knoxville
I appreciate your giving us these statistics on Riverbend but the fact remains that the death penalty system is far more costly than a system which only utilizes life without the possiblity of parole as its maximum punishment. Tennessee's own study in 2004 confirmed it, and yet in 2007, the TN comptrollers office acknowledged that the state had no real way to track the true costs of the death penalty system, meaning that the cost is probably much higher than the 2004 study indicates. Every other state in the nation which has looked at costs shows a death penalty system costing millions more thatn a system utlizing life without parole. Those states include North Carolina, Maryland, California, and New Jersey--a state which spent $253 million from 1983-2005 more on maintaining the death penalty than it would have spent utilizing life without the possiblity of parole as its maximum punishment. At that time NJ only had 10 on their death row and no executions.Tennesse has 89 and has had 5 executions. Imagine the cost! In fact, cost is a big reason that both NJ and New Mexico recently aboilsh their state's death penalties. So the truth is, if you want to save tax dollars in corrections in TN, getting rid of the death penalty is a good way to start.
So what you are saying is: it is cheaper to feed, clothe, and house these murders (for how long is anybodys guess)than it is to put them to death once and have it over with. how much can a needle full of death cost? I think they should be put to death, that is the decision that they made when they took someone elses' life.
Yes, that is what I am saying. The bulk of the cost of the death penalty system in my understanding is in the trial itself with all the costs that go into both the guilt/innocence phase and the sentencing phase (attorneys, experts, jury selection, etc.) And, the reality is that to date, 135 people have been released from death rows across this nation when evidence of their wrongful convictions emerged, many of whom spent 10 years or more on death row. Two of those men are from Tennessee and each spent at least 20 years fighting their convictions. The problem with speeding up the process is that we, as a society, would have then killed at least 135 wrongfully convicted human beings. And, I don't want blood on my hands, particularly the blood of people who are innocent. With life without parole, we don't need to risk executing innocent people. Too many mistakes continue to be made.
I just heard on the news that it would cost $15,000.00 in the state of Tennessee to put a deathrow inmate to death. That would save the state of Tennessee $780,000.00. Over the life span of 51 years that would be over a million dollars to lock one inmate up for life. And that does not include all the appeals and the court cost and the cost of supporting one. I don't know where you studied math, but putting a killer to death is cheaper than locking him (or her) up for life.
I believe the whole system is broken. It is a good way to work the tax program locally, as well as federally. The appeals process takes so long to complete which means $$$$$ in lots of pockets. The cost of the death penalty is justified by officials by revenge on the person whom is charged. The cases are all different in ways, but the DA's need to look good in the public eye and if the defendant doesn't have a lawyer (money) then they generally will get the death penalty. This starts the bill process. I am not saying they don't deserve it, but if the reason we give it is to make money off of the state....well we could use that in the schools, roads, etc. What do you think? Could your local school use extra funds that the state has cut back on because of buget problems? Or maybe you know of a road you drive on that needs repair. Just a thought.
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