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Mohler defends capital punishment on Larry King panel with Dershowitz

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The controversial execution of convicted murderer Gary Graham is sad but also just, necessary and scriptural, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said June 22 on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

“The Bible makes very clear that God mandated capital punishment as a way of underlining and affirming the value of human life,” said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

“When it comes to the death penalty, I want to say that the majority of Americans believe it because they believe that justice demands it.”

Debate during the show centered on the impending execution of Graham and was repeatedly interrupted by reports from the site of the execution in Huntsville, Texas. Graham’s execution was actually consummated by lethal injection as the panelists discussed Graham’s case and capital punishment in general.

“This is a very solemn moment,” Mohler said of Graham’s death. “The state of Texas is acting on behalf of the people to execute a murderer.”

Other panel guests included Alan Dershowitz, author, defense attorney and law professor at Harvard University; Mike Farrell, chairman of Death Penalty Focus and former star of the TV show “M*A*S*H;” and Rusty Hardin, former Texas prosecutor.

King began questioning Mohler by asking “the minister’s defense of taking a life” by capital punishment. Mohler responded by citing Scripture.

“In the Book of Genesis … God said, ‘When a man sheds another man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed for God made man in his own image,'” Mohler explained, referring to Genesis 9:6.

Graham’s execution came only nine days after Southern Baptists overwhelmingly affirmed the administration of capital punishment as scriptural by way of a resolution during the June 13-14 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

The resolution declared, among other things, that the death penalty should be executed “by civil magistrates as a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death.”

In response to Mohler’s assertion, Dershowitz accused Mohler of “selectively” quoting Scripture.

“Let me quote Scripture,” Dershowitz said. “‘On the basis of two witnesses shall a person be executed. On the basis of one witness alone, a person may not be executed.’ That is in Scripture too. And Scripture requires a high level of certainty before you execute.” Dershowitz referred to the fact that Graham’s trial included just one key witness, Bernadine Skillern.

However, Mohler, Hardin and Skillern, who was interviewed at the beginning of the show, affirmed that, indeed, a “high level of certainty” had been obtained in Graham’s trial.

“This is the constitutional and legal systems of this country working in a way that is appropriate,” Mohler said. “The demand of evidence for a death penalty case is huge.”

In an interview following the program Mohler added, “The Deuteronomy 19:15 passage clearly demands testimony from more than one witness. It is not required, however, for these persons to be eyewitnesses to the crime. Multiple witnesses bring corroborative testimony. In the American judicial system, the jury actually becomes a panel of witnesses to the guilt or innocence of the accused. To follow Mr. Dershowitz’s reasoning, one could avoid conviction simply by making certain that there are no eyewitnesses to the crime.”

Graham’s case was reviewed more than 20 times by state and federal courts and was heard by 33 judges over 19 years. In each case, Graham’s numerous claims of mistrial and systemic bias were deemed unfounded. The last appeal was denied shortly before Graham’s execution.

“There is no case in modern American history where it can be proved that an innocent man was executed,” Mohler said. “Our system of justice has so many checks and balances and so many procedures of jurisprudence that it is virtually impossible for some to actually reach the point of execution.”

Farrell called Mohler’s support of the death penalty “disgusting” and contrary to the teachings of Jesus, and he accused Mohler of relying on the Old Testament to defend the death penalty.

Mohler rejoined that capital punishment is also “clearly supported in the New Testament which is a testimony to the gospel of Jesus where the apostle Paul said that the government holds the sword to avenge evil and does so justly.”

Farrell also stated that killing is wrong and that he believes acts such as capital punishment are demoralizing to the nation. Mohler countered by contending that what is demoralizing to a society is to allow murderers to go unpunished.

“The issue here is not revenge and the issue is not a blood lust of a society seeking to make its point,” Mohler explained. “The issue here is the demand of justice. And to take a human life in an act of murder is to forfeit one’s own.”

Further, calls for “life without parole” by some death penalty protesters often blur the issue, Mohler said.

“This whole approach is largely a smoke screen by opponents of the death penalty who want to minimize the consequences of the crime and in many ways to celebrate and glorify the criminal,” Mohler said.

Farrell reacted strongly against Mohler’s words, calling the accusation that he would glorify anybody that commits a crime “a vile statement.”

“I want to say, I appreciate Mr. Farrell’s words in support of society punishing the offender,” Mohler answered. “What I lament are the posters of death row inmates that have been put up, advertisers who are using the images of death row inmates in order to sell their goods.

“It may have nothing to do with what Mr. Farrell represents, but it is a very poisonous trend that is being used by some in this society.”

Farrell and Dershowitz referred many times to biases and systematic difficulties with the death penalty.

Mohler maintained that problems with the death penalty, not the death penalty itself, should be expunged.

“If there are problems in its implementation and execution, then they must be fixed,” Mohler explained. “So we need to hear those concerns very clearly. But the answer is not to eliminate the death penalty. It is to apply it justly.”

Responding to Farrell’s claim that the banning of the death penalty is a sign of a maturing society, Mohler said a banning of capital punishment would be a mark of a greater danger.

“What I most fear is a society that no longer demands justice and executes wrongdoers,” he said. “I think inevitably what we will find is that when we decrease the penalty for murder we will invite more murderers.”

Mohler was also questioned by King as to whether he believed God loves Graham.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I believe that he can find salvation through Jesus Christ and personal faith in him,” Mohler said.

He also agreed with other panelists that Graham’s execution was an occasion for sadness.

“Certainly, we should be sad because this execution has taken place and was necessary,” Mohler said. “I hope that, following the example of Carla Faye Tucker, Mr. Graham found Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and will have the gift of eternal life.

“Jesus himself said we should not fear the one who can destroy the body, but the one who can destroy the body and soul in hell. There is a greater judgment coming.”

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  • Bryan Cribb