Encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," Pope John Paul...

IN HIS NEW

April 03, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

IN HIS NEW encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," Pope John Paul II justifies his opposition to capital punishment by pointing out that God did not have Cain executed for murdering Abel.

That is a fact. Genesis says that God sentenced Cain to be "a fugitive and a vagabond." Further He said that "whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold."

However, recent Biblical scholarship has concluded that God initially planned to have Cain executed. But before the sentence could be carried out, there had to be a trial. That trial ended in a hung jury. Cain didn't take the stand, and there were no eyewitnesses.

For the second trial, the district attorney asked God if He Himself would testify for the prosecution. He agreed, and the jury voted to convict Cain and execute him in the electric chair.

The Land of Nod Civil Liberties Union (NCLU) appealed, on the grounds that God had been allowed to testify without having taken a proper oath. God had sworn to "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," but He had declined to say, "so help Me God." (He later told Larry King, "It would have sounded sort of conceited.")

At any rate, an appellate court threw out the conviction on the grounds that capital punishment was unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. The Supreme Court overturned, on the grounds that the Constitution hadn't been written yet.

Before Cain could be executed, the NCLU filed a habeas corpus writ, arguing that electricity hadn't been invented yet, either. This the Supreme Court accepted (5-4), and a third trial was ordered.

It was at this trial that the defense argued that capital punishment was "arbitrary and capricious." God denied this in His testimony at this trial, but under intense cross-examination conceded that Cain was the only person He had ever sentenced to death.

This conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court, which ruled that to avoid arbitrariness, judges and juries must balance the same "mitigating" and "aggravating" circumstances in every case.

Cain was now broke and defended himself at a new trial. He was found guilty and, when the jury concluded that there were more aggravating than mitigating circumstances, he was sentenced to be hanged.

On the eve of his execution, the NCLU filed another post-conviction writ, arguing that Cain had not been adequately represented by counsel.

This prevailed. The choice then became re-trial with a Public Defender or drop the case. The prosecutor, Moses, wanted to go for it one more time, but, after 300 years of trials, appeals and re-trials, God said, "The hell with it."

And that's when a plea bargain was worked out, in which the "fugitive and vagabond" deal was made.

God had the last word, of course. Not long after Cain became a free man, he drowned.

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