Victoria County DA Dexter Eaves recently entered into a plea agreement reducing capital murder charges to life with possibility of parole after 40 years in a high-profile local case. Explaining the decision to the local paper, Eaves cited his own religious views about redemption and the value of life as the basis for reducing the charges:
There is always hope for everybody," Eaves said. "If there is hope that they will find God, then I won't go forward with the death penalty... I feel like if people are truly repentant and they do accept responsibility, they should be able to live, albeit in prison for the rest of their life." ...Taking capital murder charges off the table for defendants who "accept responsibility" represents a significant caveat to how the death penalty is applied in Texas. That's not how they roll in Harris County, for example. I'm not sure how Eaves may judge if defendants are "truly repentant," since even he would admit that only God can look into their hearts. But his comments raise an interesting question:
The decision to seek the death penalty is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Eaves said.
"I have to look at each one individual. Ultimately I not only have to answer to the people of Victoria County, but I also have to answer to God," Eaves said. "We believe life is precious. It is so sacred it is very rare we will ask the jury for a death penalty."
What is the religious conservative philosophy concerning criminal justice?
The large number religious conservatives populating the GOP's grass roots -- many motivated by social issues like abortion and gay rights -- have been the subject of much news coverage and liberal hand-wringing. And if you're a gay couple who'd like to get married or you work for Planned Parenthood, you've good reason to be concerned.
But if you're a defendant facing Texas' death row, maybe you're not so unhappy to see the rise of a political faction that believes human life is "sacred," who value mercy and forgiveness, and who worship a God whose son was wrongly given the death penalty (based on testimony from a "snitch," BTW, Judas Iscariot). Indeed, Christ forgave the actual criminal hanging on the cross next to him because, as Mr. Eaves said, he'd truly repented.
Are Eaves' comments more evidence of Doc Berman's thesis that there's a "new right" developing in the states on criminal sentencing? Maybe. It's at least a hint of something new: I've not seen pro-life rhetoric and ideology so expressly applied to the death penalty before by a Texas elected official.
Religious conservatives in Texas already have taken leadership on criminal justice reform, from requiring treatment instead of incarceration for low-level drug users, to strengthening the probation system, and requiring corroboration for snitches in drug cases. I wonder what would happen if that faction begins to aim their pro-life political sensibilities toward reforming the death penalty?