Local reflections on death penalty, forgiveness in wake of Georgia’s sixth execution of year

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COLUMBUS, Ga — The death penalty remains one of our country’s most controversial topics and certainly the execution of John Wayne Conner brings the debate back to the forefront.

The death penalty is a tough topic for anyone to talk about. The opinions surrounding it are deeply rooted in personal, and often, spiritual beliefs. But each time a prisoner is executed, the conversation about whether to outlaw the practice begins anew.

This morning, around 12:30, Georgia put 60 year old John Wayne Conner to death by lethal injection at the state prison in Jackson.  He becomes the sixth prison executed in Georgia this year.  It marks the largest number of inmates executed within a calendar year since 1976– when Georgia brought back the death penalty.

We took to the streets of Columbus to ask people what they thought about the death penalty in general, not just about the John Wayne Connor case.

“I think it is just. The death penalty needs to stay in effect for people who have done crimes, severe crimes for punishment,” says one woman from Cusseta.

“I’m against it only because of the number of inmates we’ve found to be innocent. And I’m afraid that we could conceivably kill someone, or somebody, who is innocent,” says one woman visiting Columbus from Houston, Texas.

“I think we should keep it on certain issues . . . such as if someone comes in and murders a whole family,” says one Columbus man.

Some states have outlawed the death penalty, and many people say that’s the best choice for humanity:  that to forgive is to lift the death penalty.

What does it mean to forgive?  What is forgiveness?

“That’s a wonderful question, and we struggle with that, with clients and personally,” says Amy Buchanan of the Pastoral Institute in Columbus.

We spoke to Buchanan, not specifically about the Connor case, nor about specifically about the death penalty– but rather about the concept of forgiveness. She says it’s often a tough, personal process.

“To be honest, yeah, and sit in the pain of what it is you have to forgive,” says Buchanan meaning that acknowledging the pain is crucial to recovery.

She continues that forgiveness frees a person of bad feelings and negative energy.  “I don’t have to lug around the hatred, the pain, the sadness, the sickness, I just don’t. It’s a beautiful thing to watch people find that forgiveness. It really is.”

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