FILE-In this Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015 file photo, a unidentified prisoner on death row stands in his cell at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, in Jackson, Ga. Georgia led the nation this year in the number of inmates put to death, an anomaly that's due at least in part to executions in Texas dipping into single digits for the first time in 20 years. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Not Executing Paul Storey is Not Compassion; It’s Injustice

The state of Texas has recently halted the scheduled execution of murderer Paul Storey on the grounds that the prosecution provided false evidence to the jury. While such a development isn’t necessarily unique itself, the details of this “false evidence” make it so.

This isn’t a situation where the prosecution wrongly interpreted the facts of the case, or lied about the circumstances surrounding the crime. No one disputes that Paul Storey burst into a miniature golf park on the morning of October 16, 2006, herded a scared 28 year old assistant manager Jonas Cherry into the office, forced him to open the safe, watched him kneel and plead for his life, only to then shoot him twice in the legs and twice in the head.

No one disputes that Storey and his accomplice, having worked up quite an appetite, scurried to a burger joint for some grub. In other words, no one disputes that Paul Storey was a cold-blooded murderer who deprived an innocent human being of their God-given right to live.

What the prosecution did wrong, Storey’s attorneys argue, is that they informed the jury that the victim’s family wanted to see Storey receive the death penalty.

“It should go without saying that all of Jonas [Cherry’s] family and everyone who loved him believe the death penalty was appropriate,” the prosecution said during the penalty phase of the trial, according to Storey’s appeal.

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Storey and Cherry’s parents, Glenn and Judith, say that’s not true. The Cherrys wrote to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Board of Pardons and Paroles in February, asking for a life sentence for Storey. The Cherrys said they never wanted the death penalty and made that clear to the prosecution, according to Storey’s appeal.

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“As a result of Jonas’ death, we do not want to see another family having to suffer through losing a child and family member … due to our ethical and spiritual values we are opposed to the death penalty,” the Cherrys said in their statement.

At least one juror, Sven Berger has testified that had he known this was the Cherrys’ wishes, he would have “held out for a life without the possibility of parole for as long as it took.”

So what to make of this? First, this is an extraordinarily noble gesture of the Cherry family. As a parent, it is difficult to imagine having that kind of grace and mercy towards someone who had taken your own child from you.

Second, it is clear that the Cherry family’s compassion has made a profound impact on the family of murderer Paul Storey.

Storey’s mother, Marilyn Shankle-Grant, said she was extremely grateful for the support from Cherry’s parents.

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“They must have the heart of Jesus Christ himself to want to have anything to do with the life of someone who was involved in taking their own son’s life,” she said.

What an amazing testimony.

That said, the question that should really be asked by dispassionate and objective parties is why the wishes of the victim’s family should have ever come up in the first place. While I understand those wishes can often be utilized by skillful attorneys to effectively manipulate the emotions of juries, they are ultimately irrelevant to the work of good government.

As we see in the case of the Cherry family, they are being obedient to the message of Christian reconciliation and grace. They are embodying the forgiveness and mercy that Christ taught us. But government is under no such command; in fact, it is directly charged by God with the execution of justice.

The same God that demands the Cherry’s find forgiveness demands the government be just.

If we decide that the life of a human being is so precious and inviolable that the price for taking it can be nothing short of death – an entirely reasonable, logical, and biblically sound position – then the personal forgiveness, charity, and grace of the victim’s family, while admirable, is immaterial to the dispensing of justice.

If the death penalty is indeed the only appropriate justice for something as heinous as taking an innocent person’s life, then it is injustice, not mercy or grace that seems about to unfold in Texas.

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Peter Heck

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