It had to be a difficult decision… but ultimately McAuliffe made the right one.
When I signed on to the letter asking Governor McAuliffe for clemency with two dozen other conservative leaders in Virginia, one suspected that this story would end like most of the others.
We would fret, wring our hands, light candles, pray and at the end of the process the most mundane of all outcomes would in fact occur — the state’s monopoly on violence would exercise the most extreme punishment in its arsenal to punish someone who broke the boundaries of that monopoly.
Yet that didn’t happen.
Today, justice was not about violence… today, justice was about restoring balance.
From Frank Green over at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, McAuliffe made the call, citing problems involving the sentencing guidelines as the primary motivator for the commutation of Teleguz’ sentence to life imprisonment:
McAuliffe said that “the sentencing phase of Mr. Teleguz’s trial was terribly flawed and unfair.” Evidence was introduced implicating Teleguz in another murder, he said.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, the prosecutor referenced it, arguing that Teleguz was so dangerous that he needed to be put to death.
“She said to the jury that he solves problems with arranging murders. He would do so from prison,” he said.
“We now know that no such murder ever occurred, much less with any involvement from Mr. Teleguz,” the governor said. “The jury should never have been given that information. It was false, plain and simple,” he said.
The Virginia Catholic Conference issued a joint statement from Catholic Bishops DiLorenzo (Richmond) and Burbidge (Arlington):
We are all children of the same merciful, loving God, and he alone has dominion over all life. Because we have a profound respect for the sanctity of every human life, from its very beginning until natural death, we welcome with gratitude Governor Terry McAuliffe’s decision today to commute the death sentence of Ivan Teleguz, 38.
We continue to express deep sorrow and pray for all victims of violence and their loved ones. Likewise, we continue to pray for a change of heart and a spirit of remorse and conversion for all those who commit acts of violence. We ask God to give us all the grace to work together for justice, peace and respect for all life in our communities and our Commonwealth.
The editorial pages of the Richmond Times-Dispatch perhaps made the most eloquent statement regarding the moral choice that was being put before the governor:
Time and further investigation will tell whether the claims on Teleguz’s behalf hold merit. If they don’t, then Teleguz can spend the rest of his natural life rotting away in a cell, and justice still will be served. But if they do, and the state learns of it only after killing an innocent man, Virginia will have committed a great crime. Given those two alternatives, the governor seems to face an easy choice. (emphasis added)
Life imprisonment would indeed serve the ends of justice by not rewarding one act of violence with another.
Whether Teleguz is guilty or innocent of the charges he has been convicted of is a matter that has been decided by the courts. The penalty we impose upon such an individual is a judgment not only against those who do violate our laws, but a moral value statement we make upon ourselves.
For one, I am very glad to see Virginia as a polity grapple with these issues in a clear and respectful manner. The death penalty is the maximum possible punishment that we can inflict upon another Virginian. For such a penalty, the evidence must be equally as deterministic.
In the case of Ivan Teleguz, even the smallest degree of indeterminacy? Requires pause. McAuliffe made the right call — even if it was not an easy one.