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Darshan Singh has executed 850 people (and he's not even from Texas!). Nguyen Tuong Van might be 851.

Minister of Death

You are looking at a record holder, that man to the left. His name is Darshan Singh and he is something of a celebrity. You might not have heard of him. He’s a professional executioner. He is a hangman. His is the last face Nguyen Tuong Van, an Australian of Vietnamese lineage convicted of drug smuggling, will ever see.

Pretty motherfucker, ain’t he?

More on Van later. Back to Darshan Singh. According to an Australian news report Singh has executed 850 people in a 46-year career.

And he’s not even from Texas!

This same article reports he single-handedly hanged 18 men in one day and also hanged seven men within 90 minutes on another.

And you thought you had a tough day at the office.

Colleagues brought champagne to Singh’s house four years ago to commemorate the 500th execution of his career.

I’ll bet that was one hell of a party!

Van has admitted smuggling the drugs (he was found with them strapped to his body in 2002). The 25-year old said he was doing it in order to pay off his twin brother’s debts. He has no prior criminal record.

I’d say the twin brother just got a whole lot deeper in debt.

Members of the Australian government, human rights advocates, and Van’s family have all appealed to the government of Singapore for clemency. According to another report, the Archbishop of Sydney has appealed to Pope Benedict XVI to make an appeal to save Van.

Thus far those appeals have been denied. According to the Daily Telegraph story, this execution will happen on a Friday sometime in the next four to six weeks. Singapore’s government maintains a policy of not announcing executions in advance.

I used to be firm in my support for capital punishment. I had all manner of reasons for my support. I believed in having a criminal justice system that was tough on crime and included some amount of retribution and restitution. I believed there was a time and place for “an eye for an eye.” I believed capital punishment, if utilized correctly, could indeed be a crime deterrent.

I am not sure when that support softened. I am not sure when I crossed the threshhold and became a capital punishment opponent.

I know I have lost faith in the criminal justice system’s ability to administer capital punishment competently (and that is not something you should want to see fucked up).

This is a nation of 50 states. There are 50 similar yet different criminal justice systems. Some states (many, if not most) allow capital punishment in some form. The threshhold for putting criminals to death and the offenses triggering it varies from state to state. Constitutionally, that might be the idea the Founders had in mind- that each state would have the autonomy to administer justice according to the will of its citizens.

In theory, I like that idea. Yet when it comes time to march a man to the gallows the theory starts to ring hollow for me. There are no do-overs on this one. Taking a life… that’s forever.

Many ardent death penalty supporters will admit the system(s) in place are not perfect. If you can live with executing someone using a system with some degree of flaw in it, peace be with you. I can’t. I also see nothing in my crystal ball that leads me to believe we will ever get our justice system anywhere near that level.

I could drone on for another thousand words trying to explain why I have shifted my position on capital punishment. In the end, I did something I am not prone to doing. I went with my feelings. To me… this just feels wrong.

Nguyen Tuong Van did a stupid, wrong, and illegal thing. He should be punished, but not like this. This just feels wrong.

The last words Singh says to those he executes are: “I am going to send you to a better place than this. God bless you.”

I hope Singh is right. You’ll just have to pardon me if I don’t see his role in the journey as God’s work. This just feels wrong.

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