There is absolutely no question that John Henry Ramirez did a truly evil, horrible thing. In 2004, he attacked and stabbed to death a man named Pablo Castro. Ramirez beat him and stabbed him 29 times, leaving him dead in the street—all for the $1.25 in his pocket. Castro had nine children.
I wanted to start this piece by remembering Ramirez’s crime and Castro’s death because death penalty debates all too often lose sight of the victim of the crime. In focusing on the state’s procedural flaws or its unfair systems, we can neglect the terrible thing that happened and the shattered families who live with the pain of horrific loss.
There is also no question that not even murderers are beyond the reach of the grace of God. After all, Christians worship a savior who forgave his own executioners as they unjustly put him to death and cast lots for his garments. “Father forgive them,” He said, “for they know not what they do.”
According to ancient church traditions, the criminal on the cross who asked Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” was no mere “thief” as we understand that term today. Instead he was likely a man with blood on his hands, crying out to God in his very last moments.