I'm sure that from within the movement, saying whatever it takes to save a life seems like a moral obligation - hence the last-minute appeals, the miraculous discovery of exonerating witnesses and the rest. But from outside the fishbowl, it just reinforces the impression that nothing they say can be taken at face value.
It's fine if Bianca Jagger or Mike Farrell wants to claim that Williams was redeemed, even though he refused to admit his crimes. But a nun should know better. Sister Helen Prejean told NPR that Williams didn't need to confess his sin to find redemption. "One way to show remorse is just say, 'I am so sorry I killed those people.' Another way to show remorse is with your life, what you do with your life. And look what he's done with his." That's good PR but bad theology.
Morality isn't the only thing that gets spun. Death penalty opponents - with the help of a sympathetic media - hone their statistical legerdemain, suggesting that everyone who's gotten off death row in recent years was innocent, when in fact many just had flawed trials.
And, of course, there's all the America bashing from a crowd that can cheer Yasser Arafat's Peace Prize but also can call Schwarzenegger a murderer with a straight face. Indeed, it's difficult not to conclude that, for many, the Tookies are merely convenient props to put the United States on trial. And, as we all know, props aren't responsible for their actions.
I find it revealing that a significant number of conservatives I know (and even work with) either oppose the death penalty on moral grounds or are inclined to. But they are consistently put off by the radical chic crowd, which has grown deceitful, narcissistic and married to agendas no conservative would ever sign on to.
It would be nice if the most vocal opponents of the death penalty pondered that during this teaching moment. But they won't, because they think they've got nothing left to learn.