Blood on Our Hands

Introduction to the Prayer for Peace in response to the execution of Gary Graham
given June 23, 2000, by Rabbi Barry H. Block

The Talmud teaches that a court that executes a death sentence once in seventy years is considered blood-thirsty. The State of Israel has put exactly one criminal to death in its fifty-two year history, Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann. The Torah instructs that nobody, even a murderer, is to be put to death on the testimony of just one single witness. In Jewish law, circumstantial evidence is not admissible in capital cases, when the death penalty is at stake.

Yesterday, the people of the State of Texas, you and I, executed a man on the testimony of one single eye witness. No physical evidence ever linked Gary Graham to the murder of Bobby Lambert. Two other eye witnesses, whose testimony was not heard, are convinced that Gary Graham was not the murderer. Neither you nor I, nor the judges nor the jury nor the Governor of this State, can say for sure that Gary Graham was innocent. We also can not say that he was guilty.

We mourn the death of Bobby Lambert. For his family, and for all those who knew him, his loss may be as painful today as it was nineteen years ago. The Talmud teaches us that taking one life is equivalent to destroying the Earth. Worlds were destroyed on the day that Bobby Lambert was murdered. We do not take that crime lightly. His blood yet cries out from the ground.

We can not be sure who murdered Bobby Lambert, but we know who killed Gary Graham. We did, you and I, the people of the State of Texas, not just the judges or the jury, the Board of Pardons and Paroles or the Governor of our State. Yesterday, you and I killed a man who might well have been innocent. If he was not guilty, we committed murder yesterday, you and I. Since we can not feel certain that he committed murder, we must acknowledge the very real possibility of our guilt.

You and I do not merely put one man to death every seventy years, sufficient for the Talmud to declare us “blood-thirsty.” We Texans are more likely to execute seventy people in one year. We have blood on our hands.

Let us pray that God will touch the hearts of the men and women of our beloved State, from the poor woman living on the streets with her children to the man in the Governor’s Mansion. May we cease to do evil, and love what is good. May we turn from death and embrace life. May we never, ever commit murder again.

Let us pray now for peace, throughout our great State of Texas, everywhere on God’s green Earth, in every human heart.