Article deals with my thoughts of an execution.
(The picture shown above this article is Betty Foster, the mother of Chris, photographed with myself during the taping of Keeping In Touch)
Keeping in Touch By Aubrey Hammack (Published in the Upson Home Journal January 1994)
The Chris Burger Execution
Iíve had mixed emotions about writing this particular article because of, I suppose, an apprehension of negative reactions toward family members. It concerns the execution of Christopher Burger.
On December 7th, his mother, Betty Foster asked me, to be with her for support during this day.First, let me say that this was the first time that I had met Chris. I was familiar with the tragic events, which led to this day, however.
When I was first allowed to see him in the visiting cell on that day, the first impression of him was, ďhe is just a little boy.Ē He had a beautiful smile and was such a handsome young man. It was hard for me to look at him and think of the horrible crime that he had committed.
If you donít remember the story, he was charged with and convicted of robbing and killing a fellow Fort Stewart soldier in 1977. Chris was 17 at the time the crime was committed. There was drinking involved, and the victim, Roger Honeycutt, was locked in the trunk of his taxi.
The taxi was then pushed into a pond where, Iím sure, the victim died a horrible death. Yes, I do feel compassion for the person who was the victim of the crime and his family as I do all victims.
And yes, on this execution date, I felt compassion for Chris Burger. At about 3:30 on this day, I was told I could see him for a final visit. As I sat outside in the waiting area, I asked myself what I could possibly say to a 34-year-old man, who was to be executed in a few hours.
As I walked into that holding cell, the only thing I could think of was to hug him, which I did. I told him that I loved him and that God was going to take care of him. I had learned at 8:30 that morning that his appeal had been turned down and that he was to be executed at 7 p.m. that night.
Of course, the United States Supreme Court turned down a final request for a stay of execution and he was put to death at 9:51 p.m.
I was at his motherís house when she got the call that the execution had been carried out.This case was tragic and had a lot of circumstances presented that were not pretty. His mother has plenty of pain and guilt, which she is still suffering, Iím sure.
Only the day before Thanksgiving her husband, Marion, had died after a long bout with cancer.I have had extremely mixed feelings about the death penalty for a long time. At times when I hear of horrible crimes, I become enraged and feel that the person who commits this type of horrible thing deserves the same fate.
But on this date of execution, I have never felt more compassion than I did for Chris Burger. He was scared, and visibly shaken after hearing the news. I guess the one thing that moved me was much as anything was when in his last statement he said, ďIíd like to say Iím sorry to anybody and everybody Iíve ever hurt. Please forgive me.Ē
Iíve run into people who were very negative when I discussed my feelings. I have heard such things as, ďhe deserved to die,Ē and ďwhat happened to him doesnít bother me.Ē
Well, first of all, if it were your son, what would you say? Secondly, the disparity of the justice system is such that I feel the death penalty needs to be done away with. I was told that Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida have executed more people than the other states.
I was also told that the poor and undereducated are almost always the ones to get the death sentence. It was pointed out to me that the circuit that tries the cases has everything to do with whether one gets the death sentence or not.
So it becomes a political issue on some circuits. Itís whether or not this person or that person feels that they will get re-elected or not. For instance, some very conservative areas will have fewer.
I hear often about gruesome murders and perpetrators going free or spending a few years behind bars. Donít get me wrong, I believe in consequences, but in this country I donít think it is right for one person to be executed and the next one to be committed to life, serve no time or a few years.I read recently that there have been 17 people executed in the State of Georgia since the state resumed executions in 1983.
Has Georgiaís murder rate decreased? I donít think so. The jails are overcrowded and murder is running rampant in our land. There is a movement going on now to trade guns for sports event tickets. No, this is not the answer.
At a recent funeral, I was reminded that we have spiritual problem in this land. God, who is the author of life, is the answer, the minister stated at that service.The one thing that I am thankful for is that during this ordeal that I witnessed, Chris Burger asked for and got forgiveness for what he did. So, do you know what? He is far better off than we are; left trying to make sense of lifeís tremendous complications.
As I told Randy Loney, a Baptist minister and a teacher at Mercer University, thank God I still have the ability to feel compassion and love for the Chris Burgers.
I would be worth little without it. I know it is hard and seemingly impossible for humans to forgive. Thank goodness, God still does.
When we execute a human being, we are giving up all hope for that person. We are saying that there is not a possibility that this life will ever be of any value. Do other humans have the right to make such judgements?