Jedidiah Murphy, a years-long pen pal for the members of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty” and I, offered a blessing for war-torn Israel in one of his last messages before being put to death. Jedidiah was indeed guilty of the murder on October 4, 2000 of 80-year-old Bertie Lee Harmon Cunningham (b. Dec. 31, 1919) – Zichrona Livracha: may her memory be for an everlasting blessing and may her abiding neshama/spirit be a loving guide for us all. May her loved ones be comforted among all the mourners of the world. Jedidiah has never made excuses for his action, despite his documented dissociative identity disorder and falling through the cracks of a broken foster care system. Instead, he has done all he could to try to make teshuvah/repentance for his actions.
Here is the statement that Jedidiah was able to send out in one of his final messages to L’chaim and others who advocated for him:
“Hello, this is just a short update that I wanted to send everyone that is praying and pulling for me and my loved ones. This back and forth is challenging because you go from a gut punch, to hope to a maybe. The torture of this punishment is not what will happen to me, but what I see happening to my wife and family. They won’t make me suffer for what happened 23 years ago by giving me the rest of my life to think about it and everything life in prison brings… but they make my loved ones suffer instead. This is what I don’t understand. Hopefully and G!d willing I will have this stay STAND. If not, then we all have to accept that this was his will and not ours. I have been blessed and I thank all of you for your prayers and love along the way. To the people who are in Israel and have family there…may peace come to you all and I grieve along with you for the lives lost and the pain war brings to everyone. Thank you to you all and please stay positive regardless. Be blessed…Shalom Shalom, Jedidiah”
Jedidiah’s message for Israel came while the state of Texas was doing all it could to maximize his psychological suffering and torture before putting him to death. Despite the fact that Jedidiah had a stay of execution at the time, Texas continued its death protocol as if Jedidiah’s execution would take place, assuming that the Supreme Court would vacate the legal hold on the Angel of Death and that his killing would be carried out – which it was.
All of this took place against the backdrop of World Day Against the Death Penalty, whose 21st annual observance was the same day as Jedidiah’s state killing – October 10th, 2023. This year’s theme was “torture.” Let there be no doubt that the death penalty is indeed psychological torture, and often physical torture, as well. Before killing him, Texas put Jedidiah through a level of barbarism and inhumanity beyond the scope of anything that should be allowed in the civilized world. He was left in a legal limbo between life and death as he awaited word from SCOTUS – a horrific halfway point to Olam Habah/The World to Come enough to drive the sanest sentient being to madness. Along with Jedidiah, his loved ones suffered as they awaited word. And along with them, all of us who have known Jedidiah also suffered, including those who have worked with him on Death Row, his peers and advocates like myself. Yesterday’s ritual killing – replete with mental agony – indeed set a new benchmark for cruel and unusual punishment in the American system of “Corrections.” It was an abomination of the highest order.
Texas’ method of “observance” of World Day Against the Death Penalty offers the world only further evidence of why the death penalty condemns the society that enacts it infinitely more than the individuals it condemns to death. As Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said of capital punishment: “death never should be the answer in a civilized society.” Until all of humanity learns this lesson, L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty will continue to carry this torch, and work peacefully to ignite the flame of death penalty abolition.
Cantor Michael J. Zoosman, MSM
Board Certified Chaplain – Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains
Co-Founder: L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty
Advisory Committee Member, Death Penalty Action