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Wrong or ‘Dead Wrong’

Photo: Kosoul Chanthakoummane (1980 – 2022? Image courtesy of Kosoul Chanthakoummane) and Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), who said “It is better to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.” (https://iep.utm.edu/maimonid/)

On August 17th, America ONCE AGAIN plans to murder a possibly innocent human being when Texas lethally injects our longtime pen pal Kosoul Chanthakoummane. Kosoul is an Asian-American accused of taking the life of Mrs. Sarah Walker, Zichrona Livracha (of blessed memory), in 2006. 

May the beloved memory of Sarah Walker be an everlasting blessing to all who knew her and may her abiding neshama/spirit be a loving guide ALWAYS. 

We say “ONCE AGAIN” about the killing of a possibly innocent human being because of the plague of wrongful convictions and executions that grows like a cancer on the soul of this nation. (Please see this post for the horrific details:      https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/saving-americas-soul-step-1-abolition/

An important disclaimer here: let us be as CLEAR as the most clarion shofar blast that we, the members of  “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty,” stand united against capital punishment in EVERY SINGLE case – for both the innocent AND the guilty. We are aligned with Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber and countless others who realized after the Holocaust that a state with the power to murder its own citizens has NO PLACE in the civilized world. This applies to the United Stares, whether via its Nazi T4 legacy that is “lethal injection,” the various American gas chambers – including one that uses Zyklon B – or ANY OTHER means. Capital punishment is a racist, human rights BARBARISM that makes the United States a laughingstock as we deign to advocate for the advancement of human civilization.

With that said…

IF you still hold the medieval, distorted view of the misinterpretation of “an eye for an eye” that allows for state-sponsored murder, we hope and pray that the idea of putting to death someone like Kosoul Chanthakoummane who is quite possibly not guilty would raise at least one avenging eyebrow…

Many of the most powerful and brilliant voices of  Chazal would share our feelings. Chazal is the acronym for the Hebrew words Chakhameinu Zikhronam Livrakha – our sages of blessed memory – and refers primarily to the rabbis of our inherited Jewish tradition. You can find many of their comments among the vast resources that Death Penalty Action has culled rom across the Jewish world at this link: http://deathpenaltyaction.org/jewish-action

Let us recall the words of some of the loftiest figures among them: Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva, as found in the Talmud:

“A Sanhedrin [Rabbinic court] that affects an execution once in seven years, is branded a destructive tribunal. 

Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says: once in 70 years. 

Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say: Were we members of a Sanhedrin, no person would ever be put to death.

[Thereupon] Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel remarked, they would also multiply shedders of blood in Israel!”

– Mishnah, Makkot 7a

To be sure, there were dissenters among Chazal –  like Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel above – who were pro-death, citing similar factors of deterrence and other now antiquated notions of “justice.” They can be forgiven certainly for their views that reflected the understanding of their times, including when it comes to deterrence, as they were not privy to recent studies as listed here that have shown that deterrence is indeed a FALLACY when it comes to the death penalty. (Please see this objective and highly respected source: https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/policy-issues/deterrence) 

When it comes to the idea of reasonable doubt, however, there is NO DOUBT that the Talmud FORBIDS the execution of someone where there is any level of doubt about guilt or fairness. Arguably the most famous comment on the subject comes from one of our most renowned Jewish sages, the Rambam (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon). Maimonides, as he is often called, was a Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. Here is his relevant wisdom for us:  

“It is better to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.”

― Moses Maimonides 1135-1204

Keeping Maimonides’ aphorism in mind, please read this brief outline of the facts of the case that condemned our friend Kosoul Chanthakoummane: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eowZa9nZOI4QkAuTWSUQiojYnMPwD1SDJZyi8WOnL-A/edit?usp=sharing

As you will see from the document above, Kosoul has asserted actual innocence since the very beginning.

You will also see that eye witnesses could only testify against Kosoul following HYPNOSIS. 

You will also see that the bite mark “evidence” on which Kosoul was convicted has been discredited as junk science. 

You will also see the plethora of questions surrounding the DNA “evidence” used to convict Kosoul. (And if you erroneously think that any such scientific  “evidence” is automatically sacrosanct, please do think again, with the help of this watershed article: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/06/how-reliable-is-forensic-science/629632/)

You will also see that despite the findings of the investigators in Kosoul’s case, there is indeed another viable suspect.

You will also see the possible role of anti-Asian racial discrimination in Kosoul’s conviction.

Finally, you will also see that the late Mr. Joseph Walker, of blessed memory, the father of victim Sarah Walker, vehemently opposed the execution of Kosoul (please see here for more: https://tcadp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Joe-Walker-Profile-Voices-of-Texas.pdf) and that he himself had cast doubt on the legitimacy of Kosoul’s murder conviction in the case of his beloved daughter. 

(Of note: many would assume that such opposition by family members of alleged victims might automatically lead to clemency. Alas, this is far from the case in our United States. Just last week, on July 28th, Alabama murdered Joe James, Jr. against the express wishes of the daughters of murder victim Mrs. Faith Hall, of blessed memory. Once again, the wishes of the victims were DISHONORED by the lethal machinations of a pro-death state. https://www.cbs42.com/alabama-news/we-shouldnt-play-god-murder-victims-family-opposed-to-alabama-execution-of-joe-nathan-james/ )

You may not agree with all of the points in Kosoul’s case, but taken together, we compel you to consider: how would Maimonides rule? Indeed, we already know how Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiba and other members of Chazal would respond, along with Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber and countless other contemporary Jewish and secular icons: they would roll in their matzeivot/graves were Texas to carry out this state murder. 

As for myself, based on the character of the Kosoul Chanthakoummane that I have gotten to know in copious correspondence and hundreds of letters, messages and conversations over the years, I personally firmly believe that Kosoul is innocent of this charge. I do not say this about all who proclaim innocence to me. I believe it to be the case with Kosoul, however, just as I believed it with Melissa Lucio, who was mercifully spared earlier this year in the wake of a groundswell of public support. Please see here: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/pikuach-nefesh-jewish-abolitionists-help-save-the-life-of-melissa-lucio/

Might I be wrong about Kosoul? Perhaps – there is always a chance. And yet…I would much rather be wrong, than dead wrong…

…how about YOU?

If you agree, please sign our petition here: bit.ly/Kosoul

L’chaim – to Life!

Cantor Michael Zoosman, MSM, 

Board Certified Chaplain, Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains 

Founder: “L’chaim: Jews Against the Death Penalty” https://www.facebook.com/groups/996205437512710/?ref=share 

Advisory Board Member, Death Penalty Action  http://deathpenaltyaction.org/jewish-action 

About the Author
Cantor Michael Zoosman is a Board Certified Chaplain with Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC) and received his cantorial investiture from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 2008. He sits as an advisory board member at Death Penalty Action and is the founder of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty.” Michael is a former Jewish prison chaplain and psychiatric hospital chaplain. Currently, he is a multi-faith hospital chaplain at a federal research hospital, the National Institutes of Health - Clinical Center. His comments here represent his own opinions.
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