Blood Money

July 17 (Bloomberg) -- An Iranian child offender, who was forgiven for killing a man by the victim's family, is to be hanged tonight because his parents couldn't gather the blood money they were required to pay, his lawyer said.

The victim's family decided to spare Sina Paymard's life last September after he was allowed to play the flute as his last wish, Sina's lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, said.

His playing moved people gathered for the public execution to tears. Under pressure from the crowd, the family asked Sina's father to pay the equivalent of $162,000 in compensation, a practice that is allowed in Iran, the lawyer said.

``The father has only managed to gather a third of the sum, and he was told this morning that his child will be executed tonight,'' Sotoudeh said by telephone. ``Sina was 16 at the time of the crime. His life shouldn't depend on the amount of money his family can gather.'' He is now 18.

Iran this month drew international condemnation after a man convicted of adultery was stoned to death west of the capital Tehran. The Islamic Republic has one of the highest rates of executions in the world, with 124 people executed so far this year, according to Amnesty International. Two child offenders were executed in April and May, the rights group said.

Sina Paymard's hanging ``would be in complete violation of international law,'' Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program, said in a statement. ``The Iranian government must take immediate steps to halt this execution.'' [source]

My first instinct upon reading this story was "those barbarians." Then it occurred to me that the story does not really explain the circumstances of the murder, so it's possible the sentence is appropriate. Some will argue that crimes committed at 16 should not draw a death sentence, and I would generally agree, but this case might be the exception. We don't have enough information to say.

What enrages people about this story is probably the money angle. Here we have someone who is going to die for no reason other than lack of money. It really is that simple. His family can't come up with the required amount, so Sina has to die. The victim's family appears to feel they have granted enough mercy.

On the other hand, is this really so different from the way we administer justice here in the United States? The people who end up on Death Row are almost always lower-class, sometimes impoverished, and often members of minority groups. Most were represented at trial and on appeal by overworked, underpaid, court-appointed attorneys.

In contrast, on those rare occasions when a wealthy person is accused of a capital crime, a legal "dream team" is assembled and the full menu of legal and scientific arguments are brought forth to show reasonable doubt. I'm convinced that in such cases many prosecutors choose not to seek the death penalty in order to avoid an expensive, embarrassing spectacle.

So in our case, the money goes to the lawyers instead of the victim's family, but the fact remains: those who commit capital crimes but also have sufficient cash can usually escape death. Those who lack these resources usually end up dead. Such is the state of justice in America.

I'm not saying we are no better than Iran in this department. Were I falsely accused of a crime, I would much rather be tried here than there. Nonetheless, we can't always say that our way is better. May God have mercy on Sina Paymard's soul, and that of his victim.

UPDATE 7/18/07: News reports say that Iranian authorities have delayed Sina's execution for 10 days to give the family time to raise more money. Click here for latest Google News updates.

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