May God Have Mercy

Words and music Creative Commons License 1999 by Jim Bearden

I had not expected to be writing another song about the death penalty, having written two on that subject already. But when I read May God Have Mercy, by Richard C. Tucker, I felt that I had to. In the cases described by my other two songs, R.A.H.  and Oklahoma City, 4/19/95, it was at least likely that the persons in question had committed the crimes for which they were sentenced to die. In this case, however, it is almost certain that Roger Coleman did not commit the murder for which he was executed in 1992; and the book shows, in compelling detail, why innocence is no defense in our current legal system. I’d certainly recommend reading it, since this song is far too short to tell the whole story.
A later addition: By now, most people familiar with this case have heard of the results of the DNA test that was finally performed in 2006, that showed that DNA within the victim’s body actually belonged to Roger Coleman, a finding that apparently put him back in the same category as the killers in the other two songs. While there may still be some unanswered questions – such as the presence of a second DNA sample that these findings did not explain, or the apparent impossibility of the prosecution’s time line for Coleman’s movements around the time of the murder – there does seem to be solid evidence that he had sex with the victim at some point. I would point out that if the DNA results had shown that sexual contact had not occurred, the argument could (and probably would) still be made that he could have committed the murder – and the converse (sex, but not murder) is also true. But if you accept the argument that the DNA test proves guilt of murder beyond a reasonable doubt now, the fact remains that they had no such proof at the time they killed him. And for me, the most important question, still, is the one I asked at the end of R.A.H.

Verse 1:
When the cops first found the body, thought they knew who’d done the deed;
They set out to prove him guilty – paid his alibis no heed.
Bent the facts to fit their theory, convinced a jury of his guilt;
Got their final victory when the judge told him he’d be killed.

We say, “May God have mercy on your soul —
But we don’t care if you’re innocent, we’ll send you to death row.”
Now all the murderers are outside this chamber, and so:
May God have mercy on all of our souls.

Verse 2:
She was just a year past law school, and crippled by disease,
But she knew he didn’t do it, knew he had to be released.
She took his case to judges who’d send their mothers to be fried;
Saw a crucial witness murdered, no one caring how she’d died.


Now though we knew he didn’t do it, we’d followed all the rules;
So we strapped him down, wired him up, and turned on the juice.


May God have mercy on all of our souls.

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