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Monday, August 16, 2004

Death Penalty: Pro And Con

At some point, I supported the death penalty. I thought that there were people amongst us who do not deserve to live, people whose very existence is an affront to us, to our morality, to our civilization. Maybe, at the time I was more vengeful, too. I probably was as I wanted murderers dead so that the blood and suffering of their victims may be avenged.

Later, my views changed. I became absolutely opposed to the death penalty as a state-ordered sanction. I still believe there are people who do not deserve to be alive. In fact, I believe there are quite a few of them. However, I do not believe in a methodical, premeditated killing of a person who is already behind bars and has effectively been neutralized as a threat to the society at large.

There are many reasons why my views on the subject are what they are. And what is interesting is that I happen to sometimes find data backing me up in somewhat unlikely places. For instance, Steven D. Stewart, the Prosecuting Attorney for Clark County, Indiana, hardly comes across as an abolishionist. In his program letter on death penalty, he states his support for the measure and states some facts about it which I would agree constitute benefits,- for instance, the impossibility of repeat crimes by someone who has been executed, as well as the impossibility of escape by the said individual. Other arguments of his are not so strong, in my opinion. For instance, when Mr Stewart states that no one to his knowledge has been executed who was in fact innocent, he is conveniently bypassing the uncomfortable fact that in the US neither have any investigations ever been conducted, nor any court hearings held in order to review the guilt or innocence of anyone who had already been executed. Not so in other countries. In the UK, on the other hand, such investigations are occasionally conducted, and one,- a description of which I am unfortunately unable to obtain at the moment,- had recently found that a man hanged in 1954 for murder was in fact innocent.

But it is not through his "message" that Mr Stewart is supporting my line of reasoning most. Of his whole death penalty web collection the page most helpful to me is his excellent compilation of data on the US executions since the time the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. For the years 2000 to present, the data contains both the sentencing date, and the execution date. Note that the span between the two is quite long,- I think pretty much all of the inmates had to spend at least five years on the Death Row, some ten, some twenty, some,- such as James Barney Hubbard,-close to thirty. So, where is the deterrence? How many people save for those directly affected even remember what the crime was about by the time the culprit walks the last mile? Is ten or twenty years not time enough to commit another murder in prison lest an individual be so inclined? Is that not time enough to plot and execute an escape lest there be a chance?

I believe that there are arguments both in favor and against death penalty. However, I believe that anyone willing to address the issues analytically would have to acknowledge that the system of capital punishment in the US is hopelessly dysfunctional. And as such, it needs to be shut down,- if not forever, then until we as a society decide on what we want it to be and manage to ensure its morality and practicality. Personally, I don't believe a system which would satisfy those requirements can ever be designed.

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