29 July 2008

With death do I part

I am forced to confess that over the past year or so, I have reversed my position on the death penalty, and must now advocate for its complete abolishment.

I still maintain that a lawfully created state has the right to lawfully execute offenders for whom the punishment fits the crime. That is, in the clearest case:

  1. The offender has killed, raped, tortured, or performed comparably cruel acts with malice of forethought and without mitigating cause, within an epsilon of doubt.
  2. The offender is unrepentant, within a reasonable doubt.
  3. The offender is likely to kill, etc., again, within a reasonable doubt.

I must also add a fourth, pragmatic condition:

  1. It costs the state less to execute the offender than to keep him (or her) imprisoned until he dies.

It is this fourth condition, together with the "epsilon of doubt" in the first condition, which have caused me to recant my position.

I have been convinced (I'll have to look up the sources) that it now costs the state more to execute a prisoner than to imprison him for life. This, as I see it, is the fault of a legal system in drastic need of reform, where lawyers are encouraged to pursue patently absurd litigation and appeals, and the courts lack the will or the power to refuse them. It is possible that at some future date, (4) might again be satisfied.

That still leaves (1). To justify the death penalty, we must be assured that it will never be misapplied. In practice, we can't, at least not in the current state of the system. The courts are too political, and juries too corruptible.

Someday the legal system may be reformed. Someday we may have a system which eliminates any shadow of doubt in the application of the death penalty. Until then, I believe it must be abandoned.


Tracy Karol said...

When someone in your family has been murdered, you might feel a bit different about the death penalty. It's easy to talk about it in the abstract, but get down to the nitty gritty and things change. Actually, I felt that way even before tragedy struck my family. Ever hear of Kenneth McDuff? He was a walking, talking example of the need for the death penalty if I've ever known one. He was on death row before the Supreme Court commuted all sentences, and he got life in prison (which in Texas does not mean actual "life" in prison -- he was later paroled). Within short order he kidnapped, raped and murdered two women. He never revealed the whereabouts of the second woman's body until right before he was executed, and then only in exchange for reduced charged for a family member. Had he been executed the FIRST time, it would certainly have been a deterrent. I don't really care how much it costs -- when you are a homicide survivor, you deserve justice. What we NEED is for it not to take so long to get there. I do agree that we need to be sure the person is guilty, but that should be true in any case.

Gerrit Erasmus said...

I hear you, Tracy. You're right, I've never lost a family member to violence, and I can't imagine what it would be like. On the other hand, I did lose a friend, a cop, shot by an alleged drug dealer, leaving behind a wife and two small children. It's not the same, I know, but it's not just abstract for me, either.

Likewise, I've never had a loved one executed for a crime he didn't commit. I've become convinced that it happens, though, which is a big part of what changed my mind.

I'm also convinced that prisoners get set free who never should be. I don't understand how someone who is sentenced to life in prison could ever be eligible for parole. Certainly, there should be a "life without parole" option, and it should be used.

I respect your point of view, knowing I can't completely understand it without having been there. I feel for your loss. And I feel for the injustice -- and just plain foolishness -- of letting a serial killer walk.

Tracy Karol said...

It's good to have a discussion with someone with an open mind. Texas certainly doesn't have the best system, and Kenneth McDuff was the perfect example of someone who should never have been paroled. We put more people on death row, yet have no such thing as "life w/out parole." I, too, believe people have been convicted who are innocent and that is absolutely horrid to me, and I believe wholeheartedly in the quote (which I will probably mangle) "better than 100 guilty men go free, than 1 innocent be improsoned" -- something along those lines. I didn't stop to look it up. The justice system needs reform. But my focus is on the victims right now. I do support the death penalty, but I support it in cases where the killer is clearly guilty (as in, DNA evidence). I've worked in law enforcement, so I have a fairly good grasp of how things work "behind the scenes." I'm sorry, too for your loss, and I respect your opinion.

Good blog, by the way. I was not meaning to be critical, just came across it and was commenting...actually came across another of your stories in my alerts (on the election) and then read this one.

Copyright © 1993-2009 by Gerrit Erasmus. All rights reserved.