I am once again stirring up the pot, exposing myself to all sorts of hatred and disgust. I apologize to anyone I offend. It is my nature to ask questions. To keep asking questions, even after I thought I’d already answered them.
This morning my state used lethal injection to execute a man convicted in 1988 of the brutal murders of three people, one of whom he also raped. Thankfully, capital punishment is not a common event in Idaho, the last execution occurring 17 years ago. Public emotions flare to the boiling point over the validity of capital punishment. The issues are complicated and emotionally charged: morality, deterrence, retribution, fairness, cost, and possibility of errors being a few.
- Morality stretches in both directions regarding capital punishment. Religious beliefs often support or deny the morality of the death penalty. In the case of indisputable proof that someone has willfully murdered another human being, the “eye for an eye” passages of religious texts seems to support the death penalty. But on the other hand, who are we to judge the value of one life pitted against the value of another life, particularly if we believe in an all knowing God and judgment day?
- Deterrence is a murky reason for the death penalty. We can protect the public by isolating the criminal from the general population. But what of example? Is capital punishment an effective hedge against future criminals? Statisticians on both sides of the argument present data to support their beliefs. Would life imprisonment be any less of a hedge against future criminal behavior? I frankly believe that most murders occur when an individual is well past the ability to monitor cause and effect. Drugs, mental illness, and inflated ego interfere with common sense and negate the notion of deterrence.
- Retribution sounds to me like just another word for revenge. Supposedly, execution provides closure for victim families. But the death of the murderer never brings the victim back to life. What does capital punishment really do for the society as a whole or for the families of victims? Does violence beget more violence?
- Fairness is another murky issue to examine. Can we be sure that we are color blind in arresting and convicting people of heinous crimes? Are we, as a society, more lenient in some cases? If Ted Kennedy were an unknown black man from Alabama, would he have lived to participate in the political process? Are certain people in this country at a much higher risk of falling into criminal behavior because of their education, their income, their childhood? Do all people facing criminal trails receive the same fine legal counsel as, say, the young Teddy Kennedy did?
- Cost of life in prison versus the cost of execution is as debatable as the issue of
deterrence. As we scrape the barrel to feed and cloth the homeless, to educate our children, and to medicate all of us, the cost of housing a convicted killer in an institution year after year is an understandable thorn. But even if we can prove that execution saves tax dollars, can we put a dollar value on life—even the life of a criminal? Where is the morality in that?
- Mistakes are not uncommon in our legal system. DNA evidence may reduce the incidence of mistaken convictions, but can we be confident that every person sitting on death row is guilty? Really? Would you stake your life on the efficacy of our judicial system?
I have flip-flopped on this issue during my life. One side of me says death is immoral at all costs. But another side of me whispers, that is not what you really believe.
Because you do believe in euthanasia: You believe that humans deserve as much dignity in dying as your most beloved horse, dog, cat, or rat.
You also believe there is no hope for a rabid animal: You would kill that beast in a heart-beat, knowing that by doing so you are making the world safer for everyone.
You do not believe that Homo Sapiens are the almighty kings of this planet: There is no reason to believe that humans deserve better treatment than the animals they so depend upon. So if you would kill the rabid animal, why not kill the rabid human?
In his final statement, Paul Ezra Rhoades took responsibility for 1 of 3 murders. I know, at least, that we executed a murderer. But did we do the right thing? What do you think?