This writer used to be a gung-ho death penalty supporter back in the day. Oh, yes. An eye for an eye, that was my motto for murderers. Gas ’em, fry ’em, shoot ’em full of lethal drugs, or in the case of my home state of Washington, hang ’em high.
I changed my mind.
I started exploring the reality of inmates who have no hope of release unless they suddenly discover the Fountain of Youth springing up through the floor of their cells, and that is unlikely. I found that for people doing life without the possibility of parole, their punishment really WAS a fate worse than death. They stood at the doors of their cells and listened as names were called out for release. They went through each day listening to stories from the other inmates about what they were going to do when they got out, or how great it would be when they could see their families again.
But they’re not going anywhere. EVER.
Meanwhile, over on Death Row, you hardly ever hear of an inmate fighting back against the guards when his time comes to take that long walk to the execution chamber. Most just go along for the Big Ride. They figure their life sucks anyway, and death puts an end to all the noise and the bullshit.
Here are ten good reasons why the United States should abolish the death penalty.
It Isn’t Applied Fairly
In cases which begin in the Federal system (although almost all end up in state courts), most executions are done under Reagan’s 1988 ‘Drug Kingpin’ Act, which allows executions of anyone involved in a murder who was also involved in a criminal drug enterprise. Although three-quarters of the people arrested for murder under the Drug Kingpin law are white, 78% of those actually executed under the law are black or Hispanic. In the state systems, a black or Hispanic is a lot more likely to be executed – same as the Federal system. Here in Washington State, they gave the Green River Killer a life-without-parole sentence, while the state pursued the death penalty against other defendants for lesser crimes. In general, the decision to seek the death penalty is NOT a level playing field for anyone of color or poverty.
Innocent People Occasionally Get Executed
Oops. Larry Griffin of Missouri is a famous case. Evidence came to light after his execution that strongly pointed to his innocence. Even the prosecutor apologized. Other cases include Carlos de Luna, Cameron Willingham, and Ruben Cantu, all of them from Texas. Troy Davis of Georgia may soon be added to this list. Recently, Samuel Milsap, the former District Attorney from Bexar County, Texas, said this:
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the system as it relates to capital murder is simply broken. It’s my view, in fact, that because it’s driven by human beings, it can’t be fixed … the option to put people to death has to end.”
Too Much Money – Too Little Return
New Jersey and New York put a hold on the death penalty in recent years, mainly because of the massive costs to taxpayers without viable results. New Jersey spent $250 million dollars prosecuting and handling appeals on cases in 22 years. In New York, they spent $160 million in seven years – without actually executing anyone. This same policy also happens in other states. The costs to taxpayers in death penalty cases is staggering, and continues to increase. Many people, even prosecutors in death penalty states, are saying these funds would be better spent on more police protection and victims’ assistance programs.
It Doesn’t Deter Murder or Lower the Murder Rate
In states performing the MOST executions, such as Florida, Texas, and Georgia, the murder rate per 100,000 people is double or even triple the rate of non-death penalty states. The average is roughly 45% higher. Go figure.
Two-Thirds of Americans Polled Have Lost Confidence in the Death Penalty
About 60% of the people polled actually still support the death penalty, but many have doubts about it. The number one reason is the fear that innocent people will be executed. This is a legitimate concern, because it’s happened before – and it certainly will again.
We’re Executing People We Shouldn’t
26 states have laws allowing the execution of mentally retarded persons. We also execute juveniles occasionally. The last one was Sean Sellers of Oklahoma in 1999. He was 16.
We’re Losing Friends Fast in the International Community
The United States has already executed 14 foreign nationals from 11 different countries. We have about another 82 on Death Row. These actions are strictly against the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations – an agreement we signed long ago. The International Court of Justice has found AGAINST the United States on numerous occasions for these actions. By executing foreign nationals, we have no right to squawk if an American is put against the wall and shot in a foreign country. We had it coming.
Many Of Our Own Religious Leaders Are Against It
You can Google them up whenever you wish. Bishops, cardinals, nuns, priests, Protestant leaders, and others from more faiths than you can count on your fingers and toes. They all say the same thing. It’s wrong. Maybe they’re trying to tell us something.
The Death Penalty System Itself is Broken
Endless appeals, poor representation, billions of dollars down the drain, the wasting of time by courts, judges, lawyers, and prosecutors handling the cases adds up. In many states with the death penalty on the books, prosecutors often opt for a plea deal, just to avoid the problems they know will come with a death penalty conviction.
Life in Prison Without Parole is a Harsher Punishment
The Manson Girls are a good example. Not only is this a tougher alternative in many ways than death, it solves two other problems. We won’t be executing any more innocent people – and if someone really is innocent, it holds out the chance that the truth will be discovered someday.