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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

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Time to End the Death Penalty.


On April 29, 2014, Oklahoma attempted to execute a man who tortured and buried his victim alive. Something went wrong with the three-drug lethal injection. For 43 minutes, this man suffered and then died, not of the execution, but of a heart attack from the stress of the failed execution. Something similar happened about 20 years ago when serial killer John Gacy was executed.

Those who oppose the death penalty per se argue that these kinds of efforts subject the murderer to suffering and thus make the punishment both cruel and unusual and therefore unconstitutional (remember that the Eighth amendment bans punishments that are cruel or unusual). I disagree. Nothing in the Constitution requires a painless death for murderers who inflicted horrendous pain upon others. On the other hand, tortuous forms of execution, such as gas chambers, breaking at the wheel, or hanging drawing and quartering, are innately wrong, and are designed to wreak vengeance while also ridding society of a danger. The latter purpose is the reason that death exists as a penalty.

That said, Conservativity now opposes the death penalty. My reasoning is driven by something that happened about a decade ago. As George Ryan exited office as Illinoisí governor, he emptied death row. Most of the 187 people emptied out of death row were given life-no-parole commuted sentences. However, the evidence was such that he freed four outright, their convictions obtained by torture-induced confessions, and apparently all actually innocent. This does not count Rolando Cruz, who was freed earlier from death row after it was shown that he, too was actually innocent. The total number of freed death row inmates in Illinois was 13, a bakerís dozen, and more than were executed in the preceding 40 years.

If you put a person to death, and he or she is later demonstrated to be innocent, there is no jail door to swing open. The innocent will have been put to death by the state. The irrevocable nature of the death penalty, combined with the shockingly erroneous death sentences handed out in Illinois, led to this state eventually abolishing the punishment. Good. If our prosecutors cannot be sure that they are putting actually guilty people in jeopardy of life, better to not do so at all.

Moreover, our prisons are tough and secure. It is distasteful to me to think that we pay taxes to house and feed criminals, sometimes for life, when said people are truly reprobate. On the other hand, I cannot imagine myself as a judge or governor deciding to end a life and making the wrong decision. I cannot imagine facing God having done so. His Mercy is great, but I would still have to give an answer! And let me be clear; passing off the responsibility to a jury (remember the "penalty phase") is immoral. A decision of this magnitude was designed to be on the shoulders of one person. But I digress.

We can afford to house these reprobates, in the same way that we do child molesters, who should in my opinion be incarcerated for life with no hope of parole (Illinois law states that a person who commits "predatory" sexual assault of a child and is convicted of three counts is sent away for life, no parole - good. The problem is that plea deals frequently result in this provision of the law being circumvented). The same should be done to every murderer and rapist of any sort. Will the families of the victims be able to see the person tormented die? Not quickly. However, guilty people will still die in captivity, slowly and surely, forgotten by the society they transgressed. Innocent people can be freed if the evidence materializes, just as Rolando Cruz was finally freed before Illinois could fill him full of lethal drugs.

If a foolproof system of ensuring that the guilty are the only ones to die is established, fine. I donít see how that can happen. Therefore, we have to refrain from executing people.

Again, this is not because of a desire to avoid "cruel" or "unusual" punishments. Our history belies the notion that death as a penalty is either, although the legal morass of appeals may make it unbearable for the criminal. Nor is the infliction of some amount of pain, incidental to execution and not a goal thereof, a barrier. Lethal injection appears to be painful, and maybe excessively so. However, all pain could be avoided by strapping the condemned to a chair with a double 12-gauge shotgun six inches behind his head, at the base, aimed upward at 30 degrees. Let loose both barrels; death would be completely instant, albeit a bit messy since the condemnedís brain would be totally destroyed in 1/50th of a second.

The problem is not "cruelty," it is irrevocability. In our depraved society, we had cops who tortured innocent people into phony confessions that came within days of costing them their lives. Until we can undo the depravity, we cannot protect all of the people with death penalties. Letís stop now.