In the May 4 article Lawmakers say they won’t abandon death penalty, Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian said, in support of Clayton Lockett’s execution, “As a father and former lawman, I really don’t care if it’s by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions.” In Christine Flowers’ May 5 column, Remember why he was executed, she rationalizes Lockett’s pain during the bungled execution by comparing it to his victim’s suffering during the horrific events that led to her death. Both articles reflect mindsets that miss the big picture or unwittingly admit that legislating revenge matters more than lives.
I have often wondered what considerations would lead to the abolition of the barbaric practice of capital punishment since statistics haven’t seemed to matter. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this year reports that at least one out of every 25 people given the death penalty is innocent; meaning that since 1973, approximately 338 innocent people were sentenced to death. Currently in the United States, 18 people were proved to be innocent as a result of DNA testing; after serving time on Death Row. Their convictions, for crimes they did not commit, occurred in 11 states. Their lives, and the lives of others who may find themselves in similar circumstances, matter.
Proponents of capital punishment, in part, argue that the practice serves as a deterrent against violent crimes and reduces the cost of dealing with society’s most heinous offenders; however, capital punishment actually doesn’t accomplish these objectives. States that carried out the death penalty between 1991 and 2011 consistently had higher murder rates compared to states that did not. For any punishment to be an effective deterrent, it must be consistently and promptly applied; capital punishment is not.
In terms of costs, seeking the death penalty is considerably more expensive than life without parole due to the lengthy and complex judicial process involved in capital cases that increases legal costs.
We have chosen to condemn violence by use of the ultimate state-sanctioned violence that doesn’t elevate society. And, in the end, we can’t bring back the victims; we can only increase the possibility of creating more victims. Does capital punishment really provide justice and closure to victims’ families in a more meaningful way than life without parole? If so, is it worth the monumental toll it exacts on them and our society?
Joyce Voschin, Davie