16 January 2013: Death penalty should be abolished

Death penalty should be abolished

The question before us with regard to the death penalty is its efficaciousness.  Coolly and deliberately it’s incumbent upon society to review its purpose, history, and practicality.

The death penalty is the most extreme and final consequence for a crime, usually murder.  There’s no undoing its implementation, for once one is dead, he’s dead.  There’s no chance of undoing that “oops” or making it right vis-à-vis restitution.

Over the years we have witnessed the exoneration of men unjustly convicted of a murder and sentenced to die.  In Colorado Tim Masters was recently set free after a decade behind bars.  In 1998 he was convicted of murdering Peggy Hettrick a decade previous to that.  Masters, then a young kid in the wrong place at the wrong time, was nothing short of framed.

In a tortured-logic piece in the Denver Post, rightwing columnist Mike Rosen pooh-poohs such misfortune.

“The remote chance of a ‘wrong man’ conviction isn’t sufficient to rule out the death penalty,” Rosen writes.  He incorrectly compares it to the potential of death by “friendly fire” preventing our government to pursue war.  War and the heat of battle, however, are not equivalent to a trial during which a panel of citizens deliberates the fate of an accused individual.

Rosen recalls a debate he had with former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in which Chaput pondered the difficulty a judge would be experiencing if a man he had released killed again.  Chaput “couldn’t imagine a worse position to be,” to which Rosen responded, “I can: being the person who was murdered the second time around.”

I’m not sure how one could be murdered twice, but Rosen apparently can conceive of such a scenario.  I can, however, imagine a state murdering an innocent man because it happens.  Tim Masters was close to being one of the “remote” possibilities.

If the death penalty is designed to deter murder, it obviously has never worked.  If it is about being a fitting consequence for a particularly heinous crime, its application is uneven, unfair, and directed towards certain societal sub-groups: men of color and/or in the lower socio-economic groups.  Plus, it’s hugely costly compared to its alternative, life without the possibility of parole.

Renowned defense attorney David Lane, who defended Ward Churchill and now retained by Secretary of State Scott Gessler, calls the death penalty a “barbaric, money-sucking relic of bygone years.”

Taking on Attorney General John Suthers who argues it being necessary “for the safety of the people,” Lane points out in the Post that Suthers never explains how implementing the death penalty might be ensuring Coloradans safety, given it has been applied only once in over four decades to a tune of $50 million taxpayers costs.

The pro-death penalty arguments, Lane insists, find their roots in hysteria rather than reason.

“There is not one shred of evidence  that the per capita murder rate in Texas, which executes someone almost every two weeks at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, has been affected in any way by the regular imposition of the death penalty,” he writes.

Our representative Claire Levy is in the process of producing a bill prohibiting the state from pursing the death penalty.

“We have,” says Levy,” increasing concerns about the possibility of executing an innocent person.”  The data, she continues, “is overwhelming, not applied in an objective, consistent and fair way,” but “applied inconsistently and arbitrarily.”

Levy says she wants it to be very clear to the public and other legislators that those convicted of capital murder and other heinous crimes could be sentenced to die in prison, thus allaying fear that a convicted murderer who might’ve been given the death penalty would ever be set free.

Levy shared similar thoughts with me on KYGT on January 5.  You can listen to her comments by going to the radio’s website at www.kygt.org.

Eliminating the death penalty is one more step in the process of moving towards a more just society.  The state of Colorado ought not to be in the business of execution, especially given the possibility of executing innocent men, men who are almost always by happenstance members of a minority or lack the material wealth to defend themselves.

“At some point, you have to ask the question,” Levy states,  “to what extent are we going to go to execute people when we have an alternative, i.e. life in prison, that keeps the public safe?  It prevents the person from ever walking free.”

Reason and logic dictate that.

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