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The Death of the Death Penalty Is Long Overdue

There should have been a consistent national outcry over the death penalty for a long time now, but the case of Clayton Lockett is as good a reason as any to bring the issue back to the forefront of public consciousness once again. Lockett, a 38 year old man, was executed in a 43-minute ordeal by the state of Oklahoma back in April. Officials called off the execution 33 minutes in, but Lockett spent ten more minutes writhing and gasping before he finally died. A recent autopsy showed that Lockett was killed by the lethal injection drugs, and not a heart attack, as was previously reported.

This drawn out and inexcusable method of execution demonstrates how messy of a matter it can be when the state involves itself in the killing of its own citizens. What it doesn't do in any way, however, is exonerate Clayton Lockett. Lockett killed 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman a few weeks after her high school graduation. He was one of three men who raped and beat Stephanie, before driving her out to a back road and shooting her while she begged for her life. She still was breathing as one of the men buried her.

It isn't hard to understand how some people are having trouble feeling bad for the botched execution of Lockett after hearing what he did to end up on death row. No one who argues that his botched execution is a miscarriage of justice should try to downplay what he did. Clearly this is a man who deserved the worst that can legally be done to him. But regardless of who he is or what he did, the worst that could be done to him under the law should not include death, much less one that drags on for half an hour.

I don't know if the Neiman family is glad that Lockett suffered a protracted death. Few could blame them if they are. But the truth of the matter is that the opinions of victims' families have no place in our justice system. Feelings of anger and a desire for revenge are understandable, but are not the kind of thing you want entering the equation when the goal is a cool-headed, objective review of the facts.

And the facts consistently show that the death penalty does nothing more than satisfy the lust for blood felt by certain members of the public. There simply is no real defense for the death penalty, though you hear the same shoddy ones given time and time again. For example: you're wrong if you think that the death penalty deters crime. In fact, North Carolina's murder rate dropped after they abolished capital punishment. The truth of the matter is that no one thinks about the legal consequences of something like murder before they do it. They either believe they'll get away with it or are acting in the heat of the moment. The death penalty has not been shown to lower the murder rate anywhere.

Even with that knowledge, lots of people still have a problem with the alternative. "Why should these horrible people spend the rest of their lives in prison, eating up tax-payer dollars? They should be killed so as not to be such a burden to society."

Putting aside the pretty heavy moral ramifications of wishing for someone's death to save a few bucks, the truth is that executing inmates is actually more expensive than incarcerating them for life. In Kansas, for example, a study showed that executions were about 70% more expensive than life sentences. The reason is mostly because of the legal costs resulting from the huge number of appeals death row inmates file.

"So," the thinking frequently turns at this point, "why don't we just streamline process to cut down on costs?" Well, those appeals are necessary because the courts really want to be sure that an innocent person isn't executed. Because, guess what? That is a very real possibility. There have been 142 exonerations of inmates on death row. That's 142 people who had been convicted of a crime and were sentenced to die before somebody somewhere basically said, "Oh, sorry about that."

But the scariest part is that those 142 people might actually only be the lucky ones. No one knows for sure how many innocent people have been executed, mostly because investigations tend to stop after the inmate is killed. But given the 4 percent error rate in those other convictions, one recent study remarked that it is "all but certain" that at least some innocent people have been killed. The number could be as high as fifty.

One last thought here. There's an entire industry devoted to the humane removal of problem animals. Should we not regard our fellow man with at least as much dignity as we'd show a troublesome opossum?

It is a mandate of the American justice system to err on the side of innocence whenever possible. The old saying that "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer," expresses this principle perfectly. But when a person is executed, it closes the door forever on the question of their innocence. Anything that creates the potential for innocent lives to be lost should be avoided, even if it satisfies the demands of a grieving family.

Posted by DFaris at October 2, 2014 2:49 PM
Comments
Comment #383957

DFaris, I am sort of on the fence re the death penalty. Coming at it from a Christian viewpoint, theologians seem to come down on the death penalty as being wrong or un-Christian.

Theologians cite, and the Bible relates that vengeance and punishment is reserved for the Lord’s domain.

In the same vein, the majority of Christians support the death penalty.

My conundrum is . . what are Christians to do when people make war against you? Where does that leave our ability to punish bad operators?

If we can’t punish them or put them to death I can’t see how Christians would be able to stand on the earth any longer than a new york minit, and so on - - -

So, until I am better educated I will support the death penalty, under certain conditions.

Namely: Invoke DP only for cases where a death is involved and guilt is determined by DNA.

DP to be carried out within 30-60 days of sentencing.

DP executed by firing squad, injection or electrocution. Defendant may choose between the three. Default would be injection.

IMO, this removes the possibility of wrongful execution, keeps the cost down and insures the killer won’t find a way to get back on the street.

Posted by: roy ellis at October 3, 2014 10:03 PM
Comment #383960

Roy, the Death Penalty is Biblical. That being said I agree with you on the time frame to execute and the choice of execution being given to the recipient.

Posted by: Rich KAPitan at October 3, 2014 10:57 PM
Comment #383968

I’m sure there would be times when, even with strong DNA there will be some uncertainty of guilt. A hypo might be: a woman is raped and murdered and found to have more than one actor in the DNA rape kit. In such cases the max penalty should be a life sentence, whatever that means.

The DP should be reserved for super strong cases where there can be no reasonable opposition, IMO.

Posted by: roy ellis at October 4, 2014 6:25 PM
Comment #383992

I would think taking the death penalty off the table could hinder some investigations into unsolved cases where you exchange a plea to life in an effort to obtain missing evidence. Also I know they use the death penalty to plead out life sentences thereby saving court costs.

The fact is the rate of death penalty cases is so low (except maybe Texas and Ok) that it is already at the level of only the super strong cases. We as a country probably kill more innocent people using Predator drone strikes then we do with lethal drugs.

Posted by: George in SC at October 6, 2014 5:03 PM
Comment #383993

Agree George. As it is DP law and practice is so abused that there is little justice to be gained using it.

But, reform of any real measure is just never going to be on the table, IMO. Pick any issue - - - student loan program, Dodd-Frank, ACA, and so on - - -

Posted by: roy ellis at October 6, 2014 5:53 PM
Comment #384007

Was watching a ‘whodunnit’ tonite and this guy killed several women and was given the DP. After something like 20-25 years he was given a chance for a life sentence as some technicality violation surfaced. The judge ruled for the DP again and the fellow is still sitting on death row 30 years after the crime.

Abuse of the justice system, IMO. So much for swift justice.

Posted by: roy ellis at October 7, 2014 9:05 PM
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