The death penalty should work, but it isn’t
Let’s start with facts.
The death penalty is neither cruel nor unusual and there is no constitutional reason not to give a lethal injection to anyone whose crimes are so appalling that a jury says they have forfeited their right to breathe our oxygen.
I’ve been a newspaper guy for almost 20 years – more than 13 of those in Oklahoma. We had three people from our county who earned a spot on death row and had the state take that spot from them during my tenure at my hometown newspaper.
One of those was a man who killed his father-in-law “in self defense” by shooting him 19 times including two execution style shots; one who beat, bit, and ultimately killed his toddler daughter; and the other one shot three people and burned down the house where they were killed.
I can’t make any argument for why any of those men should still be alive today.
Oklahoma is currently trying to execute two more men and both of them have earned that fate. One killed a 19-year old and the other raped and killed an 11-month old and has charges still pending over the rape and beating of a five-year old.
But the Supreme Court of Oklahoma made an unprecedented move this week and stayed their executions. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin followed suit to stay the executions for a week in order to make sure there was no constitutional issue because of the court stepping into the situation.
The lawyers for the two men claim the state’s secrecy on what chemicals they will use and where they purchase them violates their clients’ rights.
It is offensive that such a claim is even considered to have enough legal weight as to spare the lives of these two skinsacks full of evil.
But this does pave the way for one of the three arguments I will consider for abolishing the death penalty in its entirety.
First, the death penalty is really hard to overturn if you find a mistake. That’s a valid argument. However, that can be resolved easily enough through raising the bar for suspects eligible for the death penalty.
Second, the death penalty tends to be more attractive to juries considering the fate of minority defendants. The executions I witnessed all were white males. But statistics show that poor minorities face a far greater likelihood of being executed. Being represented by court-appointed counsel with limited budgets compared to private practice defense attorneys obviously plays a role in this inequity. Once again, the argument is valid but could be easily resolved.
But the final argument that is exemplified in the recent Oklahoma actions will never be resolved. Thanks to the severity of the punishment, and the fact that no one wants to execute the wrong person, death row inmates have almost unlimited access to courts and that is very expensive.
It can cost four times as much to try a suspect facing the death penalty. It usually costs far more to house them as well.
I don’t know how to resolve that issue without increasing the risk of executing an innocent person.
So even though I am a strong proponent of the death penalty and had no issue at all being the journalist witness to executions and helping record the dying inmate’s last words, I understand the argument to change all of the sentences to life without the possibility of parole.
Those sentences would land inmates behind bars until they die. The state just wouldn’t actively take part in that death.
Even though the death penalty should work, in our society it just isn’t.
Bush is the publisher of the Butler County Times Gazette and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org