I read Ross’ piece on Nebraska’s decision to repeal the death penalty. It is well worth reading.
At a time when conservatives going from the pro to anti-death penalty column, I have gone in the opposite direction. Given my contrary nature, I suppose that isn’t a surprise. More on this later.
Ross begins the article by telling the story of Nebraska GOP State Senator Colby Coash who went from being a supporter to an opponent of the death penalty after attending a gathering outside a prison where an execution was to take place and being turned off by the “tailgate party” atmosphere.
I agree that we ought to avoid celebrating a person’s death, even a bad person who has committed evil acts. These occasions call for sobriety and somber reflection. Yet I don’t see this as sufficient cause to abrogate the death penalty. The problem in this instance is within us, not with the law itself.
To the extent there is a problem with the death penalty statutes it is with the “endless appeals” which delays the death sentence from being implemented and serve as protection for those sentenced to die. Ross cites the recent Boston Globe editorial by the parents of Martin Richard, the 8-year old boy killed during the Boston Marathon Bombings, who asked that the death penalty not be imposed against Dzokhar Tsarnaev. The Richards argued that the appeals Tsarnaev would be entitled to would delay “closure” for them. With all due respect to the Richards, they will never have closure – death penalty or no death penalty. While their opinion deserves consideration, it must also be measured along with the views of the other families affected and, above all else, by the interests of justice. Moreover, their objection doesn’t concern the actual execution of Tsarnaev, but rather all the protections he is afforded by our federal death penalty statute. No one can tell me that Dzokhar Tsarnaev hasn’t been afforded all the protections guaranteed by our Constitution.
Ross writes, “In this ultra-fast-opinion-sharing age, I expect that the courageous vote by so many Republicans to end that state’s death penalty will, in the not too distant future, be seen as the earthquake that led to aftershocks of repeal in many states — many conservative states — across the land.”
I disagree. Sure other states like Kansas and Montana might follow suit, but as Ross notes these states have gone years without executing anyone. The same cannot be said for Texas. In what was probably the high water mark for Rick Perry’s 2012 White House bid, he gave a forceful yet eloquent defense of the death penalty during a GOP candidates debate at the Reagan Library in September 2011 when the now discredited Brian Williams asked him about the 234 people who had been executed under his watch as Governor of the Lone Star state. Here is part of what I wrote at the time:
When Williams asked Perry what he made of “the mention that the execution of 234 people just drew applause,” the governor began his reply by simply stating, “Americans understand justice.” Yet I suspect that Brian Williams’ concept of justice is quite different from that of a majority of Americans. Williams leaves one with the impression that these 234 people were upstanding citizens who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. No. These 234 people committed the most heinous crimes imaginable. Let’s take a look at but a few of the people who have been executed in Texas over the past year or so.
On June 15, 2010, the state of Texas executed David Powell for the 1978 murder of police officer Ralph Ablanedo. Powell shot Ablanedo at least four times with an AK-47. The execution of Powell brought relief to Ablanedo’s family, who had been waiting more than three decades for justice to be served.
On October 21, 2010, the state of Texas executed Larry Wooten for the 1996 murder of 80-year old Grady Alexander and his 86-year-old wife Bessie. Wooten stabbed the elderly couple and slit their throats, nearly beheading them. Wooten also beat Mrs. Alexander with a pistol with such force that the grip and portions of the trigger mechanism broke off. To add insult to injury, Wooten then robbed the Alexanders of over $500 in cash.
On February 22, 2011, the state of Texas executed Timothy Wayne Adams for the 2002 murder of his 19-month old son, whom he twice shot in the chest. Adams’ attorneys maintained that the shooting was brought about by “an emotional crisis” when he learned his wife was going to leave him. As if killing a defenseless child is a natural response to an emotional crisis.
You get the idea.
Back in the seventh grade, we had a classroom debate over the death penalty. At the time, Canada was considering reinstating the death penalty because of a rash of cop killings. Ultimately, this would not come to pass. In any case, I was the only one in the class against the death penalty and I used many of the same arguments used by George Will (i.e. the government wasn’t infallible whether through incompetence or corruption and it was irreversible). But to no avail. Three decades later, I’m sure everybody would be against the death penalty while I would be the only one willing to defend it. The more things change the more they stay the same.
What turned me in favor of the death penalty was the October 2006 slaughter of the Escobedo family on a Florida freeway. It was a drug killing, but two children were killed – a three-year old boy and a four-year old boy. Whatever the sins of the parents, they didn’t deserve to be visited upon the children. Two men would be sentenced to death for the killings in May 2009. They remain on death row and that is where they belong until their appeals have been exhausted.
I certainly think the death penalty must be administered cautiously and conservatively. A very high bar would have to be met. But if that bar is met and all doubt has been removed as to the guilt of the accused then the death penalty is fair, just and the most appropriate punishment under the law.