Time To Kill The Death Penalty

This isn't the first time society has debated the death penalty. The wheel keeps on spinning, and eventually the same spoke appears.

When Jonathan Wild was led to the gallows at Tyburn it caused a sensation in 18th century London. Executions were common for even minor infractions but this one was different.

Wild was London’s master criminal, aided by the fact he was also its chief law enforcement officer as the Under Marshall. Wild profited from fencing stolen goods and anyone who opposed him would soon find themselves accused of theft and invariably sentenced to death by the equally corrupt English judiciary.

All in all Jonathan Wild is responsible for sending roughly 40 political enemies and
accomplices to the hangman. The scandal would be one of the earliest events in
a chain that convinced the British to eventually abolish capital punishment
about 100 years later.

Then, as now, many arguments were raised against abolishment. It punishes the worst of the worst offenders and acts as a deterrent to future offenders were two of the most popular rallying cries. But then, as now, the death penalty may punish but it does not deter.

It never has.

And the counter argument raised by the shocking events of the Jonathan Wild affair, that innocent men were probably executed, is just as jarring and sobering today as it was then.

I understand those who support the death penalty. On a fundamental level, deep in the oldest part of my mammalian brain, I understand the need for retribution and even vengeance. And I also understand the need to deter the fringes of society from terrorizing me or (more importantly) those I love.

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But as a rational human being I also understand that these feelings are driven by largely by fear and not actuality. If someone I loved was the victim of a terrible crime I, admittedly, would find it difficult to wish anything other than death upon the person responsible.

But that death will not deter anyone else from doing the same thing to some other innocent person. Texas and Florida are the two states responsible for the most executions in modern America. Houston, Miami, El Paso and other cities are still as violent as ever. The death penalty has changed nothing.

Instead state budgets are drained by endless appeals, paid for in their entirety by taxpayers like you and me. And there is of course still that greatest of all costs. A
conversation with any of the dozens of people exonerated from death row just in
the last 20 years will make that particularly obvious. Or perhaps you can
ask Johnny Garrett, except you can’t, he’s dead. Killed by the State of Texas
12 years before DNA evidence linked another man to the killing and rape of
an Amarillo nun.

If the rational argument of the expense or failure of the death penalty to deter doesn’t convince us to abolish it, perhaps it is just as fitting then that fear should
motivate us to do so instead.

Fear drives some of us to embrace the death penalty but it should also drive even more of us to reject it. Because while we want to punish those who have wronged us, the next person to be punished may be you or me. Maybe the prosecuting attorney was a true showman who understood how to work a jury (he wore a Ravens watch after all and I love the Ravens), or maybe it’s just been a long week and earning $10 per day is no fun. Regardless actual innocence is often irrelevant, legal guilt is all that matters and the needle doesn’t care either way. 

Please support Maryland Citizens Against State Executions in its efforts to abolish the death penalty this legislative session. You may find more information at www.mdcase.org   


Editor's Note: The video added to this post was shot and edited during the 2011 Maryland Legislative Session. It was added to this commentary by editor Nick DiMarco after it was submitted by the author. It shows Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger and Kirk Bloodsworth—the first man to be exonerated from death row by DNA evidence. The two offer their views before for and against the death penalty in Maryland. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Shawn January 23, 2013 at 11:00 AM
If William Spengler was sentenced to death after brutally beating to death his 92 yo grandmother way back in 1980, the two firefighters he murdered after luring them to their death my setting a fire would still be alive. I understand that on a very rare occasion someone innocent could possibly be convicted and sentenced to death IF the judicial system fails them. That said I believe in an eye for an eye. It makes no sense to keep convicted murderous vermin alive and comfortable the rest of their evil pathetic lives at the cost of taxpayers. Perhaps bring back public hangings, though barbaric they are VERY EFFECTIVE at deterring copy cat murderous crimes.
Christian Erickson January 28, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Shawn: public hangings are not effective at deterring crime. The English experience makes that quite clear. Since you understand that "on very rare occasions" someone innocent could be executed, it is puzzling to me that you support the death penalty. Perhaps if we substitute your "could be" with "has been" or "will be again", the gravitas of that statement becomes more evident.
Christian Erickson January 28, 2013 at 11:33 PM
Larry: I'm not sure the death penalty validates murder as there have always been situations where homicide is acceptable, e.g. war, self-defense. Clearly I am against the death penalty under any circumstances but I believe the strongest argument we can make as a society are based on the penalty's lack of efficacy in preventing crime and the horrible thought that innocent people have died. Thank you for reading and commenting. And thanks to Shawn for reading and commenting as well.
Shawn January 29, 2013 at 11:27 AM
Having the death penalty sends a very clear message to criminals that if you commit murder in this state your life will be terminated. Adversely not having the death penalty sends a completely opposite message that no matter what heinous crime you commit in this state you will not pay for your crime with your life. In fact the state will take complete care of you (at your victims expense) for the rest of your life. Call me crazy but I do not support giving an open invite for homicidal nut cases. Obviously that is of no concern to you, and that is scarey.
Larry Smith February 09, 2013 at 10:20 PM
Wars are fought to reduce long-term loss of life (both quantity and quality); and even in war, soldiers aren't allowed to kill a combatant once he or she is no longer a threat. The high moral ground where murder as punishment is deemed "cruel and unusual" will require paying for internment until convicts meet their natural deaths. Societies that can't afford interment use Sharia Law where punishment by physical violence and mutilation is OK as long as someone "deserves it." In Sharia-type societies, violence as punishment pervades people's judgment and naturally tends them towards violent solutions -- domestic violence, abortion, infanticide, murder for being "diss'd," honor killings, etc. The costs of eliminating America's remaining vestiges of Sharia Law are worth the benefits that elevating our moral norms would bring.


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