Capital Punishment: Questions for Death Penalty Repeal Supporters

Capital punishment public policy creation requires robust and substantive debate. Here are some insufficiently discussed matters.

Red Maryland

In 2007, New Jersey became the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty. Saved from execution, among others, was Jesse
Timmendequas, who, according to CNN, “lur[ed] Megan Kanka into his Hamilton
Township home to see a puppy, then rap[ed] her and strangl[ed] her.

As a professor of persuasion for over 40 years, I have been struck by not
just the illogic of those legislators seeking repeal of the death penalty.
According to Patch.com, Sen. Bobby Zirkin argues that his change of heart on
the issue is based on the utterly selective and unrepresentative “testimony
of some victims who said the death penalty provided little closure because of
lengthy appeals” and the irrelevant observation of the fact that “the state
hasn't executed anyone in nearly a decade.”

But I have been more taken by the lack of repeal supporters’ publicly
engaging the critical arguments at all.

Please allow me to ask the following important questions to legislators and
others, questions which should be addressed– or should have been addressed --before the state of Maryland repeals
capital punishment
. Failing that, these are questions for
which voters in a referendum should seek the answers before sustaining the end
of executions.

1. If there is a Newtown in Maryland with children massacred,
will you stand by your vote for the repeal of the death penalty?

2. If a convicted 1stdegree murderer orders killings
from prison, how would you stop this? What should be the punishment if one or
more is carried out? Why would a murderer necessarily ever stop if there is no
death penalty?

3. If a convicted 1stdegree murderer kills inmates or
prison guards, what should be the punishment?

4. If you base your vote on public opinion polls, does your
position vary if that measured opinion changes? After Timothy McVeigh murdered
168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll indicated that 81% of the public felt he should be executed.

5. If you argue that capital punishment is racially biased, would you agree that the major source of that conclusion, the Paternoster study, argues that the race of the defendant does not produce a disproportionate use of the death penalty, only the race of the victim does so. Do you not agree that this could be changed and is largely an effect of the disparities in geographical use of the death penalty?

6. If you argue that capital punishment is not a deterrent, are you moved by the fact that The New York Times, hardly a bastion of
capital punishment support, reported in 2007 that according to about a dozen
studies “executions save lives. For each inmate put to death, the studies
say, 3 to 18 murders are prevented.”? A study by Emory
University echoes this position and argues that decreasing the time between
conviction and execution would also save lives. This may be because executions
delayed create the perception of no executions.

The lack of implementation and the lengthy time of disposition of executions should not be the basis for eliminating them. It should energize Maryland to shorten the period between conviction and execution.

The fear of a mistake can be alleviated by raising the standard of proof, if need be, to “beyond any doubt.” That would also eliminate the possibility of serial murderers continuing their grisly behavior.

Even a death penalty unused, but utilized for plea bargaining, is superior to not having its availability.

Regardless, to act in such a definitive way to save murderers from executions deserves a full addressing of the issues, not a rush to irresponsible action.


Professor Vatz has taught Persuasion for decades at Towson University, is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013)
and will be giving a keynote address on the book at the Southern States
Communication Association Convention in April.

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.

Paul Romney February 25, 2013 at 01:38 PM
1. No. Do you believe in executing lunatics? 2. Same as in other jurisdictions that have abolished capital punishment. 3. Ditto. 4. I don't. 5. I don't rely on the race argument. 6. And yet the NYT is "hardly a bastion of capital punishment support." Go figure.
Dr. Dave March 08, 2013 at 03:17 AM
I will never be able to understand the thought process of those who believe we should take away or restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves from criminals who want to kill them for no reason, but then want to protect that criminal's life even after years of due process, trial by peers, and judgment under the law. The same minds who think aborting a defenseless mid- to late-term fetus is acceptable, but executing that criminal who had every chance to decide not to kill someone else, is so horrible and distasteful. The lack of consistency across those positions strikes me as extremely odd and would leave me with a great deal of cognitive dissonance. I believe the law-abiding citizen should have the right to weapons to defend her or himself in the home and to carry with them in public (with restrictions for schools, bars, churches, and government buildings). While I am saddened by terminations of a fetus' life, I believe that is a decision only the woman carrying that fetus and those she asks for help making the decision can make. Whatever she decides is what I will support her doing. I am also sad at the state having to end the life of a murderer, but not nearly as sad as I am about the innocent lives the murderer has taken. The murderer made her or his choices, had the chance to defend him or herself at a trial, and was found guilty by his or her peers. The price must now be paid, and I support the death penalty completely.
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