The Death Penalty—Is it broke and can we fix it?

I’m against the death penalty, largely due to my Christian beliefs. I think that the act of taking another person’s life is something that only God should be able to do. Who are we to decide that someone’s life has fulfilled its divine purpose and can now be snuffed out? God can always turn around for good what the Devil intended for evil. This doesn’t mean that I think murderers don’t deserve to die. I do.

I went to a panel discussion on the death penalty a couple nights ago at UNC. It was mainly a discussion on if, regardless of whether the majority wants the death penalty as an option or not, we as humans can create a system that effectively levies and carries out that sentence. In the last decade, 124 death row inmates have been exonerated due to DNA evidence. That’s 124 innocent people who would have been killed if we didn’t have that field of science. And only a small portion of cases ever actually use DNA testing. I’m not comfortable with one single erroneous death because we insist on carrying out executions. It was argued at the panel, though, that the exonerations are in fact proof that our present system of appeals does work and afford the necessary checks and balances to make sure that only the guilty are being executed.

Often, people argue that it’s better to execute than to spend taxpayers’ money on keeping a murderer in prison for life. Thus far, studies are inconclusive on which costs more, death row and the system of necessary appeals and associated court costs or life in prison.

Jury decisions on when to sentence death vs. life in prison have been incredibly inconsistent. Racism is rampant in the sentencing of 1st degree murderers. If the victim is white, the murderer is three times as likely to be sentenced to death than for African American or Hispanic victims. Also, few people would argue that mass murderers and serial killers don’t deserve to die, but at the same time, the vast majority of inmates on death row are there for the murder of one person. Of course, their victim’s lives were invaluable but how can we call the system just when people who go on shooting sprees can get life while someone who murdered a girlfriend in a jealous rage might be killed? We could just decide that all 1st degree murderers should be executed, with life in prison never an option. Are you comfortable with that?


I was shocked to learn at the panel that most mainline protestant denominations and Catholicism have released official statements condemning the use of the death penalty, largely because their leaders don’t believe we should take the risk of killing innocents for the sake of preserving the death penalty system. Growing up in a Pentecostal environment, I was taught that the death penalty was necessary as we are God’s servants, meant to carry out His will on Earth. I later rejected this myself after being unable to reconcile “an eye for an eye” with “turn the other cheek.” It was heartening to learn that so many Christian groups had made official statements in line with my own decision. It’s nice not to feel alone!

Perhaps one of the most important considerations for me is that I doubt I would, if asked, be willing to carry out an execution. One of my favorite fantasy books, A Game of Thrones, starts out with one of the lords personally beheading a man he had sentenced to death. He tells his sons that any man who’s willing to punish behavior with death must be willing to strike the blow himself. By accepting our system as is and allowing the death penalty, we as a society are saying yes, this or that person must die, but would we actually go through with it if we had to inject the poisons ourselves? I think the distance we’ve created between the sentence and the act of execution has made it easier to support the death penalty for most of us.

What do you think? Why do you support the death penalty? Why should we abolish it? Would you support it if we could be assured, somehow, that all those convicted were, in fact, guilty? Is the possible deterrence enough value that it’s worth the life of an innocent every so often in order to save other innocent lives?

1 comment for “The Death Penalty—Is it broke and can we fix it?

  1. October 13, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    I believe in the core message of the death penalty, heinous crime “X” deserves death in our society due to the “evil/appalling/violent/enter adjective of choice here” nature of the crime.

    I don’t believe in the death penalty due to the economic burden it places on the community. Often the appeals process keeps the convict alive and on death row for years past the original execution date at the cost of tax payers.

    The death penalty is just the highly visible issue which exemplifies the revamp of the justice system which is needed on a whole. Too often criminals are housed, convicted then released with little more than what would amount to an inconvenience in their day or week.

    Criminals which commit a crime that has mandatory consequences will commonly get lesser sentences or be released on probation instead of being incarcerated. There are many reasons for a judge to deem such actions appropriate. Briefly, one reason may be over crowding of the jails and prisons. A second could be the crime being such a “regular” offense that it is “normal” behavior for the judge to see and thus is not given a harsher penalty. A third possibility is that the offender is a habitual offender and the offender admits to one lesser offense with credited time served instead of fighting the 3/5/8/enter number here charges being filed. Commonly known as the “plea deal,” this is acceptable in the court system due to the overwhelming amount of cases and crimes being put through the judicial system, thus clogging it even more.

    The death penalty is just another one of those “clogs” in the system using time, money and man power resources to make the system inefficient and thus ineffective.

    For that reason, I am against the death penalty. Why burden an already broken and burdened system which is stopped due to the weight of its loads?

    Yes, science is proving people innocent. Science must continue to do this, and I also believe one innocent put to death is not acceptable. I also believe that the death penalty as a consequence for future crimes would continue to burden the system.

    I suggest, therefore, the death penalty only be applied to cases where there is no doubt what so ever. An example I offer is the one out of Connecticut (I think). In this case, about a year old I think, two parolee’s were released from state prison. Both men were convicted of violent crimes against people. Within two weeks of being released, they went into a doctor’s house and took him, his wife and his two daughter’s hostage. The offenders kept them hostage and took the wife to the bank where they forced her to withdraw money for them. The perpetrators returned to the house where they raped the wife and two daughters before killing them, all in front of the doctor. The doctor was able to escape, I don’t know how, and law enforcement captured the offenders, who were identified by the doctor.

    A case like this has an eye witness account, physical evidence and the suspects in custody almost immediately. In this example, I suggest a short trial followed by an immediate death sentence without appeal carried out publicly as a warning to other criminals.

    The more passage of time in any criminal act allows for the bolstering of the argument for more reasonable doubt in the case. The above example had almost immediate “caught in the act” arrests with eye witness and physical evidence implicating the accused. These cases should have the death penalty available and it should be executed (yes, I used that word intentionally) without delay, publicly. The the core message of “Your criminal acts won’t be tolerated” is still sent.

    In cases where some doubt and appeal can be reasonably established, the death penalty should not be an option, which leads us back to the needed revamping of the entire system.

    I suggest a revamp of the criminal system to have consequences equal to the crime committed. Some countries which we Americans snub our noses at, may have it right: a thief, on the second offense, should be deprived of his hand (or at least of two fingers thus marking him/her a thief); a rapist, on the second offense, should be deprived of a testical; a murderer should be deprived of his life (which should be spent at hard labor with all the proceeds going to the victim’s family and familial line until the convicts death) etc…

    The Arizona Sheriff had the right idea setting up Army tents and cots in the middle of nowhere. The convicts had no fences and were free to leave at anytime. They only had four hundred miles of desert to cross in flip flops in any given direction. Said convicts were provided three meals a day, shelter and a bed; often better ones than soldiers in foreign theaters of war received. All they had to do was wear their pink prison outfits and break stones or dig ditches until their sentence was served. An appropriate response if ever there was one.

    I think we are in this situation because we have forgotten that people in their core are knuckle dragging apes who fall into one of two categories: those who exploit and take advantage of others for selfish reasons and those who don’t.

    It is not an accident that convicted pirates were left to hang at the opening of ports back in the day. In our desire to be more humane, or look more civilized or feel better about ourselves; we have forgotten that by hanging that convicted ape who victimized an innocent, we kept the other apes from his liking at bay.

    The death penalty is not broke nor does it need to be fixed. Our gumshoe, grit or strength is lost. We are the lord from A Game of Thrones, but we are no longer leading like lords and protecting our people. We are no longer being the lords we are called to be, and are therefore cowing down to the knuckle dragging apes who would do us harm.

    As one author put it (and I don’t remember the exact words): We sleep soundly in our beds at night, safe from those who would do harm upon us (criminals), because there are those out there who would do harm upon them (law enforcement).

    If you don’t believe they are out there, come work the streets with me for a week or even a day, and you’ll see the apes then.


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