Ultimate penalty questionable

Christopher Taylor

I remember seeing an interview on television of a woman who said that she would not have put Hitler to death.

I would have then and would have again today. In fact, I would have been the person who pushed the button. Cruel, probably, but not nearly to the extent of the crimes against humanity that he committed.

There is no question that some infamous killers have committed atrocities and must be put to death. But the death penalty sentences that come into question are those involving people convicted of murder based on what a group of less-than perfect people, known as a jury, concludes.

Sometimes, juries that have ruled on capital cases have been wrong. This has resulted in numerous innocent people sitting on death row, hated by the nation for their apparent crimes, detested by the families of the victims and waiting for their injections. One of the many examples where death-row inmates have been freed was Kirk Bloodsworth, who was convicted of a host of offenses including murder and put on death row in 1984. In 1993, he became the first person to be released because of DNA testing.

His is not a unique case — there are many others who have been on death row for years, wasting their lives for a crime that they did not commit.

What frustrates me the most about this issue are ignorant people, like most conservatives, who use the annoying phrase, “an eye for an eye.” Hmm, I wonder where that came from. Are there any other logical, factual arguments that they can make? Not usually.

Unfortunately for conservatives, DNA testing has confronted their eye-for-an-eye argument and, hopefully, has made Americans think more closely about their capital punishment preferences. I’m not preaching the abolition of the death penalty — there are times when it is needed. It should be used only when there is absolute proof the person in question is guilty of murder, and the jury finds that it would be the best option.

A Gallup Poll in 2004 indicated that just under a majority of Americans, about 46 percent, favor life without parole as an option to the death penalty. Another Gallup Poll released in 2004 found that 62 percent of Americans did not believe the death penalty was a deterrent to crime within the United States. And they’re right. I highly doubt an ax murderer pauses to ponder what the judicial system in the United States will do if he is caught.

Another important point to consider is that there is an abundance of mentally ill people currently facing the death penalty. The American Civil Liberties Union Web site estimates that approximately 5 to 10 percent of death row inmates are seriously mentally ill. Not too long ago the nation called for the death of Andrea Yates, a nurse from Texas who drowned her five children without considering whether this woman had suffered with severe postpartum depression and psychotic episodes. After she was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity, people continued to call for her death.

You may be surprised that as the liberal columnist, I support the death penalty. But if we are going to invoke the ultimate penalty, we need to put into place the ultimate safeguards.

And that means if even one innocent person, one mentally ill person is put to death, then the entire system is wrong.

Christopher Taylor is a senior nursing major and point/counterpoint columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].