Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Death Penalty Volunteer

Richard Cohen usually writes pretty good columns, notwithstanding a few duds now and then. His column today deals with the death penalty, specifically in the case of Michael Bruce Ross, an unquestionably guilty serial killer who raped and murdered eight girls and young women. Ross wanted to be executed, and last week the state of Connecticut granted his wish. It's been 45 years since Connecticut last executed a prisoner.

I'm against the death penalty, for reasons I detailed in an earlier post that also referred to a Cohen column. I think he hits the nail squarely on the head this time:

Every time the state executes someone, it threatens the rest of us. The power to take life is too awesome to be given to government. It's not just that it has been abused throughout history, it's also that governments are incompetent at it. After all, the same government that assured us that Iraq bristled with weapons of mass destruction also guarantees that there is nary a slip between the cup and the lip when it comes to executions. Lately DNA testing has given the lie to that. Mistakes are still being made. Sorry.

I have no sympathy for a creature like Michael Bruce Ross. Humanity is better off without him. But before we endorse the idea of our government killing people through organized executions, we should consider a few facts. People who have enough money to buy good lawyers have the least chance of being executed. The legal system makes mistakes. And, as a matter of principle, governments have no business killing their citizens.


Blogger Esther said...

All very interesting Tom. You probably recall my thoughts on the death penalty. I'm sort of for it with serial killers for fear that they could escape or some crazy Governor could give clemency as he vacates (which some crazy did not too long ago). I'm curious how you feel about ones who ask for it as a general rule (meaning not this guy specifically)? Still against it or are you into granting wishes? I have no idea how I feel about it.

6:38 PM, May 17, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Esther, I don't think we can justify the death penalty by saying it's OK for an obviously guilty serial killer. That's too easy. Once we say it's OK for serial killers, then we have to decide who else should be put to death. Then we're back to rich folks buying good lawyers, the system making mistakes, and the problem of letting the state kill us as a matter of principle. I don't think the death penalty should exist in any part of the U.S.

Assuming someone sentenced to death can volunteer for it, mainly by declining further appeals, how does that make the government any different from Dr. Kervorkian?

7:43 PM, May 17, 2005  
Blogger Tran Sient said...

I agree that the recent DNA proven mistakes give me pause. However, why not use DNA evidence the other way around and only allow executions when DNA evidence proves guilt?

8:47 PM, May 17, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say government has no business killing its citizens, and that sounds good. But, government does have a business in protecting its citizens, from threats external and internal. Either government fails that utterly by doing nothing about chronically violent criminals, or it burdens for decades those that it protects for the benefit of those from whom they are protected by imposing life sentences, or it takes the risk of executing an innocent person on occasion. Personally, I think the third option is best.

2:39 AM, May 18, 2005  
Anonymous Jadegold said...

TC: Good post. You are, of course, correct in noting our justice system is two-tiered. If you're poor, you really don't stand much of a chance of overcoming the sheer weight of resources the state can muster against you.

Given that and the fact the DP doesn't have any deterrent effect, one has to wonder what the real motivation of DP proponents is.

8:44 AM, May 18, 2005  
Blogger Francesca said...

The fact that this man wants to be executed is a pretty good indication that the death penalty is not an effective punishment.

11:58 AM, May 18, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Tran Sient, the problem is DNA is often not part of a criminal case. It would create another kind of weird two-tiered system if those who left DNA at the scene were executed, and those who didn't served time in prison. Also, even positive DNA testing has been erroneous in the past, e.g., the current problem in Virginia.

Anonymous, you can't possibly believe that the risk of executing an innocent person now and then, which is the system we now have, is acceptable. Aside from moral principles, what if that innocent person is someone you care about?

Francesca, I agree. Also, it indicates he was nuts, which was a clinical fact.

12:21 PM, May 18, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Ah, Tom, but I support what Dr. Kervorkian does. We allow our animals to die with dignity. It'd be nice if we allowed the same for our terminally ill.

4:45 PM, May 19, 2005  

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