Out of court

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Death Penalty Is Wrong

Just the other day a King County jury voted to impose the death penalty on a man convicted of killing two young women and two children. It was a brutal, incomprehensible crime. No one can understand how anyone can kill children, much less have mercy for the killer. Murders with quasi-rational motives are done in anger, for money, in jealous rages, to cover up another crime, or for sex. In this particular recent case, none of these motives were apparent. According to the defendant, he was in a alcohol/drug induced blackout and came to after they were dead..

This man had no previous criminal record and from what I hear, there was no evidence he had even been violent before. He had an alcohol/drug problem and probably other mental issues but nothing extreme enough to explain this crime. It is probable he did not even know or meet the victims before, as he just moved into the neighborhood. Despite this aberration in his life, the jury determined that there was not enough mitigating evidence to raise a reasonable doubt to spare him. My belief is that if you murder children, 'death qualified' juries will impose the death penalty. (A 'death-qualified' jury is made up of people who agree they can impose the death penalty if the law and the facts support it; those opposed to the death penalty cannot serve.] For the record, the last defendant from King County, who was sentenced to death by a jury, also killed a child. He is still on death row..

On its face, this does not seem unfair or wrong. Kill an adult you can spend the rest of your life behind bars, but if you kill a child, life in prison does not seem severe enough of a response. So the death penalty serves that purpose. And yet. . . the worst killer in the history of this State--the Green River Killer--did not get the death penalty. Instead he was able to trade his knowledge of where his victims were buried to get a life sentence. In other words, that case seemed to say: 'Kill enough people, you can make a deal!" Although the people involved in making the deal with the Green River Killer might disagree and say he provided 'closure' to his victims' families, it does not deal with the essential unfairness of that result..

No other criminal terrorized a community for so long, killed so many young women and girls, and collaterally harmed so many others as the Green River Killer. If that criminal does not get the death penalty, how can it be justified for someone else who did less harm? It can't. Therein lies a major flaw with the death penalty: its inconsistency. Also, recall that none of the Wah Mee killers who murdered 13 people received the death penalty as well. In our all too human and flawed legal system, this lack of uniformity and consistency defeats any righteous defense of the ultimate penalty..

And I haven't even mentioned the death penalty cases from other states that involved innocent people! For the simple reason that our legal system can never be flawless, I cannot support the death penalty. One of the fundamental maxims of our legal system as expressed by Blackstone is that 'it is better to let 10 guilty men off than to condemn one innocent man.' As we are loathe to imprison the innocent, our governments should not be putting people to death. As Justice Blackmun, a Nixon appointee, put it: our society should not "tinker with the machinery of death." It is time to stop the death penalty..

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