I Changed My Mind On The Death Penalty
I still feel that way, but I increasingly also believe that the uncertainty of human judgement and the fallibility of man means we should exercise this power in increasingly narrow cases.
In his state of the state address today, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said this about the death penalty:
The death penalty is expensive and it does not work. It is not a deterrent. It cannot be administered without racial bias. It costs three times as much as locking someone up for life without parole. And it cannot be reversed if an innocent person is executed.
It is time to repeal the death penalty in Maryland and replace it with life without parole.
I don’t agree with Governor O’Malley that the cost of the death penalty or its efficacy as a deterrent should govern whether we use it or not, but I agree that there are very real problems in how the penalty has been implemented with regards to race and income, as well as the problem of executing the innocent.
What helped to change my mind on this was the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was put to death for murder. But the evidence and data, including the unscientific method of the expert witness used in the court case, appears to exonerate him. (Click here to watch the full episode of Frontline about the case)
We can’t do that. We can’t execute people based on evidence that is shaky at best. That is a failure of justice if we allow ourselves to go down that path.
I still believed that there are some types of cases where death is still warranted. Cases of mass or serial murder, like Timothy McVeigh or Osama Bin Laden, seem to be ironclad enough where death by the state is still a viable option. I still believe that there are some levels of evil where we have to put the wicked to death.
But anything less than that should probably be put to rest. We should have harsh sentences, in tough prisons, but we can’t continue to put people to death the way we have been doing.