“Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John chapter 8)
The Death Penalty is one of mankind’s earliest attempts at justice, a governmental extension of the “eye for an eye” philosophy. That kind of morality might be more legitimate if it were used with consistent application. But not everyone who kills someone is sentenced to death. Drunk drivers who kill entire families aren’t sentenced to death. Killers vary. Some are more brutal than others.
Execution rates differ with the race of the victim. According to researchers Jen Joynt and Carrie Shuchart, 51% of murder victims in America from 1975 to 2000 were white; more than 80% of those executed during that time period had been convicted of killing whites. 46% of murder victims during that same time frame were black, but only 14% of those executed were convicted of killing black people. Not too fair.
And even when the death penalty is carried out, it fails to accomplish a means of institutional revenge. With constant media coverage and a never-ending judicial procedure, the perpetrator of the crime is often changed into a celebrity (Manson, Bundy, Dahmer, etc.), while the victims’ families burn with anger, sorrow and grief.
Those who support the death penalty contend that the murders prevented by the deterrent effect make up for the slight chance of putting to death an innocent individual. BUT, the death penalty doesn’t deter murderers who scheme to kill someone, or those who commit crimes under the influence of drugs. It doesn’t prevent people from murdering out of passion. It doesn’t stop violent political, religious extremist from violent, murderous actions. Jen Joynt and Carrie Shuchart reveal that from “1980 to 2000 the average murder rates in states with capital punishment ranged from 1.4 to 2 times as high, as the murder rates for states with no death penalty.” Other studies have shown a brutalization effect – an increase in murders after an execution.
And then there are the cases of erroneous convictions. Like that of Ray Krone, former boy scout, former Air Force cadet, and former member of Death Row. On April 8, 2002, he was the 100th condemned person, since the death penalty was restored in 1976, to have his sentence overturned. He was justified by DNA evidence and freed from an Arizona prison, after serving 10 years for a murder he didn’t commit (Jack Newfield, Parade magazine). DNA based pardons show how near we have come to executing an innocent person, that innocent people have already been executed and the likelihood of that fatal error happening again in the future. George Ryan, former Republican governor of Illinois said, “the system is haunted by the ‘demon of error,’ error in determining guilt and error in determining who among the guilty deserve to die.” Are we able to put up with error when human life is at stake?
The entire American legal system itself is littered with inequalities. Defendants with enough money for a decent lawyer are rarely executed, if ever. Poor defendants are usually stuck with an overburdened, overworked lawyer, who may not have the time and resources to adequately defend their clients, creating victims out of poverty.
The Death Penalty is supposed to be a manifestation of systematic justice, but everything about it seems to reflect injustice.