Capital Punishment Must Be Abolished

Capital Punishment: Lethal injection chamber of the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls
Lethal injection chamber of the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls

This is one example of why I oppose capital punishment.

A little over two decades ago, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was dismissive of then-Justice Harry Blackmun’s concerns about the death penalty. In fact, Scalia had a case study in mind that demonstrated exactly why the system of capital punishment has value.

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United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia named convicted killer Henry Lee McCollum as an example of a man who deserved death. “For example, the case of an 11-year-old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat,” he wrote. McCollum appeared to be the perfect example. He was a murderer whose crime was so heinous he deserved to die. He deserved capital punishment.

I wrote a post about Justice Scalia just a few days ago. It is not my intention to be picking on him; I just ran across this item and feel I have to talk about it here.

The condemned man’s names and pictures had even been circulated by politicians as examples of merciless killers.

As recently as 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party used a McCollum photo on campaign fliers to attack a Democratic candidate as “soft on crime.”

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Last Thursday, McCollum was pardoned along with his half-brother, Leon Brown! They were not guilty! Somebody committed the dastardly crime and surely deserves to die, but it was somebody else.

After they had been locked up for three decades, DNA evidence finally implicated another man and exonerated both of them. It appears their confessions were coerced. The court freed them several months ago.

Both men are “intellectually disabled,” and are now living with a sister who can’t support them. That situation should soon be remedied. Now that the governor has officially pardoned them, they are each eligible to receive $50,000 for each year they were unjustly imprisoned, up to a limit of $750,000 each. That money will pay for groceries and rent, but it cannot make up for the mistaken verdicts against them and the thirty years they both suffered in prison.

After they were freed, Gov. Pat McCrory spent nine months investigating before making the decision to pardon them. He decided it was the right thing to do and pardoned them both a few days ago, on June 4.

I understand that Scalia had not tried these men. As far as I know, he based his opinion on what he had heard or read. Still, it’s unsettling to have a Supreme Court justice proscribing capital punishment for a man who later turns out to be innocent.

The fact is that juries and judges too often make the wrong verdicts. It’s not their fault. Judges and jurists are only human. They are often called upon to make decisions before all the evidence is in. This is inevitable, since additional evidence can show up any time in the future.

I’ve said before that, in principle, I favor the death penalty for heinous crimes. But the fact is that we execute far too many innocent men. One is too many, obviously; and we have executed far more  than that. (Death row inmates in the United States are almost all men.)

Texas is the worst capital punishment state.

My own state of Texas condemns more people to capital punishment than any other state, and we have almost certainly executed several innocent men. In fact our last two governors almost seemed proud of it sometimes. This is especially significant because one of them went on to serve as President of the United States for eight years, and the other one is a candidate for that office now.

In addition to this, we must remember that it costs several times as much money to execute a prisoner as it does to imprison him for life. This is because of the automatic appeals–all of the extreme measures we take to be sure he is really guilty. Extreme yes, but we still make mistakes. A lot of mistakes, as DNA has recently shown.

Since DNA evidence has been available, it has shown so many death row prisoners to be wrongly convicted that several states have put a moratorium on capital punishment. Every state should do that.

I see no reason why anybody else should ever be executed in the United States. Men or women who commit heinous crimes should be locked up for the rest of their natural lives to protect the rest of us from them.

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