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In a letter to the City Paper (The Mail, 4/3), Abass Kamara makes several statements regarding capital punishment that need to be addressed.
First, there is no doubt some family members of those executed should be considered victims. However, what is not pointed out is that the overwhelming number of convicts on death row were horribly abused as children. Indeed, this is frequently used as a defense in capital cases. Does that not mean that in those cases, which are, in fact, the majority, the families hold at least some indirect responsibility?
Second, to say that the death penalty fosters violence is purely opinion. The fact is that violent crime is dropping rapidly nationwide even as the number of executions increases. I’m not arguing there is a correlation, just noting the typical anti-death penalty emotionalism surrounding capital punishment.
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Third, in regard to the surveys cited as showing more support for life in prison than the death penalty, I would argue that they should be taken with a grain of salt—maybe even a teaspoon. Without going into the mechanics of structuring questions to elicit a certain response, let’s look at the reality of the alternatives presented—particularly “restitution.” Aside from the fact that there isn’t any amount of money that can make up for a loved one being brutally raped and killed, what is in fact available from the prisoner to offer? A portion of the less-than-minimum wage from a prison job (after deductions for toothpaste, writing paper, postage stamps, etc.)? Is a few hundred dollars a year to be taken seriously as restitution? Was this reality mentioned in the survey? Were the respondents made aware of what we’re really talking about? Of course this presumes the inmate is even suitable to be let out in the general population. Many are simply too dangerous. Joseph O’Dell, executed last year by Virginia, earned one of his dozen-plus felonies by killing a fellow inmate in prison.
In addition, it’s disturbing to hear someone fully prepared to let some of our most violent predators out after 25 years. And by the way, why are we referring to “life in prison” when we’re really talking about 25 years, anyway? If most of the respondents heard about the criminal histories of the people on death row, I would suggest they wouldn’t be responding the way Amnesty International and Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty want them to.
Finally, it’s true that we can’t guarantee an innocent person will not be executed. Of course, we can’t guarantee a violent killer won’t kill again if he or she isn’t executed, either. However, there are plenty of fully documented cases of the latter, not the former. In fact, in the modern era there isn’t one proven case of an innocent person being executed. Most of the cases cited by anti-capital punishment activists are cases where someone directly participated in the crime but didn’t actually pull the trigger. Or someone with nothing to lose suddenly confesses, such as the Herrera case in Texas. Or the infamous O’Dell case, where his two New York publicity firms and fawning, fanatical friend, Lori Urs, waged a disinformation campaign. They suckered everyone from the Pope to nearly the entire population of Italy.
via the Internet