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I am writing this letter as a response to your article “Cold-Blooded Killer” by Eddie Dean (3/20). The death penalty is an issue that has recently been brought into the limelight with the execution of Karla Faye Tucker. What I would like to point out is that articles like yours I do not think show an evenhanded perspective of the other side of the death penalty. What I and others who volunteer, lobby, and work against the death penalty struggle with every day are the gruesome stories of murder that pervade our society and that force us to question our own death-penalty beliefs. But for those of us who must “defend the defenseless,” we struggle against sentiments like those espoused by Prince William County Prosecutor Paul Ebert when speaking about the appeals process: “These people delay everything in the process. And it’s just another effort, in my opinion, to delay the appeals process.”
I must say I enjoyed the writing style of Mr. Dean, but one of the major oversights I saw in the article was its failure to show how the loss of a family member to an execution can destroy a family when the state acts like a “cold-blooded killer.” We, as a society, must also recognize how executions by the state pander to the level of the criminal and foster an environment of violence. As Tony Mackall’s cellmate, Carl Chichester, noted: “Killing a person with a death sentence is as normal as you going to get a cup of coffee before you go to work in the morning.”
The state of Virginia with its “venerated history with the death penalty” sometimes seems like an insurmountable barrier for those who work against the death penalty. But one of the positives that I drew from this article was one indirect observation made by prosecutor Ebert (speaking about the second sentencing trial of Tony Mackall): “One thing is for certain. If he is behind bars, he will not be on the street to take the life of another hardworking Mrs. Dahn.” What I drew from this comment is that Ebert recognized that there are other options for criminal justice than the death penalty, that life in prison can serve as an effective substitute, ensuring that the innocent are not unjustly executed and also protecting against the arbitrary use of the death penalty. Indeed, organizations such as Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty have documented the fact that the majority of Virginians would vote against the death penalty when offered the option of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 25 years, combined with restitution to the victims’ families. Unfortunately, discussion of alternatives is rarely heard in Virginia, except from groups such as ours.
Speaking on behalf of Amnesty International, we see the sanctioning of capital punishment by the state as an infliction of cruel and inhuman punishment that cannot be justified as a fitting response to violence. It’s a horrifying lottery in which political, financial, community, and racial pressures play a more decisive role in sending a person to the death chamber than the crime itself. It’s irreversible, and, even with the most stringent judicial safeguards, the death penalty has been inflicted upon innocent victims. Ultimately, it’s a violation of human rights.