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Volume 70, Issue 113, Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Opinion

Death penalty belongs in dark ages

David Salinas
Opinion Columnist

In the case Roper v. Simmons, the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 decision that the death penalty was unconstitutional for minors. This barbaric punishment had been used in 19 states, including Texas. In fact, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia are the only states to have used the practice in the past 10 years. In his ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, "The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood. It is, we conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest." While Kennedy was correct in his ruling on this case, he is wrong on where the "line" should rest. There should be no line. It's time for America to move out of the Stone Age and abolish this expensive, racist, inaccurate and immoral form of punishment -- completely.

A 2000 Harris poll showed support for the death penalty is at 64 percent; though it seems to have decreased, an overwhelming majority still supports this archaic form of punishment. It's become clear that many misconceptions and unknown facts about capital punishment have caused this unwarranted amount of support. Maybe if more people knew the following, they would think twice before sending someone to die.

While the notion has long existed that killing someone rather than keeping him in jail is less costly, it actually costs the state more money to execute someone rather than keep him in jail for life. This is due to the costs of trials and appeals the defendant is constitutionally allowed. A study of the Texas criminal justice system showed that the cost of appeals in a capital murder case was $2.3 million, whereas a prisoner locked away for at least 40 years would cost $750,000. The cost of an execution in Florida was even more, at $3.18 million compared to the $680,000 for a 40-year prison sentence. When the debate moves to race, defenders don't have a much easier time here either.

Though blacks make up less than 12 percent of the population in the United States, 48 percent of those on death row are black. They don't kill more than whites do; they just get sent to die more often. A study by Amnesty International has found that since 1976, blacks have been nearly seven times more likely to be murdered than whites, meaning blacks and whites are the victims of murder in about equal numbers. But shockingly, 80 percent of the more than 840 people put to death in the United States since 1976 were convicted of crimes involving white victims, compared to the 13 percent who were convicted of killing blacks. In America, a white victim's life means more than a black's. Could it get any worse?

Since 1973, over 113 people wrongly convicted of murder have been released from death row. From 1973 until the mid-1990s, 68 percent of death penalty convictions have been reversed. One man, Ray Krone, was 10 days away from being put to death in a New Mexico gas chamber before another person came forward with a confession that got Krone a new trial. Krone spent 10 years of his life in jail for a crime he did not commit and almost died for it. Luckily he was saved, but there is no telling how many innocent people have been killed by mistake.

Even if we could ensure cheap, diverse and accurate deaths, it's still not right. It's a question of morality. It's about the fundamental question of life and death. It is not right for one person to take another's life -- that's why we have laws against this. But isn't it hypocritical to punish someone who murdered by murdering him? It's the ideological equivalent of a mother spanking their roughhousing child while screaming, "Don't hit other people!" Yes, we should defend ourselves, but the death penalty doesn't fall under this category. The criminal is already in custody and cannot harm anyone if kept securely in his cell. Studies have also shown the death penalty doesn't act as a deterrent in lowering the murder rate. There is no getting around that; this is a simple question of whether we have the right to decide the fate of another human being's life.

Humans are imperfect. We are not all-knowing, and we never will be. Arbitrarily picking a group of people, no matter how random or diverse they may be, is never going to wash away the fact that we make mistakes. While we can put people in jail, we cannot judge whether they get to live or die. We don't have that power. Since November, there has been a lot of talk about religion and values. Well let's let the ultimate power on all of these things speak for himself in the book of Hebrews 10:30. It says, "For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people!" The judgment of life and death is up to God, not man.

Salinas, an opinion columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at davidcsalinas@yahoo.com.

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