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We the People: The Death Penalty

By Brennon Goss and Megan Leckie | Staff Writers | February 21, 2012

In this week’s “We the People,” Megan Leckie and Brennon Goss spar over the death penalty.

Brennon: How would you feel if someone shot a loved one in cold blood without any trace of remorse? The SOB freely admitted it in court, even bragged about it. In response for his confession, the jury sentences him to 20 years with possibility of parole.

While this may be slightly exaggerated, how livid would the family of the victim be that this murderer could be set loose?! Wouldn’t you want that bastard to pay with his life for what he stole from you?!

While extreme, the death penalty is the supreme punishment of the land, reserved for people who commit murder, treason or espionage. Crimes of the highest degree. Wouldn’t the very threat of this punishment be a deterrent to those considering to commit these heinous crimes?  Why should convicted killers receive leniency? They deprived an innocent person of their life, why do they deserve to live theirs in the relative comfort and safety of the modern prison system.

Megan: The best payment for someone who has done something as awful as taking another innocent human life is, in my eyes, a lifetime of rotting in a tiny jail cell. In all honesty, which fate is worse? Dying, or spending the rest of your livable years confined behind bars from freedom and the pursuit of happiness with no hope of escaping?

I don’t think dying is penance enough for such a crime. In fact, I get a sort of dark satisfaction at the thought of someone sitting idol for years and years with nothing to look forward to but the threat of violence and oppression looming over their guilty heads.

Not to mention that jail is incredibly boring. The amount of entertainment available is inversely proportional to the amount of down time prisoners have. With all that down time, eventually the worst of human emotions start to kick in: guilt and remorse. What a lot of people fail to realize about convicted murderers is that, they are going to feel sorry. Whether this is genuine guilt over the loss of life, or the remorse of getting caught and losing everything.

Brennon: Were we living in the 18th century I may have agreed with you, but nowadays the prison system has come under fire for being “cruel or unusual” so many times which resulted in more and better commodities and comfort for inmates such as televisions, gyms, visiting hours, dental and medical care, three hot meals a day, etc.

I’m not saying that prisons should be a torture chamber, but there should be some truth behind the saying “serving hard time.” And it’s funny that you say they will rot away for a lifetime, yet are some are paroled in less than 10 years, then go back to butchering innocent people.

The death penalty’s greatest strength lies not with the punishment in itself, but in its very existence. The fear of execution can be an amazing deterrent to crime.

Take Dwain Little for example. In 1966 he raped and stabbed a 16-year-old girl and was sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled in 1974 after serving only 8 years of a life sentence.

He then proceeded to gun down a family of four in 1980. And again he was given a life sentence. And thankfully they actually carried through this time, but this man obviously did not feel the guilt or remorse you say happens “one way or another.”

I just feel that if people think that they could be home free from stealing another persons life in eight short years then they would be more willing to commit those acts because, hey its only eight years, they behead people for this in Saudi Arabia. But if there is a genuine threat of execution for committing the heinous act of butchering a human being, often times for no real reason, then there might be fewer takers.

The death penalty’s greatest strength lies not with the punishment in itself, but in its very existence. The fear of execution can be an amazing deterrent to crime.

I’m almost positive your next point will discuss how innocent people are often executed, and I’d like to address that. Executing an innocent man is a travesty and by no means a trivial affair to be taken lightly, however this whole situation is more of a problem with the jury, not the punishment itself.

The jury decides the punishment, the execution just carries it out. And yes juries are human beings and are therefore fallible but this does not mean that justice should be taken lightly instead. Perhaps in the spirit of compromise, only those who confessed guilty to first degree murder would be eligible for execution.

Megan: Obviously Dwain Little being released after 8 years is a fluke in the parole system, not any issue with the death penalty. Not to mention that he is an obvious psychopath, who does not have the emotional capacity to feel remorse. Those sorts of criminals are different stories entirely, and should be in an asylum rather than a jail cell.

Many criminals carrying out a life sentence do come to regret their actions, often much later in their life when they have had a sufficient fill of the justice system or have clear hindsight after being off whatever cocktail of drugs they were on.

Had Mr. Little been (properly) locked away for the rest of his years, he would not have had the opportunity to escape and kill again. The solution to dangerous criminals getting out on parole and going back to a life of crime is not to kill them, but to — stay with me here — not let them out of jail.

I do understand that keeping someone in prison for the majority of their lives is not cheap. Prisoner care costs money, often more than the prison itself takes in.

But again, this is an issue that needs to be addressed regarding the prison system itself (and while its true that there have been vast improvements, there still the issue of having all of your rights and property taken. And the threat of gang violence at every turn).

The whole business of killing people as punishment seems a little hypocritical, doesn’t it? And if it’s not hypocritical, it is certainly a little senseless. Killing the murderer does not bring the victim back, so it hardly seems fair to send them off without the years of torment they earned themselves. If a murderer is being prosecuted for killing on the grounds that no one has the right to end another life, how on earth do we justify killing them as punishment?

If one person doesn’t have the right to kill another, then neither does the government, a jury, or any sort of establishment. Anything that is run by humans is prone to human error.

If the punishment itself cannot be applied to the established legal system, what place does it have there at all? The law of the land is trial by jury, so punishment must be able to be dealt by a jury and retracted if evidence comes up to prove the verdict wrong. Once someone is killed, it’s done. There’s no going back from that.

There is no giving back a life taken, one way or another.  If the law is “No Killing,” then it must apply to everyone without exception.

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