When does a liberal’s heart begin to bleed? For me it was early. My first awakening was learning about the death penalty. I can remember my mother presenting as fact that it cost more to execute a murderer rather than sentence him to life in prison. The financial figures have been debated over and over and indeed, Mom, that still seems to be the case. But the moral cost of taking another’s life, even when sanctioned by the legal system, is impossible to justify. Executions are so repugnantly barbaric that this form of retribution should be abolished. Most executions happen in China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and the United States. In 2000, outgoing Gov. George Ryan of Illinois declared a moratorium on executions in his state, saying, “I cannot support a system, which, in its administration, has proven to be so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state’s taking of innocent life.” As 2007 ended, New Jersey, my mother’s birthplace, became the 14th state to abolish the death penalty. This was accomplished by exposing the flaws in its enforcement and the ways its imposition diminishes us. Equal Justice USA studied 15 death penalty cases with compelling evidence that people were convicted of crimes they did not commit. The findings concluded: attorneys failed to provide competent counsel, prosecutors and police engaged in misconduct, racial bias fueled choosing to consider the death penalty, and courts failed to intervene in the face of evidence of innocence and violations of the rights of the accused. The system is unable to provide the kind of diligence these life-and-death cases require. The public spectacle of sanctioned killing has not deterred would-be murderers. The states with the most executions have between 48 and 101 percent more murders. Homicides increased in Oklahoma when executions resumed after a 25-year moratorium. Researchers found higher violent crime rates among counties that used capital punishment in a 293-paired county comparison. Geography, race and class should not be the criteria for terminating a life. Prosecutors seek the death penalty 80 percent of the time when the victim is white; much less for people of color. There are currently 3,500 men and women on death row, 95 percent of whom cannot afford their own attorney; 50 percent are African-Americans. When there’s a system of social and legal inequality, conclusions about how justice is applied in this country must be examined. Abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.” Certain attitudes are deeply ingrained at a young age. I’m often asked if I hope people’s minds will change because they’ve read “Both Sides Now.” I can’t change the way you think, but I can humbly place my opinions in front of you. May 2008 bring introspection about the core values each of us holds dear and determine if they still serve us.
Is the death penalty cruel and unusual?
Execution by lethal injection is a three-step process, part of which is to induce paralysis, thereby masking pain from observers. For that reason the American Veterinary Medical Association has banned the use of these paralyzing agents on animals. Cruel? Since 1992, 15 death row inmates have been exonerated based on DNA evidence. Unusual? On Dec. 19, the U.N. adopted a moratorium on the death penalty as part of growing global concerns about this form of punishment. This year the Supreme Court will hear two cases — one to decide if lethal injection does violate the Eighth Amendment, and another to see if rape of a child is an inappropriate use of the death penalty in Louisiana — as 45 other states have already found. Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking,” “The Death of Innocents,” and an abolitionist, said on the occasion of the N.J. ban on executions, “And the word will travel around the globe: there is a state that was the first (in over 40 years) to show life is stronger than death, that love is greater than hatred.”
A former educator, Hannah Hayes is a wife, mother and third-generation immigrant. She runs a national business in the natural products industry and is a co-founder of Evergreen Peace.
Recently, the New Jersey legislature gave stone-cold murders a Christmas present. In a lame-duck session, they voted to abolish the death penalty. The Democratic governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine, strongly lobbied for the bill, so it’s likely he will sign it.
Now, I believe in federalism. Simply put, that means that absent clear constitutional allocation to the federal government, the states have the power to determine what happens in their state. The issue of crime and punishment clearly belongs to the states (with only one exception, crimes committed on federal or tribal land). In regard to punishment, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s proscription against cruel and unusual punishment.
But the elites of New Jersey feel too upset to ever consider imposing it (the state has not executed anyone since 1963). Actually, that’s their business. Maybe they’ll now get some respect. Maybe the pretty people in France will politely applaud them. Maybe they’ll even get some tourism from the murderers’ guild.
The founders meant for the states to be “incubators of experimentation,” places where a variety of social models could be implemented and tested. Many today seem to forget this, demanding that every bit of social experimentation be handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. If New Jersey wants to experiment with lesser punishment for vicious murderers, then all I can say is — have fun!
Recent studies of the deterrent effect of the death penalty confirm most people’s intuitive understanding — capital punishment is both a deterrent factor across the board and prevents murders. Murder rates across the country fell between 1991 and 2000, when a surge of executions began. In addition, many studies show that each execution prevents roughly 15 to 18 murders. However, it’s just not politically correct to acknowledge these realities in our society today. We must all just deplore the legal execution of vicious murderers, while we all talk endlessly about how horrible it is to prevent women from killing their own babies, or for a husband to kill his disabled wife.
Life matters — matters so deeply that there is no other issue that human beings should be most concerned with. Innocent life must be protected in every way. Vicious murderers, who find pleasure in torturing, raping, burning and killing fellow humans, are a threat to human life. Their lives are forfeit because of this.
It’s impossible to eradicate the evil present among us. It is possible to deter its actions, by our firm resolve to protect life. Executing legally convicted butchers, whose sentence was carefully considered by a jury of their peers based on extensive criteria, and appealed over a decade or more, is a moral action, which preserves life. The people of New Jersey will regret this flawed definition of “compassion” on the part of its legislature.
Is the death penalty cruel and unusual?
It’s really funny how liberals who are extremely comfortable with moral relativity become absolutists about the death penalty. The legal execution of vicious murderers is “barbaric.” Let’s realize that the other countries Hannah cited are dictatorships, where executions happen without the protections we consider fundamental rights of man.
And let’s talk about that legal process. Hannah makes a lot of assertions that just aren’t true. The “studies” from Equal Justice and other advocacy groups are flat lies, in most cases. The crime rate is not higher in states with the death penalty, nor are they higher in states with concealed-carry laws. Reputable studies, in peer-reviewed journals, show just the opposite. Liberals love to lie about this stuff.
Studying the death penalty is hard, because the factors that are used to determine an individual death sentence are highly specific to the crime. So let’s not forget what these butchers do. They’ve killed innocent people, in horrific ways that I won’t relate in this column. They’ve gone through numerous appeals and legal proceedings to validate their sentences. There is no conspiracy; they really deserve to die.
Attorney and political activist Kelly Weist has served on the board of directors of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women and is the co-founder of Mountain Republican Women.