Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Thirst For Revenge Is Not A Virtue

(Graphic snagged from What Would Jack Do, a blog which you should visit regularly, as in daily.)

As I mentioned yesterday, California has a whole bundle of propositions to go along with candidates on the ballot.  One that has me particularly hyped-up would end the death penalty in California, something I think is long overdue in a civilized state in a civilized nation.  The death penalty has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with revenge, not one of the nicer parts of the human psyche.  It's like slapping your seven-year-old son for slapping his five-year-old sister and then telling him that "hitting is bad."  It's like saying that there is no such thing as redemption, or of the possibility of change.  One strike is all you are allowed.  "An eye for an eye ..." means we'll all soon be blind.

And yet, people continue to support the death penalty, here in California and across the nation, even with new standards of evidence (DNA tests) showing repeatedly that there are innocent people on death row.  Dan Turner had an interesting opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times dealing with such a situation in Texas, although DNA evidence wasn't involved, merely forensic evidence which became available after the trial.  Gov. Rick Perry, erstwhile candidate for president, still allowed him to be executed, continuing the long tradition of killing people and letting God sort them out.

Perry's popularity dipped at home after he dropped out of the race, but something else lurking in his past could cause worse than a downturn in his poll numbers. Perry, it turns out, not only stood by while his state's executioners took the life of a man widely believed by forensics scientists to have been innocent, he later acted to prevent evidence of that innocence from seeing the light of day. He oversees a state whose procedures for reviewing inmate appeals are a national disgrace and that may, if the case of Cameron Todd Willingham is ever given a fair hearing, prove to be the home of the first execution of a factually and legally innocent person since the advent of the modern judicial system.

Read the entire article to see what evidence is being suppressed even as Willingham's family is requesting a posthumous pardon.

But if that isn't enough to persuade Califorrnia voters, the editorial board of the Times has suggested a more pragmatic reason -- cost.

Courts are not 100% reliable, and although there's little doubt that most death row inmates are reprehensible people who may deserve their fate, there is no knowing whether all 725 of them are guilty. That's why the appeals process is so long, burdensome and expensive, and it's why voters should end the risk that California will execute an innocent person.

One well-respected study found that the death penalty costs California taxpayers $184 million a year in court and security expenses. That's a high price to pay for a sentence that hasn't been carried out since 2006. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty. California should join them, and will if voters of conscience and common sense turn out and do what's right.

But, then, I'm old.  As I look back over my life and the incredibly stupid mistakes I've made, I find that I'm more interested in mercy than in justice, especially justice as it is practiced in this sphere.

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Anonymous Jack Cluth said...

Thanks for the shout out, Diane!

Justice is often out of our hands and made the purview of the legal system. Mercy, however, is something we can all practice as individuals.

5:51 PM  

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