As I caught up on my Twitter feed last week, a post by Matt Drudge struck me and caused perspective.
Drudge’s post was this: “There will be over 3,500 killed in the USA today from abortion. No flags lowered, no presidents crying. No media hyperventilating. Normal day.”
How do I reconcile protecting life and supporting society’s use of the death penalty?
Sure. Innocent life versus a life that has acted reprehensibly – a logical and moral position. Though I support the death penalty as punishment and as a deterrent, I admit that the move to protecting every life, even guilty lives, would be completely consistent even if it is not as effective at preventing future victims.
The perspective the post prompted is this. It is a wholly inconsistent position that is held by those who support abortion and oppose the death penalty. How can any reasonable person come to the conclusion that society must protect criminal lives while innocent lives go unprotected?
How can those politicians who claim the death penalty to be immoral expect to have any level of credibility when they also claim that abortion isn’t a moral issue, but rather, an issue of choice?
Further, there is no logical, moral or emotional equivalent for those who support killing innocent lives as well as sentencing the most heinous of criminals to death. Yet this is the precise debate we’re set to have in the upcoming session of the Colorado General Assembly and the wholly inconsistent position will be employed over and over again.
Opponents of the death penalty argue that it is used so infrequently that it doesn’t serve as a deterrent – that the threat of punishment by the death penalty would not have changed the actions of the guilty or saved any lives, or that it is simple chance whether the crime is committed in a judicial district where a district attorney is more (or less) likely to pursue the punishment of death. That the risk of executing one innocent man outweighs any benefit that capital punishment might serve as a deterrent.
Each of these arguments misses the point. If you murder someone, you risk your own life when caught and convicted. It is not reasonable to argue that that the fear of death doesn’t save lives. The fear of death does not deter all criminals or save every victim, but a criminal’s fear of death saves lives – certainly more so than the amorphous thought of serving life in prison.
Murderers today find it hard to escape the evidence they create. With advances in forensic technology and district attorneys cautious of their own careers and reputations, the chance of putting to death someone who has been falsely accused is virtually impossible.
I concede to death penalty opponents that the death penalty is final. So too is the life taken by a murderer.
Society has an interest in pursuing the ultimate penalty against the most heinous of offenders. The criminals who have shown such an extreme indifference to the value of life that the penalty for their extreme indifference is the loss of their own.
Colorado reinstated the death penalty for capital crimes in 1984. In 1986 Gary Lee Davis kidnapped, raped and murdered his neighbor, Virginia May. Davis had a history of criminal activity including sexual assault. Then Governor Roy Romer refused to grant clemency as Davis’ execution approached. Davis was put to death by lethal injection on October 13, 1997.
Today, three men are on death row in Colorado. Sir Mario Owens was sentenced to death for murdering Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiancée Vivian Wolfe. Nathan Dunlap was sentenced to death for the murder of four people in 1993. Robert Ray was sentenced to death for masterminding the murder of Marshall-Fields and Wolfe. Two of the murderers on death row being linked by killing and conspiracy.
Proponents and opponents to the death penalty cite their own studies. Taking a step back from Google searches and library visits, it is logical to believe that the fear of losing one’s own life if one takes another life does save lives. That the fear of death prevents future murder victims.
Robert Ray presents a compelling argument for the death penalty as punishment. Facing life in prison Ray coldly calculated that his best out was to ensure the death of Marshall-Fields who was set to testify against him.
So then, are we, as a society, going to accept that cold killers should be protected and innocent lives lost? Are we willing to devalue life in favor of defending a moral inconsistency? As a public policy matter, as a moral matter, the death penalty follows a consistent thread. The most heinous of criminals are punished. Capital crimes are prevented. Lives are saved.
Drudge’s post lays bare glaring inconsistencies in our national public policy debate. While the coming debate around capital punishment will be fraught with way too many inconsistent arguments and cites drawn from biased “studies,” one argument will always remain true. The threat of capital punishment saves lives.
Rep. Frank McNulty was Speaker of the Colorado House for the 68th General Assembly. He represents Highlands Ranch, Colorado.