Righty: An eye for an eye, a life for a life. Anyone who deliberately takes a life deserves to have his own life taken. Anything less would stink of injustice. If someone murdered your own child (and everyone is somebody’s child), you can bet you’d want to see the murderer die. Not only die, but die miserably. As it is, our executions are swift and humane. And it’s not as if we recommend the death penalty for stealing a loaf of bread. It’s odd that Lefty and his friends think nothing of killing an innocent fetus, but they’ll rise up to defend an abominable sociopath who rapes and murders children. (What have they got against children, anyway?) We have to use the worst criminals as public examples — both as a deterrent to similar crimes and as an assertive statement that such behavior will never be tolerated.
Lefty: The state has no right to take a life, even the life of a serial murderer. Think about the illogic of it: we’re killing people to show that killing people is wrong. Think about the deeper human issues: people can’t help becoming what they become. People are driven to kill by forces that are often beyond our comprehension. (The fact that people still murder is the best evidence that the death penalty is not a deterrent.) And think of all the prisoners on death row who have been found innocent when the real murderer finally confesses. More disturbingly, think of all the innocent prisoners who have gone to their executions because the real murderer was never found. Death is too serious a matter to be decided by a jury. The United States is the only industrialized Western nation that hasn’t abolished capital punishment. This is an international disgrace. Even Turkey, Angola and Cambodia have discarded the death penalty. Why is it that people like Righty get bent out of shape over the abortion of undeveloped, unconscious embryos, but they’ll cry for the blood of a suspected murderer who may not even have done the deed?
The New Moderate:
Righty and Lefty both make compelling arguments here. So where does The New Moderate stand on capital punishment? Let’s keep it as the ultimate penalty for only the most egregious crimes: for wanton murderers who laugh in the faces of the victims’ families, and for traitors whose defection directly causes the deaths of their countrymen. Such people don’t deserve to live, even in confinement and misery. (Convicted Muslim terrorists do deserve to live in confinement and misery, if only because they’re desperate to die as glorious martyrs.)
Nobody should ever be executed on the basis of testimony from witnesses. Even confessions are often invalid — either because of the way they’re extracted under sweltering overhead lights or because of the loopy mental condition of the suspect. The evidence must be as incontrovertible as a smoking gun or at least a smoking videotape.
But how can The New Moderate justify the death penalty at all? How can someone who refuses to eat veal condone the execution of a fellow human? Because veal calves are young and innocent. On the other hand, some criminals are so perfidious and their deeds so foul that only their executions can cleanse the air. Life behind bars would simply be a long and tedious anticlimax, like a bad play that rambles on for 37 acts. Has society really been served by keeping Charles Manson alive and healthy since 1969? Aren’t you tired of his incessant smirking and gloating, his outrageous self-assurance, his damnable confidence that he remains an underground cult figure and evil philosopher who could still lure worshipful groupies to his side? Doesn’t it irk you that he’s more famous than you or I… that he merits a lengthy, scrupulously annotated article in Wikipedia? It should.
Would I take pleasure in seeing someone like Charles Manson transformed into an instant corpse? No, not at all. I hate to see any healthy living organism cut down before its time. It’s a tragedy that Manson didn’t feel the same way.
Summary: Keep the death penalty, but reserve it for only the most heinous crimes that can be proven independently of eyewitness testimony.