They very easily could have been killed, it was forcefully argued that they
should have been killed and if most of us had our way, they likely would
have been killed. After all, they were convicted criminals, perpetrators of
a sickening cavalcade of rapes, robberies and murders.
So why should any of us have favored any of them with our tears of sympathy?
Let's strap them down, plug them in, inject them and eject them from life
among the living. There's absolutely no reason we shouldn't.
Unless you count the fact that they were innocent. Didn't do the crimes for
which they did the time. Judicial error, corrupt cops, incompetent defense
lawyers, tampered evidence - hey, it happens.
This is how the scenario has unfolded, 100 times now, since capital
punishment was reinstated in the 1970s. Indeed, according to the Death
Penalty Information Center, it was just this week that a man named Ray Krone
became No. 100. Sentenced to die for the 1991 murder of a cocktail waitress
in Phoenix, the former postal worker was instead set free on Monday. DNA
evidence says the chance that Krone committed the crime is one in 1.3
quadrillion. There are 15 zeroes in a quadrillion.
That should be - probably won't be, but should - more than enough impetus
for the nation to rethink its lust for capital punishment. Granted, the
majority that supports the policy is shrinking, but it's still a majority.
As a nation, we remain hooked on this relic of frontier justice; it seems to
satisfy some primal need for judgment, unambiguous and final.
It's the finality that is the problem.
After all, you can debate the death penalty on several fronts. Religious
people frequently cite their faith in arguing for it - and against it. Some
observers challenge it on grounds of fairness, the fact that statistically,
capital punishment falls disproportionately upon those who are poor, or
male, or black. Others dispute the credibility of those assertions.
But there's one aspect of the death penalty upon which both supporters and
opponents must agree: When it's done, it's done. Once an error is committed,
there's no taking it back.
For the life of me, I can't understand how anyone can acknowledge that
simple, undeniable truth - yet still support capital punishment. But
somehow, they do. Indeed, they do with enthusiasm. We countenance few
barriers to this shameful national pastime. On the contrary, we happily
execute the mentally retarded and the emotionally unstable. We execute those
who were just children when they committed their crimes and those whose
lawyers failed to provide them a defense. You say you found G-d while you
were in prison? Good deal. Let us send you to meet Him.
At the end of 2000, the population of Death Row was 3,593. Convicted
We say, with Orwellian logic, that we must kill killers as proof of our
respect for the sanctity of life. But what about the sanctity of Ray Krone's
life? What about the sanctity of 99 other innocent lives that survived Death
Row? What about the sanctity of those that did not?
Hey, you know as well as I do that we've already executed people for crimes
they didn't commit. We just don't know their names - yet. Do the math.
Almost 770 people have been put to death in this country in the past 25
years. And for every seven killed, one has been exonerated. With an error
rate that high, do you really think every mistake was caught, every innocent
set free? Are you willing to bet a life on it? Should you even have that
Or isn't it time to call the death penalty the atavistic failure it is? Time
to unplug the chair, send the gurneys back to the hospital and make life in
prison without possibility of parole the harshest punishment in our legal
arsenal. That way, if you make a mistake, you can at least give a man back
what's left of his life.
You may disagree, but I warn you: I have many reasons to believe I'm right.
A hundred of them, in fact. And counting.
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