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MIDKIFF: Botched execution prompts death penalty rethink

Nothing more than a thirst for revenge

by Ken Midkiff

COLUMBIA, Mo 5/27/14 (Op Ed) --
Every now and then, we are more or less obligated to re-assess our beliefs.  The botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma a couple of weeks past -- Lockett suffered a heart attack during a lethal injection gone terribly wrong -- and the resulting public outcry have led many of us to re-examine our beliefs about the death penalty.

After much tossing, turning, and soul-searching, I finally had to admit that my longtime acceptance of the death penalty for a specific type of criminals -- child-rapists and child-murderers -- was nothing more than a thirst for revenge. Capital punishment is not acceptable in a civilized society.  The State (i.e., all of us) should never stoop to the same level as the person who committed a horrible act.

We are better than that -- or at least, we should be.

The history of execution in the U.S. reflects its grotesque, uncivilized nature. Though the poor fellow (or more rarely, poor lass) to be executed never viewed his or her death as cause for frivolity, not all that long ago hangings and firing squads were public spectacles, as open to family outings as they were to drunkenness and debauchery.

Among those nations who share our thirst for the ultimate penalty -- North Korea, Iran, and Syria among them -- human rights atrocities and other barbarisms have been the order of the day. Misery loves company, the saying goes, but do we really need to find our company among nations in which human misery is so widespread?

I'd rather the U.S. take a cue from European countries so opposed to the death penalty, their laws prohibit the manufacture of execution drugs.

The main argument for the death penalty, as I understand it, is an "eye for an eye" -- the killer showed no mercy, so neither should we. But execution of persons found guilty of heinous crimes punishes only the offender. Although the person put to death won't commit any more murders or rapes, his or her death won't deter others -- despite a popular narrative to the contrary.

Eighty-eight percent of top U.S. criminologists say the death penalty is no deterrent to homicide, according to Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock of the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder. 
 
A 2009 study they published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology also found that 87% of criminologists believe abolition of the death penalty would have no significant effect on U.S. murder rates. "Debates about the death penalty distract Congress and state legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime problems," said a majority of criminologists they surveyed.

Still, Radelet and Lacock's findings -- and even the botched and inhumane execution in Oklahoma -- won't change the minds of persons who are certain that state-sponsored killing is the right thing to do. Death penalty supporters continue to have enough influence that execution remains an option in the U.S. military and 32 states.

If it could ever be documented that state-sponsored killing had a deterrent effect, then I might once again re-assess my position. Failing that, I join Columbian Jeff Stack and the Fellowship of Reconciliation in opposing the death penalty for any and all reasons.

Revenge in the name of the state is just that:  Revenge.


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