Soap Box:  Capital Punishment

April 25, 2001

I am a firm believer in capital punishment. I have no problem with criminals being put to death and would gladly offer my services of "helping out" if the prison system ever needed it.

Not only would I prescribe the death penalty for the offense of first degree murder, but I also would give the death penalty to those convicted of second degree murder, attempted murder, rape, attempted rape, aggravated assault, and maybe a variety of other crimes. When someone sets out to intentionally hurt other people, I have no sympathy for them and believe in the harshest punishment possible.

The best argument I've heard against the death penalty is that how can we be sure that we are not condemning an innocent person. To this I suggest new levels of determining the sentence. Just being convicted would not be enough, because we have seen innocent people convicted before. Maybe we should have another way of measuring the certainty that the person is guilty. If the person is caught on tape doing the act, there are fourteen witnesses, and the person confesses, then there is a high probability that the person actually did commit the crime. On the other hand, if we are going on the testimony of a police officer (who I don't trust further than I can throw) or some drug addict witness, then the certainly of guilt will be much lower. While we may have enough evidence, in some cases circumstantial, to convict a person of a crime for which they can receive the death penalty, if we don't have a predetermined number for the certainty that they committed the crime, or if the evidence is not of a predetermined quality, then we should not sentence them to death. In those cases we would sentence them to life in prison or some other form of punishment.

There are some that argue that the death penalty is an ineffective deterrent against crime. That may be true. But I view the death penalty as punishment for a particular crime, not as a deterrent. Maybe if capital punishment were more common the mindset of the criminal might shift toward the consideration of what might happen to them if they are convicted of a capital offense crime. I admit that is a long shot so I'm comfortable with applying the death penalty only as a punishment. And of course I could be smug and say that the death penalty is an excellent deterrent to the person being executed. Most dead people don't go on to commit more crimes.

Some say just lock the people up for life. This is kind of a dilemma for me. When I think about it, being locked up for the rest of your life does sound pretty harsh. It might even be tortuous, as long as they are not relaxing, watching cable TV and playing ping-pong. But we have had cases where prisoners have escaped and killed more innocent people. The permanent foolproof method of removing the danger of an individual is to exterminate that individual.

There are those that argue that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. I disagree. In fact, I think the current methods are too clean and soft. At the very least, I believe the criminals, especially the murderers, should be subjected to the same violence they applied to their victims. I'd even go further than that and prescribe what I call "gasoline justice". That's right. Douse them with gasoline and set them on fire. I'm sick of murderers complaining that being executed might hurt. I think it's hypocritical for them to expect leniency from society when they showed none for their victims.

Some argue that if the government wasn't ashamed of executions, they would be held so that the public can see. It is true that executions are carried out with very few, special observers and that the general public cannot be a witness to them. On the one hand, I'm all for public executions and I think the states should quit doing them in private. People should see the punishment being dealt out to criminals. We could even hold a raffle as to who gets to pull the lever or whatever and use the money raised for some good cause. Maybe we could have sponsors. "The rope on these gallows is brought to you by Acme Hardware".

On the other hand, I kind of don't want executions to be public. But it's for an entirely selfish, self-serving reason. I'm afraid that if people saw the harsh reality and brutality of an execution, the public might demand that capital punishment be stopped. I don't want that to happen. It's not an easy thing to execute someone, especially if they have charisma and personal appeal. There was a lady executed that had reformed in prison. She was nice and sweet and had found God. By looking at her and speaking with her, you would have never imagined that she had killed someone with a pickax. She might truly be sorry for her crime and she might be rehabilitated, but that doesn't erase the crime, or the suffering of the victims, or the suffering of the victim's family and friends. With something like this playing on the heartstrings it's hard to carry out the prescribed punishment of death. There was another case of an elderly grandmother that was executed. I had to keep reminding myself that she poisoned people to death. Executions are not meant to be nice and clean. By their very nature they are violent acts. But I do believe it is just punishment for criminals that commit heinous crimes.

Jeff Polston

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