Mary Sanchez' latest Kansas City Star column is, "Prohibitive cost is a bottom-line argument against the death penalty."
Keep reading if Utah’s firing squad execution last week stirred a sense of “he got what he deserved.”
Consider more details and you might be less appreciative for what state-sanctioned vigilante justice gives back to the taxpayer. And it doesn’t matter if the deed is done by a five-man firing squad like the one that killed Utah’s Ronnie Lee Gardner, or lethal injection.
If the nation’s budget crisis is a concern, that is. If news of more cuts to services like highway repairs irks you. If you are troubled by teachers being laid off because states are fiscally strapped, or police officers not being hired, or trash collectors.
The death penalty is a colossal waste of money in the 35 states that have it, including Missouri and Kansas. Adding to the insult, it is ineffective as a crime deterrent.
A state can pay $1 million more to pursue a capital case compared with pursuing any other sentence, according to a 2009 report by the Death Penalty Information Center.
But because only one death sentence is reached for every three sought, the extra expense is even more questionable.
So what does seeking the death penalty accomplish? Why, revenge, of course. The death penalty satisfies the eye-for-an-eye attitude that can’t be soothed by merely seeking the far less costly sentence of life in prison with no parole.
I oppose the death penalty because murder is wrong. It doesn’t matter if it is done by a criminal, or the state. But increasingly even people who don’t philosophically oppose it, like many in law enforcement, are chiming in too. They’re arguing that the money could be better spent elsewhere if the goal is reducing crime.
Given all the information on capital punishment’s costs and ineffectiveness as a crime deterrent, revenge is the only reason people remain beholden to the death penalty.
Yet revenge is the least informed, most emotionally reactive rationale of all. And in these times of budget constraints, it’s an even shallower response than ever.
Timothy Egan posts, "The Last Firing Squad," at the New York Times Opinionator blog. It's a must-read essay.
Around midnight last Friday the shoeless prisoner was roused from a nap and strapped into a chair. The guards put a patch over his heart, the firing squad’s target from 25 feet. Any last words?
“I do not. No.”
With that, a black hood was placed over the bald head of the condemned man, and the countdown began: five, four, three, two, one. Each of the five gunmen squeezed off a shot from a .30 caliber rifle, though one was firing a blank. At once, four bullets entered the chest of Ronnie Lee Gardner. His fist clenched. The fist opened. A few minutes later, his pulse was checked. The deed was done: the state of Utah had killed the killer.
Ronnie Lee Gardner was no martyr, no wronged man. His life was trouble and pain from the beginning. Drug and alcohol abuse. Random violence. Robberies, and two murders of people who had the misfortune to get in his way.
“He believes he needs to pay for what he’s done,” the killer’s daughter, Brandie Gardner, told reporters before the execution. “But at the same time, people should know that what they’re doing is murder.”
That’s really the heart of this debate, and always has been: is it murder for society to take a life? But the firing squad raises another issue, one the witnesses of the execution last Friday are trying to grapple with: since this is state-sanctioned killing, shouldn’t we all be required to participate in some small way, like voting? When a democracy takes a life, it should be there for all to see — transparency, that favorite good government word.
More post-execution commentary is here.