Thursday, September 22, 2011

Syringes and Halos: The Battle of Capital Punishment

Throughout the years I've struggled with my position on various issues. As new information becomes available, as I become more educated on these matters, as I learn to decipher propaganda from truth, my belief system is altered. Such is the case when it comes to the very controversial issue of the death penalty. With evidence and emotion thrust on the balance, which becomes more weighty? Which guides our minds or stays our hands, especially when we hold in them another's life?

I must admit that my stance on the death penalty changes depending on which side of my brain is engaged at the moment you ask for my opinion. If the left brain is tapped into, the analytical side of the mind, I can say whole-heartedly that I am against this ghastly act. Almost every point brought to the debate can be logically argued into opposition of the practice. From a moral standpoint, the hypocrisy of the "eye for an eye" mentality is painfully obvious: to kill someone for killing someone doesn't resolve the matter and only leaves the justice system as guilty as the convicted. From a sociological perspective, some may argue that such an extreme consequence as capital punishment will dissuade potential convicts from committing crimes. Unfortunately, several studies have demonstrated that the death penalty does not deter tomorrow's criminals from becoming exactly that. Crime is no higher or lower in states without or with the death penalty, respectively. From an economic perspective, some believe that it would cost tax payers less money to execute someone than to pay for them to remain in prison without the possibility of parole. This is also untrue. Given the legal costs of the numerous appeals processes made available to convicted killers, the manpower invested in reviewing appeals cases, granting or denying retrials, appealing to higher courts, etc., the cost of living on death row for the sometimes decades-long movement, and the actual cost of the execution, sustaining a death row convict is far more strenuous on our wallets. The total amount? Roughly $3.5 million. The cost of housing and feeding an inmate for life? Approximately $700,000-900,000.

There are few logical arguments proposing capital punishment left to stand on, but the most compelling opponent is the ever-looming concern that we may just kill an innocent person. With the development of advancing technologies that can quickly exonerate a wrongfully convicted criminal, such as DNA-testing, many death row inmates have been set free just shy of a devastating fate. Who knows how many more never quite made it to the appeals court and never will. One recent story is that of Troy Davis. Convicted of shooting and killing an off-duty police officer in 1989, Davis was sentenced to be executed. In spite of a conviction based on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of seven eye witnesses who later recanted, claiming the police department pressured them to finger Davis, it seemed nothing could save him. Following the typical harrowing path of appeals and denials, little hope was left. After the Supreme Court refused to stay his execution, Davis was killed on September 21 at 11:08 EST, while crowds of supporters stood outside the prison and cried.

Now, engaging the right side of the brain, the emotional realm, we come to a different story. When looking at the broader perspective of things, it's easy to analyze and rationalize why murderers should be allowed to walk this earth, even if it's in a 10X8 foot cell. But when the focus zooms in on individual cases, emotions take hold of the reigns and it's a wonder we don't expel them. Hearing the specifics of any heinous crime against humanity, premeditated, cold-blooded, remorseless, heartless murder is enough to elicit the strained painstaking scream for justice. When I read of the murder of Samantha Runnion, I couldn't ask for anything less. A five year old girl playing with a friend in her yard, just feet away from her front door, snatched up and stuffed into the backseat of a car. She was taken to a barren field, raped and then strangled to death. The murderer, not quite finished, posed her body in posthumous seductive poses for child pornography photos, then dumped her naked body on the side of a highway. Recently acquitted of child sexual abuse charges, Alejandro Avila kidnapped Runnion just months after his release. With her DNA in his car and his DNA under her fingernails, Avila was convicted and sentenced to die. He still sits on death row.

Also executed the same night as Davis was Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist who was convicted of murdering a black man in what could be called one of the most horrific hate crimes in the history of Texas. James Byrd was walking home one night and crossed paths with Brewer and two of his friends. Though details as to what happened next become hazy, hours later, the sheriff's department was deployed to find a mass on the road that was initially mistaken for animal road kill. A decapitated body missing a fair amount of appendages and flesh lay bloodied on the pavement. Byrd had been tied to the back of Brewer's pickup truck with logging chains and dragged behind the car for more than three miles on rough asphalt. Brewer and his friends were found and arrested that same day with Byrd's blood still on them.

There are many more cases where one could argue that execution was justified: Timothy McVeigh, Ted Bundy, Saddam Hussein, all criminals with little chance of remorse or rehabilitation. There are many more cases best left to guess as to whether they are truly guilty and truly deserving of losing their lives. Entangled in my corpus callosum, I've yet to find a happy medium in between the two. So for the time being, I leave it at this: when it comes to logic, be it finances, morals, society and the wrongfully convicted, I say let them be, but when it comes to pure convictions with absolutely no doubt of guilt and horrific murders on their blood spattered hands, emotionally I scream light the bastards up.

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