[This was originally posted on January 27, 2006.  With the events of yesterday and recent days, I have decided to repost it.]

I used to favor the death penalty. I used to say it really was a deterrent because anyone who has received the death penalty cannot be released by some misguided parole board and commit more murder and mayhem.

I changed my mind.

I now oppose the death penalty in all cases. The reasons include many that I never hear discussed. That we should not “play God” is not one of my reasons. We play God all the time — including when we keep alive people who would otherwise die as well as when we kill people who would otherwise live. If we were to stop “playing God”, we would have to go back to the woods and live like deer and squirrels.

My reasons for opposing the death penalty include:

  1. People have been exonerated after 20 years or more in prison. While it is an intolerable injustice and tragedy that they were wrongly imprisoned, and that much of their life was in fact taken from them, at least they lived to know that their innocence had finally been recognized, and to return with the record cleared to whatever family and friends may still be around.
  2. Seeking the death penalty makes us an ugly society. It is really disgusting when a big case hits the news and everybody wants to know, will the prosecution seek the death penalty, and will they “WIN”. It is portrayed like a game that degrades us all. Sometimes the families of victims speak out about how they want the accused to die. I have compassion for these people but I wish they had somehow been taught a different way of thinking. As far as I can tell, even after an execution, the relatives never feel the ‘better’ that they expected.
    Sometimes, part of the game is, will the defense seek an “insanity” plea, and how that would be a “loss” for the prosecution. I disgaree. I say that when any accused wants to plead “insanity”, that plea should be accepted immediately and no trial need be held. The result is that the accused is removed from society until society decides they are able to return without posing a further threat. What else could we want?? It’s a life sentence if necessary. Call it “guilty but insane” instead of “not guilty by reason of insanity” if that makes anyone feel better.
  3. The death penalty costs us a lot of money as well as other intangible things. Appeals go on forever. Prosecutors spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money — your money — trying to “WIN” a capital punishment sentence. Tookie Williams sat on death row for about 25 years, and when the legal process finally ran its course, it could not cope with the fact that he had become a voice for non-violence and against gang warfare in the inner city communities. We killed a person who had found a way to do good even while in a maximum security prison.
  4. Death is too good a punishment for the crimes it is mandated for. OK, so I can’t eliminate the idea of punishment entirely from this equation. As a just society, we must show that people who commit crimes will be removed from society, possibly forever. I think it is better for someone who is guilty of a heinous crime to spend the rest of their life in jail thinking about it than to have the luxury of a quick death and a shot at martyrdom. There is no scientific evidence that the possibility of the death penalty vs. life imprisonment has the slightest deterrent effect on someone before they commit a crime. What does have an effect is a sense that justice is swift and truly just. The money we waste on the death penalty process could be put to much better use improving the quality of law enforcement and trial.

We disparage the ancient Romans for making a contest and spectator sport of killing in the Colosseum.  We have come a long way since then, but not far enough.  It is time we remove the ugliness of public executions from our own society.