A Time to Kill
Sonny Bunch has written a long, impassioned defense of the death penalty. Here’s the crux of his argument:
Every time I start to waver on my support for the death penalty — as I did in the wake of another New Yorker piece, about a possibly-innocent man who was executed — I see a story like this and it snaps me right back into line. I’m all for containing prosecutorial abuses. I’m all for reforms to the way prosecutors seek the death penalty: Only in cases where there’s an eye witness or a confession or videotape evidence, perhaps. Maybe raise the bar for “scientific” evidence* to include only DNA evidence that conclusively proves the perpetrator was there.
But those monsters — the animals who would do that to a family of human beings — don’t deserve to live, and I don’t buy the argument that it’s a harsher penalty for them to live out their lives in prison. I want the state to wreak vengeance upon them. And, god help me, I want them to suffer when it happens. If this makes me a bad person, then so be it.
I’m basically agnostic on the moral issues surrounding state execution: if a criminal is obviously guilty of a heinous crime, I don’t have any qualms about putting him to death. I am suspicious, however, of our practical ability to distinguish between airtight death penalty convictions and cases that deserve a second look. I also think that the alternative to execution – lifetime imprisonment without parole – satisfies the demands of retributive justice without risking the lives of innocent defendants.
On another level, there’s some real tension between calling for greater prosecutorial oversight and the underlying rationale for executing prisoners. At its core, the death penalty is supposed to deter crime. If the process is hamstrung by judicial oversight, the risk of execution is unlikely to actually convince potential offenders not to do bad things. So we’re left with a system that occasionally delivers some morally satisfying verdicts but still risks killing innocent defendants. To me, this is just about the least satisfactory outcome imaginable.