Death Penalty Debate Begins Anew

With multiple executions in Arkansas, capital punishment is once again a hot topic. We think it’s justice served.

Since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, and especially since Trump was sworn in, the news has been filled with all manner of items. Some of them are silly, nit-picking and embarrassing for the media, and others have of varying degrees of importance and interest.

Among the actual news items was the choice of the excellent Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court and the ensuing confirmation battle; the Syrian air base strike and the MOAB bombing of an Islamic State tunnel/cave installation in Afghanistan. But let’s take a look at the situation in Arkansas, where that state intended to execute eight death row inmates in the 11 days remaining before the end of April when one of the drugs used in executions reached its expiration date. The first two took place last night.

This latter development produced quite a lot of comment, most of it negative from opponents of the death penalty.

The death penalty is sanctioned through the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and each death row inmate had been convicted and had many years to appeal their sentence or conviction. So why the controversy? Many were horrified not about the death penalty itself, but that Arkansas would conduct so many executions in such a short period.

The death penalty is a matter of long, spirited debate, notwithstanding its constitutional and Biblical validations.

The religious aspect is important in the United States, since among the volumes of things most Democrats misunderstand about America is its still-strong religious nature. Of the 35,000 participants from all 50 states polled in a 2014 Pew Research Center study of Religion and Public Life, self-proclaimed Christians accounted for 70% of participants, and more than 75% claimed some religious affiliation.

While our government is not founded on any specific religion, people with religious beliefs have been a major segment of the population since the nation’s founding. Their beliefs guided the Founding Principles, and that influence still exists today.

Many Christians, along with people holding other religious beliefs, and still others who do not cite religion at all, object to the death penalty on its failure of compassion. “How can religious and other compassionate people indulge in such a barbaric act?” the argument goes. Well, let’s look at some actual barbaric acts.

Steve Stephens, a 37-year-old black man, was having trouble with his girlfriend, so he decided the solution was to randomly pick out someone to kill. After mentioning the woman’s name to 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr., a black man he came upon while searching for a victim, he shot and killed the unsuspecting and totally innocent Godwin.

Each of the two inmates Arkansas executed Monday night were convicted of multiple rapes and murder. One was also convicted of attempting to murder an 11-year-old girl.

These horrific and vicious deeds provide context for capital punishment. Many believe that even someone who intentionally and deliberately murders another person — often in particularly gruesome ways — inflicting shock and grief on that person’s family and friends, is somehow entitled to the compassion the murderer sadistically denied the victim(s).

One religious argument against executions is that it denies the criminal the opportunity to repent and even use his experience to try to turn others to religion and away from crime.

Others believe, however, the condemned deserves no further consideration or compassion when justice is rendered. “Should not that person suffer as did the victim and those close to the victim?” this argument goes.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1972 allowed the resumption of the death penalty, its use has dropped substantially. While 31 states still legally allow executions, 10 have executed no one in the last 10 years, and 26 have executed no one in the last five years.

Several reasons are cited: the possibility of executing an innocent person; botched executions; a decline in the crime rate; and the cost of fighting those opposing the imposition of the death penalty in capital cases.

There are five legal methods of execution — firing squad, gas chamber, hanging, electrocution and lethal injection. Lethal injection is the hands-down preferred method. Much of the opposition to the other four comes down to how “unpleasant” each of those methods is to the condemned, with lethal injection normally being the least uncomfortable. However, even lethal injections sometimes cause suffering to the condemned — precisely the argument attorneys used to try to block last night’s pair of them in Arkansas.

Again, there’s an ongoing debate over whether the United States should have a death penalty at all. Another debate centers on making the execution as easy on the condemned as possible.

Perhaps this represents a true expression of compassion. Or maybe it’s one more step toward making executions so difficult and expensive that eventually it will be abandoned, in favor of keeping vicious criminals alive and relatively comfortable in prison for the rest of their lives at a tremendous cost to taxpayers.

As long as there is a death penalty, someone who is absolutely proven guilty of committing a capital crime and sentenced to death should collect his or her just reward. That should happen in a reasonable amount of time (fewer than 10 or 20 years), as efficiently as possible, and as inexpensively as possible. If it hurts a little, or a lot, too bad — justice must be served.

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