Over the years we have heard arguments for the death penalty from time to time and, of course, most of them are a recitation of gruesome murders and gruesome, horrible, horrendous acts of violence of which none of us approve, none of us can condone and all of us condemn.
All these arguments have done is to raise the emotional smoke-screen, which prevents us from seeing the real issues and making wise decisions.Let us take this one by one, at least for a few:
Deterrence: Deterrence is usually offered as a justification for the death penalty, despite the fact that this shopworn argument has absolutely no empirical data to support it.
In fact, the American Sociological Review has conducted a study, and here is the empirical data. In a painstaking analysis, between 1940 and 1986, Baily and Peterson, who conducted this particular study, proved that there was absolutely no justification to argue deterrence.
They analyzed and looked at those states that have capital punishment and those that do not have capital punishment. The conclusion was that you are more likely to be murdered in a state with capital punishment than in a state without it.
The FBI in 1987 conducted a similar study, and the average murder rate per 100,000 citizens in the 37 states with the death penalty was 6.94 percent. The average murder rate in the 13 states without the death penalty was, however, 5.1 percent. In 1988, the murder rate in the states with capital punishment rose to 7.05 percent, whereas in those states without the death penalty, the murder rate dropped to 4.72 per 100,000.
We also live in an imperfect world, and human beings are fallible in their judgments. But the death penalty is final. There is no room for correction.
In this century alone more than 350 people in the United States have been erroneously convicted of crimes potentially punishable by death - 116 of them were sentenced to death; 23 were actually executed. No room for correction. Twenty-three innocent lives were taken under the authority of a state.
The vast majority of the free world has rejected such a barbaric form of punishment. By adopting and implementing the death penalty, the United States stands virtually alone, always touting our human-rights commitment.
We stand against all of Western Europe. In contrast, we stand with such countries as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, South Africa, Libya, China, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, Lebanon, Albania and Angola. I think we are out of touch with the human-rights attitudes throughout the world today as we maintain this gruesome action of the death penalty.
We also must recognize that the public does have some outrage, and reason for outrage, when they see heinous crimes committed and those who are convicted for a life sentence are out in five to 10 years.
We are always talking about that action as it relates to the support for the death penalty, but let me call attention to a University of Louisville study taken in 1989 where they found that in the state of Kentucky, 69.1 percent of the people generally supported the death penalty.
But when they were asked if they would accept a mandatory life sentence in lieu of the death penalty, only 36 percent of them supported the death penalty.
I saw a headline in one of the Southern newspapers recently, "Killer Executed, Crowds Cheer."
Is that not an interesting indictment on our society, a primal urge for revenge, sadistic revenge? That does not ease the pain of the victims or bring back the lives of the victims.
I believe that (a mandatory life sentence, without parole) becomes a little more palatable to those who are concerned about human rights around the world.
It puts the United States, I think, into a very much stronger position in the world for human rights.