Social and Political Commentary

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Should the death penalty be eliminated?

 ... Stringers speak out -- some pro, some con

by Jackie Wattenberg

On his recent trip to Europe, President George W. Bush met with outspoken opposition to his feelings on several issues -- promoting the controversial missile shield system and opposing approval of the Kyoto Agreement on global warming.

But somewhere on his travels he surely must have heard disapproval of another controversial issue within our borders -- the Death Penalty. Not one European country imposes the death penalty.

And within our borders, this is a subject of unceasing deliberation. Although a majority of our states -- 38 -- have the death penalty, our state of Massachusetts does not. Polls across the nation have shown that a majority of our citizens favor this form of punishment, but the feeling for it has diminished, curiously enough, since the  execution of Timothy McVeigh, bomber of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, on June 11th. Perhaps it was the constant emphasis on his impending death and daily coverage of methods and history of the death penalty that shocked our citizenry with the gruesome details.

Perhaps it was the frequent mention in the media that only a few nations in the world still hold onto the death penalty in any form -- such nations as China, Libya, Moslem countries, such nations we cannot be proud to share such a crucial issue with. Or, for many, it has been the frequent plea of the Pope for us not to put any man or woman to death, which Catholics believe is only for God to deal with.

Then again, perhaps the recent decision of Governor Ryan of Illinois, Republican and  long an advocate of the death penalty, to call for a moratorium on executions caused many to reconsider. Governor Ryan was dismayed when a group of journalism students investigated the cases of many on Illinois' Death Row and found more than a dozen to be innocent, who were then freed. Such a possibility, innocents to die, was also of concern to another Republican personality, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

In a recent series of short interviews with senior citizens here in Melrose, conducted in the Milano Senior Center, the preponderance of opinions opposed the death penalty. Here are a few comments of the SilverStringers, publishers of the Melrose Mirror:

Natalie Thomson does not "always agree with decisions of lawmakers or juries," and points out that "the system can be changed. What ever happened to 'Thou shalt not kill?' and 'Turn the other cheek?'" She finds these more moral than "An eye for an eye."

Kay McCarte believes "God alone, who gives life, has the right to take life in His own good time." Also, life imprisonment allows the chance for innocence to be proven, or if not, "a chance for sorrow, repentance and reconciliation with God."

Bill Jodry, unhesitating, says he is "Totally against the death penalty, because only Nature has the right to call any one from his earthly life."

Bernadette Mahoney opines that the death penalty is "more revenge than punishment, and is irreversible if new evidence comes to the surface later on exonerating the defendant -- then it is not just a mistake, but it is a tragedy."

Miriam Moore succinctly lists her reasons for opposition: "It is not a deterrent; does not bring peace of mind to the family of the victim; it is the use of a criminal act to punish a criminal act; it is possible that the prisoner charged is not fully guilty of the crime, and if killed cannot offer any further evidence.

As for "deterrent", those who feel that the death penalty can deter agree with President George W. Bush and Al Gore, both of whom said during the presidential campaign, "Yes, I support it, as a deterrent." However, countries that have eliminated the death penalty have not found an increase in murders.

Irving Smolens has difficulty in enumerating reasons to be against the matter because there are "so many. Human life is sacred, and no person or institution has the inherent right to take the life of another human."

Frank Callahan  states that "Most of us would agree that Timothy McVeigh deserved to die for his crimes against humanity." But that brings up the case of the disturbed young mother who drowned her five children. He wonders if imprisoning her with treatment for her mental problems would be a "kindness," considering how her guilt would be overpowering, but would executing her be a "kindness?" Is the death penalty "vengeance in the guise of justice, or is it ever justified?"

The terrible risk of innocence was cited by many, and many feel that life imprisonment can be a greater punishment. Jim Driscoll  feels "life in prison is more appropriate to properly punish the guilty. Let him or her stew in a solitary cell and wither away in misery and regret."

Mr. Smollens referred to the case of a man who was to be tried in both Oklahoma where the death penalty existed, and New York, where it did not -- then Governor Mario Cuomo gave the man his choice -- he took Oklahoma and death.

Of several who support the death penalty, Ella Letterie feels that McVeigh should NOT have gotten the death penalty  -- "Did he suddenly lose his marbles after Desert Storm, Ruby Ridge, and Waco, Texas? Did he know the extent of his actions, devastating the lives of thousands? There was no remorse or regret. I would not have given him a quick death by lethal injection, but sentenced him to life in prison without the comforts of home so he could reflect on 'collateral damage!'"

David Moreland feels there is too much concern for the condemned murderers, not enough for the victims, and points out that the prisoner gets "three meals a day, exercise, training, and celebrates the holidays." The victims cannot. He is resentful of the money it costs to hold a person in prison for life.

Several of our Mirror members spoke of deaths in our wars ... Marie Moreland says that what is exceptional is that "In case of war, death is exploited."  

Don Norris also speaks with passion about the thousands of deaths of our young American soldiers. "McVeigh committed mayhem and the people put him to death. We send our armies of  young men to foreign countries in the name of democracy knowing full well that many of them will die. Are we not therefore guilty of mayhem? Is our will to force our way of government enough to spend all those lives? If so, then one more McVeigh isn't very important. I mourn the thousands who have died in the name of principle."

Many views, many thoughtful comments. Most, as you see, against our nation's retention of the death penalty.


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