Capital Punishment Is Murder Essay

1750 words - 7 pages

American history is replete with examples of brutality and foolishness that will forever blot the American conscience. Early in this century, Sacco and Vanzetti were railroaded for a murder of which they were almost certainly innocent. The trial was a farce, and the verdict was a more a result of bias against Italians than of the evidence. Their lives were forfeit. Later in the century, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were tried for conspiracy to commit espionage. Despite questionable evidence and even more questionable conduct on the part of prosecuting attorneys and government agencies, they were convicted; the verdict was a statement of public hysteria and fear of Communism. They too met the executioner. Not yet ingrained in the annals of history, in the past months the state of Texas executed a man who even the state admitted had not pulled the trigger, but was only an accomplice. If the recent elections prove anything, it is that these examples of the state-sanctioned murders of innocents have done nothing to change the American mind. Many Republicans ran and won on a "law and order" platform; in New York, Governor George Pataki defeated former Governor Mario Cuomo largely on the basis of Cuomo's opposition to capital punishment. This article is an appeal to readers' morality, to their consciences. It does attempt to show that the death penalty is costly and impractical (though it is), or that it is unconstitutional (which it may well be). The article is an appeal for mercy.

Perhaps the greatest problem with the death penalty, as the cases of the Rosenbergs and of Sacco and Vanzetti point out, is the chance for error incurred in capital cases. A study conducted at Stanford University found that, since 1900, more than fifty people have been executed who were later proven to be unquestionably innocent. In at least twice as many cases, serious doubts about the guilt of the condemned came to light after their executions. Our criminal justice system is imperfect, and the existence of capital punishment guarantees that innocent people will be put to death. This opportunity for error is present in all verdicts and punishments. It is the finality of execution that distinguishes capital punishment: the government can release and compensate someone mistakenly sent to jail when his or her innocence is proven. For those who have been executed, the state can only offer condolences to their families.

Advocates of capital punishment claim that innocents are only very rarely put to death, and that for the most part those sentenced to die are certainly guilty. This argument is definitely true, but it is a sad commentary on our society that death penalty advocates casually dismiss the murder of innocents at the hands of the state as a necessary evil. If they carry through their plans to limit appeals in death penalty cases, this will only increase the number of innocents executed. Even if it does save money by eliminating appeals, this economic...

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