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Misconceptions about capital punishment

By Scott Tibbs, December 30, 2007

Pete Fether's letter to the editor about the death penalty contains a few errors that should be addressed.

First, while the Declaration of Independence mentions "life" as an "unalienable right", this doesn't preclude the death penalty. First and most importantly, capital punishment was used when the country was founded and afterwards. If the founders truly meant to say that all killing was unjustifiable, wouldn't they have abolished it? Furthermore, the Fifth Amendment states that no person can "be deprived of life... without due process of law." The portion in italics is critical and proves that capital punishment was not considered out of bounds by the founders.

What "right to life" refers to is actually a right not to be killed. However, there are certain crimes for which the perpetrator forfeits his life as punishment. Murder, obviously, is one of these crimes. The government is not allowed to kill someone unless it has either proven guilt of a capital crime beyond a reasonable doubt or that person presents an imminent threat to do serious harm to someone else, as in the case of a police officer who shoots someone firing into a crowd.

Given the amount of time that generally passes between conviction of a capital crime and the execution of a criminal, it is more than possible for someone to be "redeemed" prior to being executed. Fether admits that himself when he writes that Stanley "Tookie" Williams had a change of heart.

Fether whines that Williams was "tragically" executed. Whatever good "Tookie" may have done will never bring back the lives he took and the families he destroyed. Whatever peace Williams made with God should not negate the earthly consequences for his demonic behavior. To the right, you can see the results of that monster's criminal career. "Tookie" shot that woman in the face with a shotgun. I think it is perverse to speak of executing "Tookie" as tragic given the savage brutality this man inflicted upon completely innocent people. There may be cases where the death penalty is not warranted and mercy should be given. Stanley "Tookie" Williams is not one of those cases. Instead, he is in a class with Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson.

Finally, Fether asks why "right-to-life supporters" are not "furious". Had Fether bothered to do a quick Google search, he would find that there is a significant portion of the pro-life community that opposes capital punishment as well as abortion. The most obvious example is the Roman Catholic Church, which has been consistently critical of capital punishment for decades. Some pro-life groups (such as the American Life League) take no position on capital punishment, but that does not prevent individual members from opposing the death penalty in other ways.

Fether's letter is almost a perfect fit to the criticism many conservatives have for liberals who are "soft on crime", with plenty of sympathy for criminals but little or no mention of the victims.