This is in response to the recent article on Helen Prejean and her long campaign to end execution as a potential punishment in Louisiana. The article states that her side of the debate is winning converts among the general public, and that’s evidently correct. The article’s first sentence also includes the phrase “summon the better angels of our nature,” referring to Prejean’s appeals. That’s a forthright implication, continued throughout the article, that death penalty opponents hold the higher moral ground. They don’t.
Capital cases cost 70% more than comparable noncapital cases. This is in large measure because opponents are allowed to present their appeals over decades. If on appeal the defense had three months after conviction to make all such arguments, and an appeal for an individual were considered once at each judicial level, the cost for a capital trial and execution, if ultimately upheld, would be much less.
Concerning racial and ethnic differences in rates of application of death penalty, such discrepancies exist across nearly all categories of violent crime punishments. Such statistics don’t, ipso facto, equal the amount of racial and ethnic discrimination, though unfair discrimination undoubtedly exists and should be suppressed. “We have no way to select the worst of the worst”, according to Prejean. Sure we do; I can and I think most folks readily recognize two-legged monsters when they appear.
Tim McVeigh’s execution did not bring back Bud Welsh’s daughter nor guarantee him peace for his loss. True, and neither would have keeping McVeigh alive for decades.
Lastly, before we confer sainthood on Helen Prejean, Bud Welsh, or anyone else with purported rectitude in this matter, here are quotes from a series of excruciatingly eloquent letters to this newspaper by Ann Pace, whose daughter and several other women were murdered by Derrick Todd Lee. Her long quest to see his sentence carried out was continually contested, delayed, and ultimately frustrated by death penalty opponents.
“Offenders become the focus of idealistic groups who apparently are compelled to try to serve, to amend or to save them. These offenders, these destroyers of persons, become fascinating objects of affection for besotted, ill-advised admirers. News sources and would-be novelists clamor to tell their stories.
“In the course of a murderer’s incarceration, a subtle attitudinal shift begins to take place among those doing ‘the good’ as a perception of the murderer as lethal offender gradually transforms into a perception of the offender as victim.
“The awareness of or concern for actual victims dissolves like images in sand on a beach at high tide. ... I agree with T.S. Eliot that ‘half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them ... because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.’”