March 28, 2007
Death penalty opposition
By Stacey Stumpf, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
Most people who crowded into the sanctuary of Congregation Achduth Vesholom
were there to hear Scott Turow - "the father of the legal thriller" - talk
about his hugely popular books. But I found the most interesting part of the
evening was not literary, but the best-selling author's damning opinions
against the death penalty.
Turow gave a lively and engaging talk Monday at the annual People of the
Book Lecture, sponsored by the Fort Wayne Jewish Federation. He included
plenty of juicy details about meeting Harrison Ford, who played the lead
role of Rusty Sabich in the film version of "Presumed Innocent."
But my interest was especially piqued when Turow politely and eloquently
fielded questions from the crowd, some rather pointed, about his opinions on
the death penalty.
Turow opposes the death penalty. When a member of the audience asked what
changed the author's mind from the time he described himself as a "death
penalty agnostic," Turow said his experience working as attorney on behalf
of death-row inmates and his two years of work on the Illinois Commission on
Capital Punishment proved to him the death penalty was wrong.
He was appointed by former Illinois Gov. George Ryan to serve on the
commission in 1999. The result of his service was his book, "Ultimate
Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty."
"The idea of the death penalty as a deterrent is fanciful," Turow told the
crowd. "Let me tell you as a person who has represented many murderers, any
thought about the consequences of their actions are the furthest thing from
their minds." He said murderers tend to have impulse-control issues.
The death penalty does not work because the U.S. justice system is
imperfect, Turow said. A person is more likely to be sentenced to death if
he is a man, living in a rural area, poor rather than wealthy, and black
rather than white. "The real litmus test is the race of the victim. You are
much more likely to be convicted if you killed a white."
The discussion was timely considering the about-face the editorial page of
the venerable Chicago Tribune made Sunday. The conservative paper reversed
its long and staunchly held pro-death penalty stance.
"The evidence of mistakes, the evidence of arbitrary decisions, the sobering
knowledge that government can't provide certainty that the innocent will not
be put to death - all that prompts this call for an end to capital
punishment," the Trib wrote. "It is time to stop killing in the people's
For Turow, and for me, the problem is we still live in a society where there
is an uneven distribution of power, wealth and justice.
One woman in the audience then asked, "What about when a child is murdered?"
He agreed that the murder of a child was unthinkably heinous, pointing out
that most children are murdered by their parents. But murder is a tragedy
for every victim's family. And the death penalty provides uneven justice for
those victims even when the murderer is truly guilty.
He gave the example of the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, who may have
been this country's most prolific serial killer. He received a life
sentence. But there are people who have killed far fewer people whom
government has killed.
"That doesn't send any clear moral message to me," Turow said to dispute the
claim from some that the purpose of the death penalty is to restore a moral
Turow's arguments and those of the newly converted writers at the Tribune
further substantiate that the death penalty fails to offer any hope of
restoration for victims and society.
Source : Fort Wayne Journal Gazette