April 29, 2007
No on the death penalty
Albany Times Union
Once again, a state trooper has died in a search for a criminal on the
loose. Once again, the immediate reaction of some state lawmakers was to
call for reinstating the death penalty in New York. Once again, the answer
must be no.
To say this is in no way to diminish the loss of Trooper David Brinkerhoff,
who, tragically, was accidentally shot by one of his fellow troopers in a
shootout Wednesday. His death, regardless of the circumstances, was as much
a loss as would be the death of any of the thousands of police officers, at
state and local levels, who put their lives on the line each day to protect
New Yorkers. He was our neighbor, living in Coxsackie with his wife and
7-month-old daughter. We grieve, just as all New Yorkers do.
Yet that is precisely why this was the wrong time to renew the debate over
the death penalty. Nerves are raw now, and the impulse to subject criminals
to the ultimate punishment is at its peak.
But the argument against reviving the death penalty remains as overwhelming
as ever. It begins with the bitter irony that it would not have applied to
had been the killer and had been sentenced to death. His execution would not
have brought back Trooper Brinkerhoff. No execution will ever bring back any
Nor is the death penalty the deterrent that supporters claim it to be.
Statistics show that states with capital punishment laws often have higher
murder rates than those without them.
What is certain is that the death penalty can be arbitrarily applied. A
prosecutor in one county might aggressively purse death penalty convictions,
while another might not -- a situation that in fact occurred during the
years before New York's reinstated death penalty was struck down by the
Then there is the real possibility that the state may execute innocent
people. Indeed, in recent years numerous death row inmates have been
exonerated by DNA evidence. The numbers were so high in Illinois, for
example, that in 2000, Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on executions.
Finally, there is the difficult question of whether a New York capital
punishment law should apply only in cases in which law enforcement officers
are killed in the line of duty. Yes, society expects a great deal from
police officers, and they are a special breed. But the families of any
murder victim grieve just as deeply for their loved ones and could well ask
why their loss is viewed differently by the state.
Instead of the death penalty, New York should continue to sentence the worst
offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is heavy
punishment, as the late Thomas Grasso discovered. In the 1990s, while
serving a long prison term in New York, he sought to be extradited to
Oklahoma, where he had been convicted of another capital crime and sentenced
to death. In 1995, the newly elected Gov. George Pataki granted his request.
When state lawmakers call for a capital punishment law, they should remember
Thomas Grasso's choice -- and think again.
THE ISSUE :A trooper's death leads to calls to reinstate capital punishment
in New York.
THE STAKES: Is turning back the clock the right way to carry out justice?
Source : Albany Times Union