April 6, 2007
We should examine our values
Winter quarter, the Ohio State Department of Theatre put on the play "Dead
Man Walking," based on the true story of a nun's experience counseling a
death row inmate in Louisiana. The main character of the play, Matthew
Poncelet, brutally murdered two teenagers.
He was undoubtedly guilty, showed little remorse and was hardly a likable
man. Still, the scene at the end of the play where he received his lethal
injections moved much of the audience to tears.
Yesterday, a jury that found Lindsey Bruce guilty of murdering a 5 year-old
girl recommended a life sentence instead of the death penalty. The jury took
many factors into the recommendation, including Bruce's upbringing.
Gov. Ted Strickland, an admitted supporter of the death penalty, earlier
this year came under fire for reviewing the death sentences of several
inmates, based on their low IQs, even though the Supreme Court has ruled
executing mentally reatarded individuals to be unconstitutional. Governors
of other states have drawn national attention for putting moratoriums on the
death penalty or examining how it is conducted in their states.
Strickland and others have taken criticism for their stands, but they make a
good point. We all need to look at the death penalty and ask two questions:
What are we trying to accomplish with our criminal justice system? And, are
we accomplishing it?
Is the purpose of our criminal justice system to punish or to rehabilitate?
If the purpose is to punish, then death is surely a punishment. Is death
worse, however, than a lifetime spent behind bars knowing there is no hope
of freedom? If the purpose is to rehabilitate, how does one go about
integrating a dead body back into society?
There are many valid arguments for the death penalty. Aside from the logical
arguments are the emotional. Those who lost loved ones through a violent act
will naturally have a taste for blood. Still, the courts are supposed to be
objective and emotionless. This expectation might be impossible to meet when
emotional, subjective human beings are the ones expected to make these
decisions, but that does not mean we should not strive for the best.
Many countries, including Great Britain, France and Canada, have abolished
the death penalty, and the United Nations has stated its abolition should be
an international goal. Currently, the United States stands with China, Iran
and Saudi Arabia among the countries that execute the most people annually.
According to Amnesty International, costs of death penalty trials are much
higher than those of comparable non-death penalty trials, and costs would
still be higher if the post-trial appeals process was eliminated. These
extra costs mean funds are diverted from other, perhaps more important,
areas of crime prevention and apprehension.
In "Dead Man Walking," Poncelet spends much of the play keeping his
stone-cold facade, but in the end he is human. He has a mother and brothers
who visit him and love him no less because of the atrocity he committed. Our
society should spend more time making sure fewer Matthew Poncelets are
created. All the death penalty succeeds in doing is making room on death row
for the next inmates.
Source : The Lantern