Monday, 29 October 2007

Death penalty questions linger Monday

Monday, October 29, 2007 1:13 AM EDT

When those with the most undeniable rationale for supporting the death penalty decline to do so, the rest of us must take notice. While we, too, remain divided on this issue, momentum is growing throughout the country to re-evaluate the soundness of arguments for responding in kind to the taking of a life.

Is there really any justification for killing in response to killing?

This unease was made manifest last week in Boston. A couple of relatives of murder victims spoke out against a bill that would reinstate capital punishment in Massachusetts, a bill sponsored by House Republican leader Rep. Brad Jones of North Reading and tacitly supported by former Gov. Mitt Romney. "I think it's an option that the state should have in certain cases," said Jones. "I remain convinced it is the most appropriate punishment for the most horrific crimes." Others are not so sure, and ambivalence is unsettling legislators and governors here and elsewhere.

The questions that have always been asked, persist:

* Are there certain crimes, such as the murder of a child or police officer, or an act of terrorism, that should always warrant the death penalty?

* What if an innocent person dies? Should DNA tests be required before execution can proceed?

These are the usual concerns. But creeping unease beyond this seems to be coloring discussion. The father of Jeffrey Curley, who was raped and murdered at age 10, and relatives of two victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, spoke out against the death penalty last week, and their opinions should be accorded extra weight. They're on the front lines.

Robert Curley said his original support has been transformed into objection. In the end, he decided the death penalty was disproportionately used against those without the means to hire expensive lawyers and that "with my background I'm closer to the innocent guy who gets executed than other way around." The survivor wife of a 9/11 hijack victim said her husband had always been opposed to the death penalty. She was, in essence, speaking for him.

Beyond the statistics, the scientific testing, the arguments over the questionable humaneness of lethal injection, isn't there something about taking a life - even a life that disgusts us - that disturbs the heart in ways that may never provide the peace we think it should?

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