Saturday, 29 December 2007

Government shouldn't kill its own citizens

Government shouldn't kill its own citizens

LAST week New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine signed legislation repealing the death penalty in his state. New Jersey hasn't executed anyone since 1963, so some are calling the action merely "symbolic."


It's the kind of symbolism the entire country should adopt.

Iowa abolished capital punishment in 1965, but 36 other states and the federal government allow it.

In a 21st-century United States of America, the government should not be executing criminals. It is barbaric. It is not a proven deterrent. It sends a message to the world that our "civilized" country thinks it acceptable to strap someone to a table, insert a catheter needle into his arm and administer a lethal dose of drugs.

Granted, the desire for revenge is understandable in especially heinous cases. It's difficult to argue some criminals deserve to live.

Among them is Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender who murdered 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994 - a case that inspired Megan's Law, requiring public notification when sex offenders are living in communities. Corzine's action spared Timmendequas' life.

This murderer took the life of a child, so it is understandable to want to respond by taking his life. But it is also a primitive response. "Eye for an eye" retaliation has no place in a civilized society. The same way that a court would not order that a rapist be raped or a thief be robbed, governments should not be killing killers - an act that reduces our society to the level of its worst criminals.

And, of course, there's always the possibility the government will execute the wrong person.

Someone like Timmendequas deserves to spend the rest of his life staring at the walls of a prison. He isn't worthy of the additional media attention his execution would inevitably bring. He deserves to exist unnoticed in a cement cell.

Fortunately, it seems Americans may be finally starting to agree.

The Supreme Court has accepted a case in which it will consider whether lethal injections used to execute criminals violate a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

About 40 people have been executed this year, down nearly 60 percent from 1999, when 98 inmates were executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes the practice.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 115 new inmates were received on death row in 2006 compared to 284 in 1999.

States have placed moratoriums on capital punishment, and some are considering abolishing it. This year, 40 states did not conduct any executions.

Change is in the air. Perhaps Americans have been paying attention when inmates who were wrongly convicted have been released from death row. Perhaps they understand there is something cruel and unusual about a public employee strapping criminals to tables for a lethal injection or shaving their heads to prep them for the electric chair or placing them in gas chambers while audiences watch them die.

New Jersey did the right thing. The rest of the country should follow. Government should not be in the business of murdering its people.

- The Des Moines (Iowa) Register

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