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Friday, December 02, 2005

The Ultimate Rejection of Mercy

The United States has now executed 1,000 people since 1977, when the death penalty was "re-instated". Kenneth Lee Boyd didn't want to be remembered this way. I think that is probably understandable, but is it quantitatively better than being remembered for killing your wife and father-in-law?

Despite the intracacies of the human mind, this is an occassion for some solid thinking on the issue of capital punishment.

As I've stated, through the hardness of my own heart, I would like to preserve the death penalty for some people. However, I would restrict it to only the most heinous of crimes. After all, the ultimate penalty should only be exacted upon the ultimate criminals. It should not be used for the sake of convenience or for low levels of criminality. To do so robs the punishment of its worth - if you hang someone for holding fourteen ounces of dope, then what do you do for a whole shipload of it?

I'll not make the case that Kenneth Lee Boyd - or anyone else who was obviously guilty of killing another human being - should not face the possibility of death. Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, and Eric Robert Rudolph certainly have no dispute concerning their guilt and they all knowingly took another life while understanding it was morally reprehensible to do so. In any list of the most heinous criminals in America over the last 25 years, those three must be in the top ten. If anyone should face the death penalty, it would be people like these.

If you read up on the case, though, you'll find that the Unabomber, as was Eric Rudolph, was exempted from the death penalty. How do you reach a place where crimes such as these men committed, beyond any doubt, are given mercy, but lesser degrees of crime are given the ultimate penalty? Rudolph killed three people and injured as many as 150 because he was mad at homosexuals (although his victims were indiscriminate). Kaczynski (the Unabomber) killed three and injured 29 in bombings that lasted over an eighteen year period because he was mad at technological progress.

Yet Kenneth Lee Boyd killed two and physically injured no one else in a single event of what has to be described as psychotic behavior. Others have been executed - or come close to it and lost years of their lives - that may not have even been guilty of killing anyone.

My friend, Juan, posted recently on the monetary cost of the death penalty. Juan and I have some disagreements about this issue as a whole, but we agree that there is no benefit to the death penalty as it is utilized today. None. An obsolete blog from Texas has some more thoughts on the issue.

My personal belief is that everyone's rights are balanced by equal and opposite responsibilities. If you are going to advocate for the death penalty; then be honest as to the motivations and to the effectiveness and cost of it. Until we can use the ultimate penalty fairly and find some way to ensure it is truly used in the service of justice; then we should remove the temptation to use it arbitrarily. We cannot be trusted with the ultimate punishment if we cannot also grant the ultimate mercy.

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