FLORENCE GILKESON: Barbarism: Death Penalty Is Unworthy of a Great Nation
Some subjects never go away.
One fresh on our minds these days is the death penalty. The execution of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has no bearing on the issue here in the United States.
Execution by hanging is the method used in Iraq, and custody was turned over to Iraqi officials to carry out the court order.
However, within a few days after the execution, a legislative committee was back at work on its study of the death penalty as imposed in North Carolina.
State House Minority Leader Joe Hackney co-chairs the committee with Rep. Beverly Earle of Mecklenburg County. Both are Democrats. Hackney, who lives in Orange County, serves a district that includes a small part of Moore County. Hackney is also the Democrats' nominee for speaker of the House.
Disappointment was expressed after the Jan. 4 meeting because some members were absent and the committee was unable to study the issue in the desired depth. By the time the General Assembly convenes for a new session on Jan. 24, the committee membership may be changed significantly.
North Carolina is among those states that cling to capital punishment with all the passion of traditional Bible thumpers, or rather, Old Testament thumpers.
It doesn't seem to matter to some supporters of the death penalty that the person being put to death may not be guilty. Even when evidence turns up that a mistake was made, they appear determined to keep marching people into that sterile room for the lethal injection.
Apparently they want someone put to death as compensation for the death of a murder victim(s). This mentality just wants a life for a life, and it doesn't matter who was responsible for the murder.
The issue of how the dealth penalty is imposed is not the same as the issue of whether capital punishment should be carried out at all.
Some states have discontinued the practice altogether.
I am among those who disapprove of the death penalty. It is a barbaric practice, and most nations of the Western world have dropped it. The United States is the principal holdout among the so-called Western civilizations. We join the likes of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, China and North Korea in supporting capital punishment. I don't feel comfortable in that company.
It amazes me that the cost of capital punishment has not attracted the attention of fiscal conservatives. On the surface, it would appear that executing the convicted party would save money. The state is no longer responsible for feeding, clothing and housing him or her. But in the average case, it may take 10 to 20 years from the time of conviction to the time of execution.
Remember the David Junior Brown case? He's the man charged with slaying a woman and her young daughter at a Pinehurst apartment some 25 years ago. State law provides for a thorough appeal process in death penalty cases. The state of North Carolina should get credit for going out of its way to protect the rights of the accused.
Brown's case was delayed long enough to win a second trial, which ended with another guilty verdict and another capital punishment sentence. I covered the first trial.
It was almost 20 years before the appeal process produced the second trial, resulting in execution. It pleased me that I was not the reporter who had to sit through the second trial. One ordeal is enough.
Of all the reasons advanced to support the death penalty, the only one with validity is that death permanently removes the convicted person from society, thus preventing follow-up crimes by that particular person.
That argument works quite well in cases involving serial killers.
The argument that the death penalty serves as a deterrent obviously does not work.
Instead, what it does is send the message that violence is an accepted way of life in North Carolina and in this country. It certainly does not send a message reflecting Christian principles.
Confinement to a prison cell for the remainder of your life strikes me as severe punishment indeed. By contrast, death by lethal injection seems downright kind and gentle.
At this point it may be too late for the Hackney-Earle committee to make much progress toward legislative recommendations. Little time remains before Jan. 24.
Capital punishment opponents might as well grasp the reality that repeal will not be a high priority in the 2007 legislative session. Progress is slow, but don't give up.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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