NB: I wrote this writeup in response to another writeup that advanced the thesis that we as a society owe it to the victims' surviving relatives to execute murderers, particularly notorious ones like Timothy McVeigh. The original writeup has been deleted, but I have decided to keep this one because the sentiment of the original has been expressed at many other times and in many other places, and it still deserves to be rebutted.


Pardon me for saying so, but I don't see how executing a convicted murderer demonstrates compassion for the murderer's victims. I can't say that I'm paritcularly philosophically opposed to capital punishment, at least, not under a hypothetical perfect justice system that never miscarries, but I don't see why it is a moral imperative that the state satisfy the victims' families' understandable, but still misguided, thirst for vengeance. The role of the State in crime and punishment is to be dispassionate, even when we as individuals cannot.

The fact is, executing the perpetrator of a heinous crime fixes nothing. The dead are still dead, and the living will have to find a way to go on with out them. It is interesting that Ryan_Dallion mentions Bud Welch, since he was quoted in a news article today. He said, ``An execution is an event, and when the sun sets on this day we're going to end up with a huge staged political event.'' The people I feel for the most are those who were counting on this particular event to make everything right that Timothy McVeigh mangled in their lives. I fear they will find that at the end of this particular day this particular event has little relevance for them.

The reasons against capital punishment have been discussed at length in a number of forums. The truth is that our criminal justice system, in its zeal to see that somebody is punished for these vile crimes, sometimes railroads the first plausible suspect that comes along. Innocent people have undoubtedly been executed because of this. In light of those concerns, I think capital punishment needs a compelling reason in order to justify its continuation, and thus far no such reason has been forthcoming.

It's easy to hold McVeigh up as a pro-capital punishment poster child. The man is a monster, and he neither denied nor showed remorse for his crime. But all murders are not the Oklahoma City bombing, and all murderers are not Timothy McVeigh. When crafting the law we must look at all of the cases it will be called upon to judge, not just the few exceptions that capture the eye of the media.


rayoslav: Attributing differences in crime rates between one nation and another to one specific factor seems specious to me. How do we know the lower murder rate in Saudi Arabia isn't due to the the stronger influence of Islam in that country? Or maybe there's a difference in the availability of weapons. Maybe it's just the weather.

Personally, I'm skeptical of the deterrent value of capital punishment because most murderers aren't thinking that far ahead when they commit their crimes. Murder is not generally a rational crime, and precious few engage in a detailed cost-benefit analysis when they kill somebody. For that matter, I suspect that it's a rare murderer that wakes up in the morning and says to him self, ``Why, bless me, I do believe I'm going to kill somebody today.'' Maybe McVeigh did, but then the threat of the death penalty didn't exactly deter him.

Conversely, it's not clear to me that capital punishment is necessary to deter people from committing vile crimes like murder. If it is, then we're pretty much doomed. When people obey the law only out of fear of reprisal, can anarchy be far behind?

Finally, I think that in deciding whether or not to keep the death penalty we should ask ourselves not, ``Are we meting out the penalty justly?'' (we almost certainly are not), but ``Can this ultimate penalty ever be meted out justly?'' The sheer number of death row inmates that have been vindicated over the years, not to mention the confirmed cases of prosecutorial misconduct have convinced me that the marginal benefits of executions cannot outweigh the injustices.

Ryan Dallion makes his case by opposing a supposed misrepresentation with a much more blatant one, namely the assertion that all people who are strictly against the death penalty have compassion for murderers, but not for their victims.

  • The existence of compassion for murderers does not imply the absence of compassion for their victims.
  • Compassion for murderers is not misplaced, despide all the cheap emotional potshots used in the above writeup. The point is that those who consider people like McVeigh to be monsters and only want them to be removed don't understand that people are not born as murderers. There are reasons why they become murderers. Understanding these reasons is the only way to prevent people from becoming murderers in the first place, instead of doomed-to-fail attempts of scaring them away from it. This is what people like Ms. Wobbekind want to do.
  • In fact, disproportionally many perpetrators of violent crimes were themselves victims of abuse in their childhood.
  • There is at least one argument against the death penalty that does not rely on compassion: Most societies consider taking a life to be the ultimate crime. It is simply inconsistent for such a society to sanction the same action under any circumstances. It sets a bad example. self defence is a logical exception because it assumes that the life of the defender is threatened and it is better that the life of an innocent be spared at the cost of an attacker than the other way round. However, the death penalty is not self defence because the murder has already happened and will not be reversed, and the murderer cannot commit another murder if imprisoned properly.

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