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Friday, December 02, 2005
Why I Support the Death Penalty

Pat Hynes (aka H-Bomb) and his writing partner, Bulldog Pundit, are debating the death penalty over at Ankle-Biters. Pat's one of those rare anti-death penalty conservatives.

To me the most compelling argument against the death penalty is the libertarian one; do we really want to grant the power of life and death to the state? But I've overcome that in my own mind due to concern that life in prison isn't always life in prison.

We had a guy here in Arizona who displayed the classic symptoms of a serial killer--started out with cats and dogs. When he was 17 he killed his best friend's mom, and had sex with the corpse. Fortunately, he wasn't sophisticated enough to get away with it yet. Sentenced to death, he got off with everybody else when the death penalty was declared unconstitutional. And sure enough, by about 30 years later, he was a trusty, getting out on weekends. Parole came up and the board voted to grant it. But then the victim's son complained to the newspapers that he hadn't been contacted by the parole board, as is required under Arizona's victims' rights law.

So they had to have another hearing, where the son emphatically requested that the guy not be given parole. But the parole board still voted 2-1 (the prior vote had been 3-0) to grant parole.

And then a funny thing happened. Because of all the news about the parole board's decision, a clerk at a local gun store recognized the convict, who had attempted to purchase a weapon, but stopped when he realized he'd have to submit Brady Bill paperwork. It turned out that the attempted purchase came the day that the son's complaint about not being notified of the parole board hearing appeared in the newspapers, so his motivation for acquiring a weapon was at least suspicious.

Third parole board hearing now on the weapons violation. Guy claims he was just buying it for his wife's (he'd gotten married while in prison) son whose birthday was coming up. Believe it or not, the parole board vote this time is 1-2, with one of the parole board members still voting to let the guy out. Fortunately he was overruled.

No, thank you. Capital punishment may not be a deterrent. But it sure keeps idiot parole boards from turning loose monsters.

Captain Ed also opposes the death penalty (apparently Pat Hynes isn't as lonely as he thinks), but he tackles the subject a little differently. He points to a Eugene Robinson article in the WaPo and wonders why the celebrities and glitterati only swoon over celebrity murderers like Tookie Williams.

The answer is pretty easy. It's the thin end of the wedge. When you oppose the death penalty, yes, to be logically consistent you should oppose it for monsters like Saddam and Timothy McVeigh the same as you oppose it for Tookie Williams and Carla Faye Tucker.

But suppose you look at ending the death penalty as a crusade, a battle to be won. Well, then you start using tactics. And one tactic that generals always use is they try to choose the ground on which to fight. You don't want to be charging up a hill at the enemy. So you pick and choose your battles. You don't put the same effort into opposing Timothy McVeigh that you do into Tookie, because you won't win any converts among those wavering. Indeed, people are willing to endorse capital punishment in some limited cases--Roger L. Simon in the case of Saddam, for example.

And this is not entirely a cynical process. Remember, that to liberals, the purpose of incarceration is rehabilitation, not punishment. Once the person is no longer a threat to society, he or she should be freed. The same applies to any crime, from robbery to murder. So adopting Tookie as a cause makes perfect sense. He's repented his criminal past (conveniently without admitting his guilt in the four murders for which he's facing death).

Update: The Pink Flamingo has a good take on this issue, as does Crazy Politico.
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