Elizabeth Hess/Left is Right: Issues remain with death-penalty system

Elizabeth Hess/Left is Right: Issues remain with death-penalty system


People often ask me how I come up with the topics for my column. Usually they stem from something I have read or heard that week that I just can't shake. This week's topic came out of a conversation with my 11-year-old. He was looking over my shoulder as I was reading an update on accused kidnapper Brendt Christensen.

My son had heard about the case on the news, and has periodically asked me if they ever found the missing student. The headline on the story I was reading said "Feds to Seek Death Penalty in Christensen Case." I asked him if he knew what the death penalty was, and he said, "The court decides to kill someone based on something bad they did." When I asked him if he agreed with that, he said, "No, it's a bad idea. I don't think we should continue the chain of killing people who are involved."

It may surprise our readers who assume I would follow the typical Democratic Party line and be anti-death penalty. Not true: I am 100 percent in support of capital punishment. In cases of severe harm or death to a child, I can't imagine implementing another method.

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 81 percent of Republicans favor the death penalty and 47 percent of Democrats surveyed said they approved of the punishment. Democratic support for capital punishment has seen a 28-point drop since its 1994 peak, and many say it is due to information about wrongful convictions coming to light.

Republican supporters often argue that capital punishment deters murder because no one wants to face the consequence of death. The American Civil Liberties Union says this assumption is not based on fact. Although some question the morality of the death penalty, those in favor argue the punishment is acceptable for certain crimes, such as rape or murder.

According to the Eighth Amendment, "excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." What is considered more of a "cruel and unusual punishment" — life without the possibility of parole, or being put to death?

The death penalty is currently legal in 32 states and illegal in 18 states — including Illinois. On Jan. 31, 2000, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions. It wasn't until more than a decade later, March 9, 2011, that then-Gov. Pat Quinn permanently abolished the death penalty in Illinois. Quinn said it was "impossible to create a perfect system, one that is free of all mistakes, free of all discrimination with respect to race or economic circumstance or geography."

I can't let myself think about the implementation and mechanics of capital punishment, and didn't want to answer all of the ensuing questions from my son. When he started asking HOW you put someone to death, I didn't think either of us had the stomach to discuss lethal injection, a firing squad or the electric chair.

We like to make things black-and-white issues, but this issue isn't that easy. While there is advanced DNA testing and we look for irrefutable proof before we condemn someone to death, it still isn't a flawless system. The "right from wrong" argument for capital punishment lies somewhere in between.

Overall, the death penalty is more expensive in almost every aspect than incarcerating a prisoner for the entirety of his or her life. The appeals process, lawyer's fees and court costs far outweigh the costs associated with long-term incarceration. I can live with paying more taxes to that end result.

Elizabeth Hess is co-host of "The DWS Morning Show" on NewsTalk 1400 WDWS, a News-Gazette Media radio station. Her email is ehess@wdws.com.

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GLG wrote on February 04, 2018 at 8:02 am

"Republican supporters often argue that capital punishment deters murder because no one wants to face the consequence of death."

It never was to be used as a deterrent, if it was it would be called "capitol deterrent" But it indeed  makes sure the person on the receiving end of it never kills or huts another human being.