Readers Sound off on the Death Penalty

BY DIANE DIMOND

Whenever I write about serial killers, guns and the death penalty, my inbox blows up.

Last week’s column about convicted murderer Dylann Roof and America’s policy of capital punishment — public support for it, the costs associated with it and its usefulness in deterring other criminals — definitely stirred passions.

Some readers took to their keyboards to declare that they are staunchly against the death penalty. Ginny Oleskewicz Schwartz wrote: “Life in prison is better. Make them suffer just knowing they are there forever.”

Some wrote to tell me that I neglected to mention why a death-penalty case can cost up to $1 million more than others. Thank you to reader Paul Burnett and others for pointing out that it is not so much the housing and feeding of convicted death-row inmates but the slow pace at which the legal system works.

“Delays are behind the huge costs of our injustice system,” Burnett wrote. He believes that defendants “should be rapidly convicted and start paying for their crimes immediately or be enabled to continue living as productive citizens.” Reader Bob Knowlton was among those supporting curbs on appeal times. As he put it: “The lengthy appeals process benefits who (besides the convicted killer?) Lawyers!”

The majority of readers who wrote me — and, interestingly, they were all men — explained why they think the death penalty is a necessary and useful tool to keep law-abiding citizens safe.

Allen, a retired cop and former Army police officer who worked at Leavenworth Penitentiary during his 27-year career, said: “(The inmates’) primary regret was getting caught … their constant focus was on where, when and how to commit their next crime when they were released.” Executing the worst of the worst of these criminals, Allen believes, “alleviate(s) society from the probability of having an intentionally violent career criminal take another life.”

Scott Hendrick from the Southern Justice Self-Help Legal Center told me: “Killing isn’t inherently wrong, murder is. If killing were inherently wrong (then) we wouldn’t arm the police or military.”

Death penalty advocate Dudley Sharp wrote to chastise me on several points, especially for repeating the statistic that 156 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973. He simply does not believe the number, even though it came from a report to

Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court and several other federal courts have favorably referred to the figure. Sharp is also unhappy that I didn’t mention that a much larger percentage of white death row inmates are executed compared to black death row inmates.

Joel Davis says I should be less concerned about the possibility of wrongfully convicted defendants being put to death and more concerned about inmates being killed in prison. Citing Department of Justice figures from 2012 he concluded, “Every year there are an average of 8.4 murders in prison by UNEXECUTED murderers.”

I’m thinking that says more about the prison guards’ ability to keep the peace than it does about the moral, ethical or societal reasons for supporting the death penalty.

As for my mention that there is no evidence proving capital punishment deters other criminals from murdering, Lawrence Walsh reminded me that you can’t prove such a deterrent. “Capital punishment has NEVER stopped murder in the history of mankind,” Walsh wrote. “There is no way to prove this. Think about it.” Yes, Mr. Walsh, you are correct.

Abe Parham put it more succinctly. “The death penalty does not deter others from killing,” he said, “but it does a pretty damn good job on that first idiot.”

Reader Jerry Little isn’t so sure. He wrote to say that advances in DNA and other investigative technologies make it easier to prove guilt these days. “What that means is we need an express lane to the chamber to re-establish the deterrent effect of the death penalty,” he wrote.

Last week’s column really revolved around my own ethical struggle on whether to support capital punishment, and under what circumstances. While I’m glad to share these differing views on this important issue, I’m still not comfortable with the deliberate taking of a life, whether it be by a ruthless killer or our own government.

I re-read a tweet I received from Shelly Nagle, which said: “Yes. Death for murderers! My sister was murdered & hidden in a hole for almost 14 years! Her killer received 7-14 years. NO JUSTICE!!!”

I researched the case of Nagle’s sister, Sherry Leighty. She was murdered by her father-in-law, Kenneth Leighty, and buried on his Pennsylvania property. Leighty left the mother of his three grandchildren to rot in the ground and the children thinking their mother had abandoned them. He didn’t get the death penalty, and that seems like a shame.

Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email Diane@DianeDimond.net