Clicking on banner ads keeps JWR alive
Jewish World Review May 31, 2002 / 20 Sivan 5762

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Reasonable doubts about executions | KANSAS CITY, Mo. I was in a conference room here at my office the other day watching a videotape about a Missouri death penalty case when Kansas Gov. Bill Graves came in to meet with our editorial board.

Graves wanted to talk about the budget mess his state then found itself in and about his frustration at being unable to round up enough votes to solve it.

I shut off the TV, pulled out the tape and told the governor that as bad as his budget woes were, at least he wasn't having to decide what to do in a terribly difficult death penalty case.

Graves acknowledged the relief he felt that in his time in office he had not had to decide whether a death-row inmate lived or died. Nor will he have to decide that before he leaves office next year. Having the ultimate say on whether a prisoner dies, he said, has to be the worst part of a governor's job - whether one is for or against capital punishment.

In fact, one of the many reasons I oppose the death penalty is that it places in the hands of fallible human beings an irrevocable decision that can cut off the future for someone who is innocent of the crime. That's exactly the position of people pleading the case of Joseph Amrine, convicted of the 1985 stabbing death of a fellow prisoner at Missouri State Penitentiary (now Jefferson City Correctional Center).

The Amrine matter is fascinating. It's another example of the kinds of controversial cases that should cause proponents of capital punishment to acknowledge that the way our judicial system works in death penalty cases is indefensible.

I don't want to focus here on just that case, however, because the reason to abolish capital punishment goes far beyond questions of tainted and recanted testimony the Amrine case raises. And it goes beyond Missouri.

Earlier this year, a commission in Illinois reported that its 14 members were "unanimous in the belief that no system, given human nature and frailties, could ever be devised or constructed that would work perfectly and guarantee absolutely that no innocent person is ever again sentenced to death."

Since the death penalty was reinstated there in 1977, Illinois has freed 13 death-row inmates after acknowledging that the wrong men had been convicted. Imagine that. Then imagine how many other states may have executed innocent people.

Whenever I write about capital punishment, I hear from readers who say I'm soft on crime and in favor of letting malicious criminals go free. It's a ridiculous conclusion. I'm not against bringing people to justice, not against them paying for their crimes, not against keeping some dangerous criminals locked up until they die, not against any system that's fair both to those charged with crimes and to victims of crimes.

I want victims and their families and friends to believe justice was done. I also want states, on behalf of their citizens, to have the chance to reclaim and redeem the wasted lives of criminals. I'm against the defective system that in Illinois alone put at least 13 innocent people on death row. And I'm against retributive justice that seeks not restitution and redemption but only revenge.

That's one of the many things wrong with the death penalty. Not only does the system occasionally kill the wrong person, but even when the right person is executed, it closes off any possibility for rehabilitation or even eventual reconciliation with the victim's families and friends.

About 3,700 people are on death row in the 38 states that allow the death penalty. Included among them, no doubt, are some evil people who should be kept away from the public until they die. But just for the sake of argument, let's say juries have convicted the true criminal in 99 percent of those cases. (Do we ever do anything right 99 percent of the time?) That still would leave 37 innocent persons waiting to die.

I don't know whether Joe Amrine is among them, though his supporters make a compelling case. What I can tell you is that I'm ashamed of a system that leaves itself open to such preventable and atrocious error. It doesn't have to be this way.

JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.

05/10/02: Business savvy for graduates
05/02/02: Exporting our exclusivity
04/25/02: Life's stories carry messages about values
04/19/02: Our life force's search for fellow life forces
03/27/02: Can corporations behave ethically?
03/19/02: Space Family Robinsons
02/21/02: Lock, stocks and bonds
02/14/02: In space, the dark matters
02/07/02: Train doctors to have caring hands and hearts
01/31/02: A different feel to my life and to my country?
01/24/02: How green is my universe?
01/17/02: The end is near, eventually
01/08/02: Important lessons arrive out of the past
12/19/01: Lost in the cloning debate
12/10/01: It's all in the name: Unraveling the mystery of Osama's whereabouts
11/19/01: Flying with damaged trust
11/02/01: Recent, recognized research is a hard nut to crack
10/31/01: Many paradoxes in life
10/25/01: Newly found planets show the cosmos is still strange
10/19/01: Just getting caught up
10/17/01: It was a time for tea and sympathy
10/08/01: What makes an authentic patriot?
10/04/01: It's OK to twist and shout
09/17/01: One precious life among many
09/13/01: Remember who we are
09/11/01: Sometimes all children need is shelter from the storm
09/05/01: Couldn't run or throw, but a hero just the same
08/28/01: Lesson for the scientific faithful: Some theories come with strings attached
08/27/01: When waste in space is a waste of space
08/21/01: In complex world, we lack tools to carve out understanding
08/09/01: Visited while asleep by gang of magical mischief makers
08/03/01: Recognizing the limits of one's capacity
07/27/01: We are more than the sum of our work days
07/12/01: Some stars, like some people, never shine
07/11/01: Our deeply embedded need for order
07/03/01: Not-so-famous tour explores not-so-rich neighborhoods
06/28/01: Driven to tell the truth about golf and government
06/25/01: When poetry becomes destructive
06/21/01: We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a word from deep space
06/14/01: Theory of revolution explains why some things get lost
06/11/01: Shamanic gewgaws
06/06/01: Charity begins at homes with lemonade stands
05/30/01: When are wars worth dying in?
05/23/01: Cruising along that bumpy highway
05/09/01: If you're in the write mood, wish the U.S. happy birthday
05/07/01: Killing McVeigh will wound us all
05/01/01: Dubya reinforcing negative GOP stereotypes?


Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved