WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

Big Push for Capital Punishment Repeal in Delaware

It came a little late compared to some other states, but a bipartisan group of Delaware lawmakers and religious leaders has launched a major push to abolish the death penalty in Delaware.

State Senator Karen Peterson (D-Stanton) is spearheading the effort, with support from Senate Minority Leader (R-Milford). Although bipartisan, and although Simpson is from downstate, this battle still has the look of a north-south confrontation.

Democratic Attorney-General Beau Biden opposes the abolition of capital punishment; I remember asking him about this issue when he was running for A.G. the first time. Of course, whether on capital punishment (for) or gun restrictions (for), the Bidens have always sided with law enforcement.

Governor Jack Markell is sitting on the fence, unlike Maryland's Democratic governor, who has become a strong proponent of the anti-death penalty cause.

Governor Markell, would you do what Illinois Governor Pat Quinn did -- Consult with Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for the movie DEAD MAN WALKING and with retired South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu? Or would you consider such discussions irrelevant for Delaware?

I've followed this issue closely, and I detect several strains of opposition to capital punishment:

(1). Philosophically and morally, it's just plain wrong. Let God judge the offender in the end.

(2). Continued reliance on the death penalty puts the United States in the same category of nations as the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People's Republic of (communist) China. Do we really want that distinction?

Others come up with more practical arguments:

(3). If capital punishment is such a deterrent, why do some of the leading death penalty states often have higher levels of violent crime? Or does one begat the other?

(4). Even with seemingly endless appeals, innocent people have ended up on death row and innocent people have been executed. Texas is notorious in that regard. Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, more than a decade after then-Republican Governor George Ryan made international headlines by imposing a moratorium on executions out of concern that innocent people could be put to death by a justice system that had wrongly condemned 13 men. Can Delaware guarantee that every single person on the state's death row has been truly guilty? Is that even possible?

(5). The cost of appeals and maintaining a death row is prohibitive (A key argument from death-penalty foes here in Delaware.) Of course, supporters of the death penalty might say that's a vicious circle: If the appeals were streamlined, the cost would inevitably go down. But even with the endless appeals, as noted above, some innocent people have been executed.

(6). The infrequent application of the death penalty. Most people who murder don't end up on death row. (Of course, inversely, that could be an argument for MORE capital punishment, not less...)

Then the arguments from proponents of the death penalty:

(1). Someone who has already murdered is apt to kill again. What benefit is it to society to keep that person alive?

(2). How could we ever devise a survey to determine the state of mind of some enranged (but otherwise sane) person tempted to murder another, but constrained by the existence of the death penalty?

(3). What about someone convicted of murdering a police officer or a judge or a witness? Shouldn't these be special cases? Or what about a convicted murderer in prison who murders another inmate or a guard? Absent the death penalty, what other punishment is available? Torture?

Of course, for the minority of people who consider themselves "consistent" pro-lifers, favoring repeal of capital punishment is just one leg of the three-legged stool, which also includes opposition to abortion rights and war. Good luck trying to find a politician who is similarly consistent. It bucks all political parties, including minor parties.

Or consider this: Why is it that U.S. politicians with a "progressive" streak - favoring both abortion rights and gay rights (for good or bad, the dominant trend in the Western world) - suddenly get tentative or mute when it comes to abolishing the death penalty?

(I have a theory: For a couple of generations, Republicans tarred and feathered Democrats for being "soft" on crime, the corollary to the "McGovernite" Democrats being "soft" on the use of U.S. military power. For more than three decades, many Dems have been trying to live down that stereotype.)

You can hear my interview with State Senator Karen Peterson (D-Stanton), who is spearheading the movement to abolish the death penalty in Delaware. (No luck - yet - getting Attorney-General Beau Biden to defend his pro-capital punishment position.)

Audio Here

Posted at 7:37am on March 13, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 8:06am

Repealing the death penalty would be a slap in the face to the families of murder victims. Already these families have suffered and wait for years for closure on these crimes.

Overturning the death penalty means there will never be closure for the families to see justice be served.

For once, let's think about the victims and victims' families.

Mike from Delaware
Wed, Mar 13, 2013 10:44am
Some thoughts: The repeal death-penalty folks keep saying how expensive it is to put a person to death. Change a couple of things; allow one repeal trial. The accused gets a free lawyer usually, but as Obamacare sets a fee for doctors, so should the government set a lawyer's fee for those lawyers who represent these folks as the taxpayer is paying, and the lawyer shouldn't become wealthy on our dime. If still found guilty in the repeat trial, then execute immediately by lining up guilty against a brick or cement wall -- have five riflemen shoot. ONLY allow government official and if desired, victims family. No media, no circus. This is a sad occasion as we as a society have failed. Bullets are cheap and death is instantaneously, so that's got to be far more humane than shooting three different drugs into a person and watching his body go into convulsions before the condemned person expires. Thus the cost is now far cheaper than keeping the person in prison for life.

For the life sentence: No parole, early release, etc. Cut costs by eliminating cable TV, gym equipment, and other luxuries; these folks lose all rights. Only have books and educational material available. Put them to work each day doing something like making license plates, etc. Funny these folks seem to get more stuff and perks than many poor people who are in a nursing home; doesn't seem right.

So in either case, there are ways to cut the cost and yet do the job.

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 11:21am
Why can't Democrats be consistent? A woman must be protected in her "right" to chose to kill her unborn baby. The state therefore should be protected in its right to kill a criminal.

Allan Loudell
Wed, Mar 13, 2013 11:36am
That's my point, Jim H.

For the overwhelming number of Democrats AND Republicans, neither side is consistent.

(Although in a sort of perverse way, the Bidens are: Both pro-abortion rights and pro-capital punishment. From that perspective, consistently pro-death!)

To teatime... You're assuming the victims' families get closure. I've read numerous accounts where they don't. Furthermore, even if they did, does that necessarily mean society has the right to execute? In most of the "civilized" world - and except in the countries we generally abhor for their violations of human rights - the answer is "no".

And I note neither teatime nor Mike from Delaware (and particularly my friend, Mike from Delaware, who wants to streamline the process) responds to the mounting evidence of innocent people on death row and innocent people who have been executed. (Cops railroading a defendant; poor handling of evidence; notoriously unreliable eyewitness verifications of suspects; etc.)

Finally, you have the religious argument: Does God give us the right to execute, particularly a nation-state founded as the result of a revolution which killed people?

Allan Loudell

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 2:11pm

The chances of an innocent person being convicted is slim. There are so many rounds of appeals that every fact is examined, multiple times, before an execution is finalized in the court system.

Yes, our society very much has the right to hold people accountable for their actions. That means those who take other people's lives must now forfeit their own. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 6:04pm
I disagree that innocent people aren't routinely put in prison. I would venture as high as 13% of our prisoners are misplaced on death row. You have only to spend some time in our courthouses to see that figure is probably true....

Secondly, 100% of America's prison wardens are against capital punishment. For practical reasons. Death is not a deterrent. To a murderer, it is welcome. It is a way out. It elevates one to hero status. However, seeing a broken old man of 82 who's spent his whole life in prison for killing someone back in 1946, wasting every day, every hour, when he could have had a completely different life, with family and children, a house, and boat; now that is a deterrent.

Thirdly, the cost of appeals plus the execution approaches millions per person. Keeping them for life is cheaper.

The only reason one could even consider the death penalty as an option, is because they want to watch... It is no different from the blood thirstiness of ancient Romans who were willing to pay a week's wage just to see someone die....

When all the time, keeping them in prison is far more of a torture than one second of pain, then their mind goes black.

Capital punishment is a dumb idea and it is quite interesting that it was abolished for a long time by the generation that got their share of killing on the fields of WWII ... and only returned when the draft-dodgers of the Vietnam war got into legislatures, and suddenly had to bend over backwards to prove how uncowardly and manly they supposedly were.....

And a new argument with Delaware roots, is that when Tom Capano - probably the most heinous murderer we've ever had - was able to buy his way out of capital punishment, but someone with no money to defend himself is ceremoniously put to death with lots of hoopla, then capital punishment needs to go. It is arbitrary. It is not just. Imagine if white apartheid South Africa used it on Nelson Mandela?

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 8:04pm
I have always been pro-death penalty, and while I agree 100% with both Teatime and Mike, I do to a certain degree share some agreement with Kavips.

To solve the problem of innocent people on death row, you use DNA evidence as much as possible. In circumstantial cases, I would allow some leeway for life in prison, but no parole under any circumstances.

To add to Teatime's case for closure, the death penalty also guarantees that the convicted murderer will never escape from prison and kill again, which has happened more than once historically speaking.

To answer Allan's issue, there is no right to kill INNOCENT people proactively speaking, such as Hitler and the 3rd Reich did, however the American Revolution was in response to tyranny. Had the king just left everybody alone to go start their own country, there would have been no need for revolution. Unfortunately, as in all wars, innocent people die. Just read the book of Joshua. In that case, God TOLD Joshua to kill women and children lest the same problem arise again in another generation. It's the same situation with Israel having to defend itself from the Palestinian terrorists. Unfortunately, stuff happens.

For me, the main issue with capital punishment has to do with public safety. Texas has the lowest per-capita murder rate in the nation precisely because they have a tough and consistent death penalty. Where there's no fear of the law, there's no deterrent.

Thu, Mar 14, 2013 8:13am
I believe in applying the death penalty, but only to those who have been caught "red-handed"...and there is no question as to the person's guilt.

The death penalty can been seen as a deterrent, but that is not the true reason for it. If we truly live in a law & order society...then there are rules to be followed and if broken, then there are consequences.

If a person willingly murders another person (or persons) then the consequence for this should be death.

Why is there such uproar over the death sentence for a criminal that has been proven guilty, yet it is a "right" to kill an innocent child that has harmed no one?

Thu, Mar 14, 2013 9:20am
Earl. The simple answer you seek, is that we measure Life beginning at birth....

You may believe it should go as far back as conception, but let me roll this by you... If we make the assumption that life according to God does begin at conception, and we know when we ourselves get into the after-life we are told we will be able to recognize one another and have discourse with each other, how will that take place with microscopic cells? Will heaven have rooms designated for the billions of the unborn, not just put there by a woman's choice, but by still-births, and even the monthly release of the lining of the uterus which flushes out any egg fertilized at that time?

I find that image creepy, of having swarms of billions of single-celled souls who never had a thought, never had a heartbeat, never had eyes, never tasted; in fact their whole existence was falling down a tube and landing into a toilet....

IT is rather obvious that anti-abortionism was created by men, who obviously have had no experience with the internal monthly rhythms of a woman...

So tell me. If they are truly living, full-grown children, exactly how will they be represented in heaven? And if you have no idea, how can life then begin at conception?.... And doesn't that completely pull the religious rug out from underneath anti-abortionists' false beliefs....

I don't have an answer. I'm curious on all your take on this... So please, don't hold back...

Thu, Mar 14, 2013 10:03am
All you so-called "Christians" never cease to amaze me. You pull out the Bible all the time, except when it goes against your ideas. Have you forgotten "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"? You want to have state-sponsored murder? Fine! Find someone who has never sinned to be the one to throw the switch or pull the trigger.

Thu, Mar 14, 2013 12:05pm
Shawn... I'm one of those so-called Christians and I amaze myself every day...but probably for different reasons than we amaze you. God is great, and here is to hoping the trend continues... :)

But. If good people don't join in the work to eliminate the death penalty... it will always stay....

Mike from Delaware
Thu, Mar 14, 2013 1:27pm
Shawn, in my post above I stated ways to simply cut costs for either, life in prison and the death penalty. I didn't say I was in favor of the death penalty, but IF our society is going to put prisoners to death, why make it more painful and far more costly, so one appeal using DNA, and 5 bullets.

I am against the death penalty, because I struggle with our right to send someone literally to Hell. So I'd opt for life without parole in a not-so-fancy prison, to keep the cost down.

Thu, Mar 14, 2013 10:46pm

Yes, I personally believe life begins at conception but that's not when most abortions take place. By the time a female is aware she is "with child" the baby has already begun to develop.

Now to answer your theological theory on what happens to all the unborn...I honestly don\'t have a firm idea on what form they will have in the next life but I do believe every child is a gift from God and very few of us are really prepared for the responsibilty of being a parent.

Sun, Mar 17, 2013 6:54pm
Shawn: What you need to do is get into a church which actually teaches the bible in its proper context and spend some time in God's word. You'll find that capital punishment was established by God himself.

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