Bob Donley reports that capital punishment is as hotly debated an issue now as it ever has been. The death penalty goes back to colonial times. It is estimated that about 13,000 people, mostly men, have been executed throughout our nation’s history.
Amnesty International says that “the death penalty is the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights.” Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, declared, “We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing. We cannot defend life by taking life.”
On the other hand, says Donley, the death penalty has its defenders. Among them is Steven Stewart, the prosecuting attorney for Clark County, Indiana. Stewart’s position is this: “It cheapens the life of an innocent murder victim to say that society has no right to keep the murderer from ever killing again. In my view, society has not only the right, but the duty to act in self defense to protect the innocent.”
There was in recent years a lull in the carrying out of death penalties. And for a few years, Donley notes, it was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia ruled that imposing the death penalty in cases like Furman constituted cruel and unusual punishment. But four years later, the Court changed its mind in Gregg v. Georgia, holding that the death penalty as long as it was not done in such a way as to be cruel and unusual.
According to the latest figures available, Donley says, 1,177 people have been executed since the death penalty moratorium was lifted. A majority of states still have the death penalty as an option, but Texas is by far the most active in carrying out the death penalty, accounting for over one-third of all executions nationwide.
The debate on the morality and the cost of the death penalty are certain to continue.
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