The Lesson of the Bloodsworth Case


After spending nine years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, Kirk Noble Bloodsworth was able to walk out of the House of Corrections in Jessup Monday only because Maryland makes it hard to carry out the death penalty.

The jury in Mr. Bloodsworth's first trial on charges of sexually assaulting and murdering a nine-year-old Rosedale girl did impose the ultimate penalty. When that verdict was thrown out on appeal, he was tried a second time and given two life sentences. He maintained his innocence and was finally freed this week only after a new type of DNA testing proved he wasn't the killer.

Mr. Bloodsworth's case offers a strong practical argument for abolishing capital punishment: Since the death penalty is irreversible, it can never allow for correcting the kind of mistake that led to his ordeal. The number of innocent people who are put to death may actually be quite small. Yet the chilling possibility of a mistaken execution is underscored every time a case like this comes along.

Such practical considerations notwithstanding, decency and morality offer even more compelling arguments against imposing the ultimate penalty.

The Sun has consistently opposed the death penalty as a barbaric throwback unworthy of a civilized society. Almost every other Western nation has abandoned capital punishment as a vestige of a more primitive stage of social development when the main purpose of punishment was satisfying society's collective thirst for revenge.

We no longer cut off the hands of thieves nor subject felons to public whippings. The state-sanctioned taking of life is a similar anachronism. It has no place in an enlightened nation. Many studies have shown the death penalty does not deter crime, is impossible to administer in a racially non-discriminatory manner and its application is arbitrary, capricious and inimical to the values of a humane society. It should be abolished.

Recent Supreme Court decisions have made it easier for states to expedite executions. This was an unfortunate overreaction to widespread fear of crime and impatience with a criminal justice system that often appears lenient on criminals. It is our hope that what the same court has called the "evolving standards of decency" of a maturing society eventually will force lawmakers to bring the U.S. into line with the rest of the world by abolishing a practice that makes the state party to murder.

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