AMERICA'S support for capital punishment slips significantly when people are asked whether a killer should, instead of death, receive a sentence of life without parole.
People want justice to the extent that is possible, and the death penalty accomplishes nothing more for society than a certain life sentence does.
Even proponents concede that capital punishment fails miserably as a deterrent to would-be killers. Only the executed person is really prevented from killing again. Life without parole is just as effective.
Capital punishment also falls short as retribution. The 1994 execution of John Frederick Thanos, the first in Maryland in 33 years, and the 1997 execution of Flint Gregory Hunt may have seemed like proper vengeance at first glance, but their deaths did not fully satisfy the thirst for justice.
The mother of one of Thanos' victims told The Sun three years after his execution that the killer's death brought some relief, some closure -- but only for a while. Her quest for justice remained incomplete even after she, like other family members of victims, suffered through an appeals process that is necessarily long to prevent the state from executing the wrong person.
Most importantly, society loses far more than it gains when the state imposes the death penalty. By sanctioning a killing, the state is guilty of the very action it most fervently deplores.
Pub Date: 11/17/98