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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Murderers Should Be Put to Death

On Monday, Scott Peterson, 30, was arraigned on two counts of murder. He pleaded innocent to both. He is accused of murdering his wife, Laci, who was eight months pregnant with their son. Laci, 27, disappeared on Dec. 24, 2002.

Laci's decapitated body and that of her baby were found about a mile and a half apart along the shore of the San Francisco Bay on April 18.

When police arrested Peterson, he had lost weight, changed his facial hair and hair color, and was carrying a large sum of cash - suspicious behavior for someone who claims to be innocent. Should Peterson be found guilty, prosecutors will likely request he be sentenced to the death penalty.

In a less publicized case, an Oregon man was sentenced to death on April 17, for murdering his wife and three children, all of whom were under the age of 5. Christian Longo, 29, pleaded guilty to killing his wife, Mary Jane, 34, and their youngest child, but was convicted of all four murders after the bodies were found along the Oregon coast in late December of 2001.

During his trial, Longo was described as having "a taste for fine wine and cars his family could not afford" ( When the FBI caught him, Longo was at a beach resort in Mexico.

These men are two of countless examples why the death penalty should not be abolished, as groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International often argue.

Opponents of the death penalty cite arguments ranging from the goal of rehabilitation to the execution of innocents and discrimination as reasons not to sentence a criminal to death. These reasons, however, grow less valid with each passing year.

"Nobody has come out with a study that says the death penalty deters crime, and an eye-for-an-eye type of justice is not a good form of justice," said Ken Hadley, Longo's attorney, in a last-ditch effort to save his client.

While the death penalty may not deter future criminals, it will prevent convicted ones from committing more crimes. The penalty should be viewed as punishment first, and then as lesson for others.

And Gandhi's "an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind" theory can only be seen as na??ve when applied to Peterson, assuming he is found guilty, and Longo, who testified to his crimes. A life in prison will serve these men no purpose; they will have no chance of parole, and even if they did, why should they enjoy a life they denied their families?

The death penalty has come a long way since its inception in the 1700s B.C. when it was first included in the code of King Hammurabi, and since coming to the United States in 1608, it has continually been reevaluated and reformed to ensure fairness and effectiveness.

In the beginning, criminals - and I use the term loosely - were executed through crucifixion, drowning, burning or other cruel methods for "crimes" as ridiculous as stealing fruit. Based on this, today's murderers should consider themselves lucky to get a lethal injection.

Aside from the more humane methods to administer the sentence, laws have been refined to include specific crimes for which criminals can receive the death penalty.

In June of 1972, the case of Furman v. Georgia led the Supreme Court to suspend the death penalty after voiding 40 death penalty statutes. Four years later, after several states redrafted the statues, the death penalty was reinstated.

Currently, in New York, lethal injection is the means used to kill only criminals convicted of first-degree murder. The state maintains the (pointless) option of convicting a murderer to life in prison without parole.

Of the other 37 states that currently use the death penalty, all administer the punishment for some degree of murder. Some also apply the sentence to kidnappers, drug traffickers and aircraft hijackers. These crimes, while they may seem petty on paper, often have far-reaching and long-lasting effects that are punishable by death. Think: Elizabeth Smart, George Jung, Sept. 11, 2001.

The crimes allowed for the death penalty have been modified through the years, proving that the list is not arbitrary and indiscriminant. In 1977, it was ruled unconstitutional for the death penalty to be applied to rapists (of adults) who did not kill their victims. Although they commit an atrocious crime, sexual offenders (of adults) should not be put to death.

As a result of these changes, the number of executions has dropped severely from several decades ago, due largely in part to emerging technology that helps exonerate suspects that might otherwise have been found guilty. In the United States, there were nearly 1,300 executions in the 1940s, a number that fell to only 191 between 1960 and 1976.

Obviously, the death penalty is too broad an issue to tackle here. The policy, like any other, requires careful analysis of precedent, fairness and effectiveness. When all is said and done, though, I'd rather take the chance at dissuading someone from murder with the fear of his or her own death while ridding the world of a killer.

"We tried too hard to protect our kids from everything," said Longo at his trial. "It turns out that I'm the one the family needed protection from."

You can bet that if it were a stranger who killed his wife and children, Longo would be advocating the death of the murderer.



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