- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2014


For those of us on the right side of the aisle, last Wednesday’s botched execution of an Arizona murderer shouldn’t do anything to change our minds about the death penalty.

We should have already realized long ago that the death penalty is a terrible policy that must be abolished.

The death penalty is an affront to all we hold dear as conservatives and libertarians. It is a disastrous policy that fails at its goal of preventing crimes, it wastes taxpayers’ hard-earned money, it has almost certainly been responsible for killing innocent Americans and it empowers government with the authority to kill its own citizens.

The July 23 execution of Joseph Wood was supposed to last 10 minutes from the time the lethal-injection process began until he died as he slept. It turned into a horrific ordeal in which the man gasped, snorted and struggled to breathe for the better part of two hours.

The execution was the second in three months that appeared to violate the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. On April 28, Oklahoma officials calamitously bungled the execution of Clayton Lockett. His autopsy and eyewitness accounts reveal that executioners without adequate training spent more than an hour attempting to insert IV lines into Lockett. Ultimately, the IVs were incorrectly and painfully jammed into the prisoner, preventing the lethal concoction of drugs from taking effect. Lockett writhed and groaned in pain until executioners attempted to halt the proceeding. They failed to do so before he died from a heart attack apparently caused by the trauma.

Why are botched executions so common in the United States? Undoubtedly, it’s because we allow the same incompetent dopes who can’t manage to issue driver’s licenses without massive lines or set up Obamacare websites without preposterous screwups to kill people.

We also allow inept state governments to decide, ultimately, whether someone is innocent or guilty, and whether a criminal should live or die. It should come as no surprise, then, that states have wrongfully convicted 143 people who were later released from death row since 1973. That number doesn’t include the scores of others of innocent men and women who undoubtedly currently sit on death row in states across the county — or the unknown number who have been wrongly killed by governments who simply got the wrong guy.

Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004 for burning down his home with his three children inside. Experts now think that the arson theories used to convict Willingham are impossible. As a result, it seems an innocent man was likely executed for an accidental fire.

A Gallup poll found that 79 percent of Americans think that the government should not use drones to kill other Americans — even if they are suspected terrorists. Why should it be any more palatable for the government to use lethal injections or electric chairs to kill other Americans — even if they have done horrifying things?

The disturbing prospect of killing even one innocent person is enough to justify abolishing the death penalty. It certainly seems just and moral to allow vicious criminals to spend their lives locked in prison, unable to hurt anyone, especially when the alternative is occasionally killing innocent people.

Even if we lived in an ideal world where states never executed an innocent person, the death penalty should still be repulsive to conservatives because it is bad public policy on so many levels.

The primary defense of the death penalty is that it deters people from committing violent crimes. That’s total hogwash. States with capital punishment actually have higher murder rates than those without the death penalty. Violent crime statistics indicate that the prospect of life without parole appears to be a greater deterrent than the threat of death.

Taxpayers pay a heavy price for the death penalty. Capital trials are much more expensive than trials with life without parole as the punishment. In California, for example, death penalty cases cost 20 times more to try than similar non-death penalty trials. The cost of housing prisoners on death row is about $30 a day more than an inmate serving a life sentence in most states, or more than $270,000 per prisoner over the span of 25 years. Clearly, eliminating the death penalty would save taxpayers billions.

The death penalty even fails the loved ones of the victims, the very people the punishment is supposed to conciliate. Justice is supposed to be swift and sure, but as Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty points out, “the death penalty is neither.”

“It prolongs pain for victims’ families, dragging them through an agonizing and lengthy process that promises an execution at the beginning but often results in a different sentence in the end.” Further, according to the conservative anti-death penalty organization, “The death penalty showers resources and attention on a few cherry-picked cases, telling families that some lives are more important than others.”

There are clearly many reasons why the death penalty is inconsistent with conservative and libertarian thinking, but let’s pretend for a moment that the death penalty was actually effective and it did deter crime, that it didn’t unnecessarily waste billions of tax dollars, that it only killed the bad guys and that it always brought solace to the families of the slain, even though it doesn’t. Even then, believers in limited government should object to capital punishment.

The fact that the death penalty forces Americans to entrust the government with the greatest power possible — the power to kill its citizens — should be reason enough to fight for the elimination of the practice.

Drew Johnson is an editorial writer at The Washington Times.

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