- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2017

Neither public opinion nor legal rulings on the death penalty in the United States remain fixed. Upfront, we acknowledge that the judicial system does not provide complete impartiality and perfect justice.

But the fact remains that the majority of citizens recognize that some crimes demand the ultimate punishment be meted out on the guilty.

The Pew Research Center website contains a treasure of public opinion data on the subject, going back years. A recent post stated:

“Support for the death penalty in the U.S. has fallen dramatically in the past two decades, but more Americans still favor than oppose it. A Pew Research Center poll in August and September 2016 found that 49% favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 42% oppose it. But support is at its lowest level in more than 40 years. Democrats account for much of the decline in support over the past two decades. In 2016, just 34% of Democrats favored the death penalty, compared with 72% of Republicans.

And speaking of 40 years, it was in January of 1977 that a prisoner was executed in the U.S. after almost ten years of executions being stayed. Before that, the last execution occurred fifty years ago this Friday.

On June 2, 1967, Colorado put to death Luis Jose’ Monge for the first-degree murder of his pregnant wife and three of his ten children (and, of course, the child in the womb too).

The case against Monge was simple. Though he apparently had planned on killing his entire family and then committing suicide, he ended up calling the police and confessing to the murders. Two had been beaten with a fire poker. A preschool son was strangled. An infant daughter was stabbed.

Apparently, Monge’s motive was to hide an ongoing sexual molestation of one of his daughters. Better to kill his entire family and die himself than to be exposed as a molester? For such a man, the death penalty was certainly fitting.

The jury recommended execution for his judgment, and six years after the crime, Monge entered the gas chamber at the Colorado State Penitentiary. Twenty minutes later, he was pronounced dead. It would be the final time Colorado used the gas chamber. And, it would be the final execution anywhere in the U.S. until the aforementioned January 1977 resumption of the death penalty.

During these years, death penalty opponents took the issue all the way to the Supreme Court (Furman v. Georgia, 1972). And so, the lower courts stayed all pending executions. And so, Monge’s execution — fifty years ago this Friday —has the distinction of being the last for a decade.

But thirty years to the day of Monge’s execution, Timothy McVeigh stood in a Federal Court and heard a judgment of “guilty” declared against him for his murderous actions at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. One hundred sixty-eight people died. Six hundred eighty were injured.

In that courtroom on June 2, 1997, McVeigh was pronounced guilty. And eleven days later, the jury recommended the death penalty.

Technically, he was convicted of the eight counts of first-degree murder for the federal officers he killed in the blast. And that is why McVeigh’s 2001 execution was conducted in a federal prison — a just end to the life of the mass murder who loathed the federal government. His was the first federal execution since 1963.

Improvements in the judicial process are a constant concern. Short of eternity — and God’s perfect judicial declarations — human declarations of guilt and innocence will always be imperfect. Sometimes, they may even be intentionally skewed toward injustice.

But once the debate over capital punishment begins, press home the logical conclusions of those who would argue against the state having any right to execute a citizen.

Press that thesis to its Timothy McVeigh or Luis Monge conclusion. Should these two men have been sentenced to live out the remainder of their natural life in prison?

No, they should not have — and they didn’t.

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