Dirty Rotton Liars and the Death Penalty

graphicThe other day I stepped into the lion’s den to debate the death penalty at UC Berkeley. My opponent was Aundre Herron, an appeals lawyer with Death Penalty Focus. Prior to the debate we had a fruitful discussion about the need for expanded prevention funding for at risk youth. She was a nice lady and I told her that she was making it difficult for me to debate with the passion that I like to bring to the subject. She agreed. We were both wrong.
 
Ms. Herron launched right into the same tired arguments that are being parroted by “abolitionists” who are supporting Proposition 62. If passed it will replace the death penalty with a sentence of “true life”. Abolitionists proudly point to a list of 156-innocent death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973. That is totally misleading! They bemoan the fact that numerous innocent people have been executed, when they haven’t. They say that states that do not have the death penalty have the lowest murder rates. Just don’t tell that to Chicago, Ill, Detroit, MI or Baltimore, MD: three of America’s murder capitals in states that don’t have the death penalty. They say that California has invested $5-billion in the execution of 13-men, which is simplistic and misleading. They do all of this wrapped in a cloak of moral superiority.
 
I was ready. I told the students that if they logged onto the KlaasKids Foundation website they would find 26-empirical studies that clearly demonstrate that when executions in the USA increase, murders decrease, and when executions decrease, murders increase. She countered that each was imperfect, because all of them were biased; therefore there was no evidence of deterrence. However, if lack of perfection is a synonym for flawed, all empirical research will always be flawed, because perfection can never be achieved and bias cannot be erased. One indisputable fact remains: there is a simple but dramatic relationship between the number of executions carried out and a corresponding reduction in the number of murders the following year.
 
There is no evidence that the state of California has ever executed an innocent person. Governor Jerry Brown, who served a term as California Attorney General and is personally opposed to the death penalty, has said: “I think people have gotten exquisite due process in the state of California. It goes on for 20 or 25 years and to think that they’ve missed anything like they have in some other states; I have not seen any evidence of it. None. I know people say, ‘Oh, there have been all these innocent people,’ Well, I have not seen one name on death row that’s been told to me.”
 
Ms. Herron said that California has spent $5-billion to execute 13-death row inmates. This is categorically untrue. You can learn the truth by reading Politifact’s analysis.
 
She said that sloppy police work, aggressive prosecution, and blood thirsty judges were responsible for wrongfully convicting California death row inmates. If she really thinks that vilifying the good guys somehow strengthens her argument, then I believe her confidence is misplaced.
 
Finally, she concluded by saying, “The death penalty is a failed public policy that masquerades as justice and instead commits more violence in response to violence. It is like trying to extinguish fire with more fire. Every time the state kills someone it diminishes us.”
 
That somebody with a minority opinion can be so certain of her moral superiority requires further examination. Abolitionists can look into the eyes of a death row inmate, hear his pitiful story, work tirelessly to set aside the execution and, with that goal accomplished, feel good about themselves for having ‘saved a life.’ After all, isn’t saving a life the moral high ground? However, if the death penalty were found to have a deterrent effect and each convicted criminal spared would cost 8-innocent lives, anyone who had been involved in the process of saving the life of a convicted murderer would therefore have been complicit in the mass murder of innocent victims. The thought of being an unwitting accomplice to mass murder is too horrific for a good person to contemplate, therefore, for the sake of a death penalty opponent’s own psychological well-being, the evidence must be denied.