In Perspective

Bill Neinast

Neanderthals roamed Europe 600,000 to 30,000 years ago.  About 60,000 years ago, Shanidar 3, one of our forebears from that era, crawled into a cave in what is now Iraq and died.

Evolutionary anthropologists believe he died of wounds from a hand thrown spear.  As clubs and stones were the weapons of Neanderthals, the anthropologists theorize that Shanidar died at the hands of one of our closer relatives. A Homo Erectus immigrant from Africa, where spears and arrows were already in use, may have been the spear thrower.

Fast forward to the Alps between Austria and Italy.  That is where Otzi the Iceman was found in a melting glacier in 1991.  Anthropologists determined that he was killed by an arrow about 3,300 BC.

Then there is the Biblical story of the first fratricide in recorded history.  According to the book of “Genesis,” Cain, the first born of Adam and Eve, killed his younger brother, Abel.

The Bible indicates that the motive for Abel’s murder was jealousy.  There is no way to know, however, why Shanidar and Otzi were killed. Maybe protecting turf was in play. 

Whatever the reason, humans and the precursors of humans have been killing each other since long before the beginning of written history. Among the reasons, explanations, justifications, and motives for the carnage are hatred, revenge, rage, impulse, greed, lust, power, mental derangement, and possibly recognition through publicity.

Murderers are both male and female.  They come in all ages, shapes, and backgrounds.   They kill alone, with partners, or in groups and have only one victim or many.

In recent history, human butchers include Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy. The ripper terrorized London. Bundy, a law student, tortured and killed at least 30 women throughout the U.S.

Also, the tabloids of the 1890’s were filled with accounts of Lizzie Borden who was tried and acquitted for murdering her father and step-mother with an ax.  This incident led to the ditty:

                                          Lizzie Borden took an axe

                                          And gave her mother forty whacks.

                                          When she saw what she had done

                                          She gave her father forty-one.

Leopold and Loeb cannot be forgotten.  Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr., and Richard Albert Loeb were wealthy law students at the University of Chicago. Both were considered brilliant.  They murdered 14-year-old Robert Franks to see if they could commit the perfect crime and to see how it felt to kill someone.

These thrill seekers were sentenced to life in prison.  Loeb was killed by a fellow inmate, but Leopold was paroled after 33 years confinement. He was 66 years old when he died in Puerto Rico of a diabetes related heart attack.

The point of this macabre history is to debunk at least one of the four theories of the justifications of punishment: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation.

A death sentence is frequently the punishment of choice in murder cases. The argument used to justify that ultimate punishment is the second one listed above--deterrence.

Under that argument, societies have been stoning, crucifying, hanging, beheading, shooting, electrocuting, and injecting lethal drugs into the veins of murderers since the beginning of written history.  Those governmental killings are supposed to deter others from committing heinous crimes.

In the United States today, because of the expenses of protracted trials and endless appeals, it costs much more finally to execute a criminal than it would take to confine him for life.  Such expensive punishments obviously are not deterrents, as the murder rate has been on a consistent upward trend.  Also, rehabilitation is not even considered, as a dead person cannot be rehabilitated.

That leaves only retribution and incapacitation as justifications. 

There is no question that incapacitation is in play, because a dead person is incapacitated.  Confinement for life without the possibility of parole, however, is just as effective an incapacitation and very much cheaper to impose.

That leaves retribution as the only valid justification theory for the death penalty.  Anyone clamoring for the death penalty, therefore, should be asked, “Is it really worth millions of dollars just to make you feel good to hear that another person has been murdered by the state?  Will you still feel good if it turns out that the executed man or woman was innocent?”

So here’s the perspective.

Three horrible domestic massacres currently dominate the news.  There are the deaths in the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords in Arizona, the 13 dead soldiers and civilians at Fort Hood, and the most recent carnage in Aurora, Colorado.

The thousands, maybe millions, of executions for murder throughout history did not deter a single shot fired in those incidents.  So how will executing all or any of the perpetrators of these atrocities prevent further incidents?

Executing one or more of these murderers will be retribution for some.  The executions will make them feel good, but that euphoria is not worth the millions of dollars it will cost to insert the needle. 

Imprisonment for life will be just as effective an incapacitation and may be more of a punishment than letting the murderers peacefully go to sleep from an injection.

Now is the time to join the rest of the world and abolish the death penalty. Give up the folly that death at the hands of the state will deter more murders.

Let the killers suffer like caged animals for life.  Maybe they will find the fate of Loeb at the hands of another caged animal.


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