The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, March 05, 1997, Page 5, Image 5

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Alpha and the Omega
J J. HARDER is a sophomore
broadcasting major and a Daily
Nebraskan columnist
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a
This expression has been thrown
around for years as an advocation
for the death penalty because it is a
paraphrase from the Bible. Many
people argue that if God said it, then
it must be right. As a result, millions
of people are staunch capital
punishment supporters based solely
on one little quote taken from
Exodus 21:24 and do not have much
else to back up their argument —
misrepresenting the Bible and
failing to convey its overall view
There is no doubt that the Bible
supports the death penalty for
capital crimes, but many do not
understand why. God’s position can
be applied to our society today and
can draw the support of atheists as
well. Capital punishment should be
legislated across the country because
it seeks to preserve the inviolability
of human life.
Today our entire judicial system
is in place for the purpose of
correcting violators. Laws, sentenc
ing and imprisonment each try to
rehabilitate the offenders so that
they will cease from engaging in
illegal activities.
However, the death penalty does
not serve the same purpose as these
other policies. I imagine that it is
fairly difficult to modify the future
actions of someone after they have
been executed. This is where it is
most important to understand that
the intention of capital punishment
is to represent the sanctity of life —
not just to give the murderer what’s
coming to him. Life is so sacred that
one person ending the life of another
in a lawless, violent manner should
be forbidden by all.
Our present society does not
comprehend how consecrated life
truly is. Every day I thank God for
the privilege of continuing the
wonderful life that he has provided
for me, while at the same time gang
members across the country are
killing each other without thinking
Oblivious mothers are robbing
their children of their lives before
they even have the opportunity to
see the world. People are pre
empting their own existences
without the understanding that they
all have a purpose in life. If they try
to make the best out of their present
situations, better circumstances will
be provided for them in the future.
I value life above all things but
God, and when it comes right down
to it, many people just do not see its
extreme importance. If one human
takes the life of another, then the life
of the murderer should be taken as
well. This Christian stance forces a
few questions to inevitably arise:
Why would God support the
extermination of something that he
himself created?
God is displeased to see the life of
any human he created come to an
end, but he is knowledgeable of the
holiness of life and recognizes that
murder should be responded to with
the most stem action.
Didn’t God say ‘Do Not Mur
der? ’
Yes, but capital punishment does
not fall under the category of
murder. The original Hebrew text of
the Ten Commandments used the
word rasah which does not apply to
muwth—which is the Hebrew word
for execution. Execution is not just
one form of killing, but rather a
procedure reserved as a response to
Why should non-believers be in
favor of the death penalty?
If by now an atheist has nqt come
to the realization that human life is
the most significant worldly thing,
then there is no persuasion that can
be used to gather his support for
capital punishment.
However, if one believes that life
is the most sacred of all things in
existence, as most people do, then it
is somewhat contradictory to place a
great emphasis on the value of a
murderer’s life. That person should
essentially understand that the
extreme nature of the crime of
murder should be counteracted with
the same act to keep life on a
So if all violent killers should
receive the death penalty, why don’t
Exactly. There is too much red
tape involved with dispensing the
proper punishment. Today the legal
costs of eventually executing the
offender often outweighs the
expense of imprisoning him for life
at the state corrections facility of
your choice.
This is unacceptable. Bills like
the one presently pending in the
Nebraska Legislature limiting the
amount of death row appeals should
begin to appear across the country.
Our nation should have enough
faith in our judicial system that after
a murderer’s conviction and a small
number of appeals — preferably in
the single digits — the offender
should receive the most extreme
punishment — but only for the most
extreme of crimes.
Capital punishment is a valid
policy that is not relegated to those
with religious beliefs, but of all
citizens of the United States. It is a
moral issue, but very much a legal
issue at the same time. Executions
will cut down on violent crimes as a
deterrent if used in the correct
Today, if someone is supposed to
“get the chair,” he will probably not
ever even come close. If we elimi
nate the brouhaha and rhetoric and
get down to the bottom line, people
will begin to see the true value of
life and the number of violent
killings will go down!
The death penalty is an important
part of society and should forever be.
When it first dawned thousands of
years ago, people actually grasped
the concept that human life should
be held above all other things on the
Earth. Now the death penalty is
being questioned only because our
society does not emphasize life’s
ultimate value. Put simply, a life just
isn’t what it used to be.
Highly illogical
1 he arguments for the death
penalty are most often governed by
emotion. They are then backed up by
weakly thought out positions and
undocumented, illogical and largely
untraceable lines of thought.
If we are to argue capital punish
ment is right for America we need to
clarify the argument.
First, I agree that on the surface it
sounds like a good idea. It seems
like the slogan “a life for a life”
would balance some imaginary scale
in our heads. This is the reason
politicians have manipulated the
highly under-educated American
public on this issue. They play off
the voters’ base emotions — fear
and anger.
We have to think about the issue
rationally. Arguments such as “what
if it was your son?” and “what if you
were an innocent man executed for
murder?” are attempts to personalize
the issue. We each need to think
about the death penalty, not just
react to it emotionally.
When we think about this or any
other problem facing the American
justice system, we need to debate
within the confines of that system of
justice. We are not arguing the
separation of church and state. If
you believe your God told you it is
right to execute people — I will not
argue. Those are your personal
beliefs, and they have nothing to do
with the American justice system or
the " 1 punishment debate.
we are going to repeal or
amend the Constitution the only
valid debates are: Can the death
penalty work as a part of our current
legal system? Is it acceptable under
the Constitution? Can it be used
under any just legal system?
Can it work?
It obviously does not work, and it
probably never will for three
1. Our system of justice destroys
any chance that the death penalty
can be a deterrent. The only way for
such a punishment to be a deterrent
— if we are assuming it ever could
be — is for it to be invariably and
swiftly carried out. The death
penalty is not carried out in this
manner and cannot realistically be a
2. Racism, sexism and economic
inequality undeniably exist. Because
of these three factors capital punish
ment eannot be fairly applied. We
have no choice but to rely on the
jury system. The personalities and
personal prejudices of jurors have an
enormous effect on the outcome on
the trial of a capital crime.
Statistically, a black man on trial
for the murder of a white person is
4.3 times more likely to receive the
death penalty than if the victim was
black. Are white lives worth more?
No, but race is clearly a factor.
The problem is greatly magnified
if the defendant is poor. In America,
quality legal representation is
expensive. I don’t think anyone will
debate that there is a big difference
between what F. Lee Bailey can do
for you in a trial compared to an
inexperienced public defender.
Is it constitutional?
Clearly not. If we are predisposed
to use our “logic and critical
thinking skills” instead of emotion,
we can see the death penalty is, in
fact, incompatible with our Constitu
tion. Of course, I have a few iron
clad reasons.
1. The legal basis of our judiciary
is blind justice. Retribution, of
course, is a common defense for
capital punishment. This is totally
against the principles of American
justice. If someone is convicted of
assault we do not beat them. We do
not rape rapists. These examples
would be cruel and unusual punish
The counter argument can then
be made that the murderer is cruel to
the victim. I agree. No one is pro
murder, but the fact remains that
retribution is not part of the laws of
our land.
2. The “cruel and unusual
punishment paradox” is a real
problem for proponents of the death
penalty who claim to base their
argument on logic. It sounds
technical, but it is actually quite
simple. In this land cruel and
unusual punishment is unconstitu
It can also take decades for a
defendant to go through a thorough
appeal process. If you will admit
that telling someone he cm- she is
going to die, but then postponing the
execution, is psychological torture
—as I believe we all must—then it
is unconstitutional.
Many say that the solution is to
shorten the appeals process. We
can’t simply “rush them to execu
tion,” as many say, because we may
be wrong. We must let the appeals
process accomplish its intended
purpose. And we cannot keep them
on death row mentally abusing
them, thus a paradox.
Is it just?
Three irrefutable reasons why it
could not—
1. Logic. If we analyze the death
penalty, then for it to work as a
deterrent we first have to assume
that people who commit murders are
rational people; that these people
would make the decision to murder
if the penalty was life imprisonment,
but they would be deterred if they
faced the death penalty. Absurdity
runs rampant through this argu
2. The largest problem: What if
you are wrong? We have all seen
cases where the accused is clearly
guilty. In some cases there is a
signed confession, videotaped
evidence or conclusive DNA
evidence is presented.
These are the cases that TV
movies are made about. The truth is
this type of case is very uncommon.
Even if we assume 99 percent of the
people arrested for a crime are guilty
— that still leaves a small percent
age of innocent people accused.
3. Morality (my personal ver
sion). Killing people is wrong! The
largest practical problem of outlaw
ing the death penalty is a misguided
notion of the public: There is no
sophomore philosophy major and a
Daily Nebraskan Columnist
other way to effectively prevent
capital criminals from harming
society and the cost involved.
Many people think it isxheaper
to execute convicted murdeYers than
to keep them in prison for life — not
true. It costs $2.16 million more per
execution than it would if the person
executed had been given life
So what do we do with these
people who would completely
remove them from society without
ending their lives? I advocate
bringing back the prison island
concept. Alcatraz wasn’t a bad idea.
Maybe we can save enough money
not killing people to build it with
practically no expense to taxpayers.
A Stanford University law study
has shown that we have already
executed 24 innocent people this
century. We are all guilty of the
murder of those 24 people. Capital
punishment is expensive, immoral,
barbaric and useless. And we—as a
nation—need to move beyond it!