William A. Gralnick

Sentencing of criminals to death or life in prison, is an issue of concern whether or not you live in a death penalty state. There are two thoughts that should drive your thinking. One is humanitarian. Should we, in the USA, be killing people for what they did? It isa common practice in the third world and in Muslim countries. But here? The second thought is cost. You are paying the bill.

There have been many challenges to the death penalty on the grounds that it is cruel and unusual punishment. There have have also been specific challenges about “death cocktails.” Can the prisoners feel pain? He/she is supposed to be knocked out by the first drug, then killed by the second. If the first doesn’t work, the prisoner suffers as the body’s systems shut down. Then there’s hanging, still an option in some states or the firing squad. Of the 27 states that still have the death penalty on the books, three–Delaware, New Hampshire, and Washington State– allow for hanging while four–Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah, and South Carolina–allow the imposition of death by firing squad. In the latter, none of the shooters knows which guns have live ammo. I don’t know how they sleep at night. More importantly, there is the possibility the the sharp shooters weren’t so sharp on a particular day and the “shootee” isn’t killed instantly. Finally in many minds older than fifty or sixty the death penalty is associated with the electric chair. It has so many potential flaws that is can be gruesome, some being burned half to death by voltage that didn’t do what it was supposed to do. Imagine sitting there and waiting for the switch to be hit. Florida’s “Old Sparky” is a perfect example of an imperfect electric chair. Add this: in nearby neighborhoods when the switch was thrown, the lights dimmed in homes. All affected become party to the killing.

Cost is the other factor. We have here in Florida the case that has brought up–again– these issues. The state of Florida spent nearly two million of its taxpayer’s dollars to try the Margory Stoneman Douglas shooter, Nicholas Cruz. In line with a very strong community opinion, the prosecution asked for the death penalty. The sitting of the jury, the trial, then phase two, for the penalty phase, the sitting of the jury and trial seemed endless. To think that the parents had to relive this horror and pay for it as well…now that’s cruel and usual punishment.

There is another factor to consider. That’s time. On the one hand, it would seem that the death penalty would be cheaper and faster. It isn’t. Death penalty cases spur appeal after appeal after appeal. There can be great stretches of time in between each. Steve Bousquet, Opinion Editor of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, points to a case where the death penalty was announced in April of 1982. The prisoner himself made an open court request to be killed, to not be given life. This started when the prisoner was 33. Forty years later he’s alive and well, still in prison. One of the reasons is that the order specified he die by the electric chair. The electric chairs hasn’t been used in Florida for more than twenty years! Also, going this route gives no closure to the families of the victims.

There is another kink in the system that needs fixing. A death sentence inmate is housed in solitary confinement with one hour of out door privileges a day. The inmate has a TV, a computer with limited capacity, access to books and writing materials. The inmate is the only person in the prison not required to work somewhere in the prison.

One final question to think about. Is the death penalty the deterrent that so many of its supporters say it is. It isn’t. The death penalty isn’t applied often enough to someone to fear it. There are so many death penalty inmate cases that have dragged on ad nauseum that if someone thinks about it at all, they know it’s a gamble that they might just win.

Those sentenced to life are in the general population. They have human contact, have visitors, access to the prison library, and a cellmate. On the surface, it is a much more “humane” existence. There is one hitch. Many general populations in state prisons as extremely violent places. Florida is one example. Riker’s Island, NY is another. For certain crimes like pedophlia, rape of a child, murder of children that odds of survival aren’t great. THe inmate can be set up like a horse or a cow that has wondered into water infested by pyranhas. It’s eventual death comes with the first bite, but the animal suffers until it loses too much blood or its organs are ripped out. Fun, fun, fun ’til daddy took the T-bird away? Hardly.

I happen to favor the death penalty in certain instances. I think if the murder of a cop or firefighter is premediated, you should die. I think if a rape produces permanent physical or irreversible mental harm, your light bulb gets unscrewed. Kill a child. Kill you.

Ultmately, though it isn’t my opinion that counts. It’s yours–at least from my perspective.

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