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Thursday, June 11, 2009

No good argument for death penalty

In response to the death sentence recently imposed on Robert Ray, Mike Littwin, the Denver Post's resident old hippy, wrote a column on the death penalty, "What do we owe crime witnesses?"

Littwin, like me, is against the death penalty. Nevertheless, he believes

If there's an argument for deterrence, this is it — the freebie murder, once explained to me by a prosecutor, of killing someone who might put you in jail for the rest of your life. Without the death penalty, what's there to deter you — two life sentences?

The flaw in that argument is obvious. No matter what the maximum penalty may be, once the person becomes subject to it, there is no more deterrence. What are you going to do? Give someone two death sentences?

If matters not if the maximum punishment is a life sentence or the death penalty.

Al Pacino, as Detective Vincent Hanna in Heat, summed it up:

Once it escalated into a murder one beef for all of 'em after they killed the first two guards, they didn't hesitate. Pop guard number three because... what difference does it make? Why leave a living witness?

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