NEW VOICES: Texas's Baptist Standard Advocates Ending Death Penalty

An editorial in the Baptist Standard, published in Texas, recently called for repealing the death penalty in the next legislative session. Among the reasons cited by the paper for ending capital punishment were principles of religious faith, the risk of executing innocent defendants, its ineffectiveness in deterring crime, the high costs of prosecution, and its unfairness in affecting the poor and people of color. The editorial quoted the recent report from the National Research Council criticizing the "fundamental flaws in the research" about deterrence and discouraging reliance on such studies to support the death penalty. The paper concluded, “[T]he possibility—and almost certain likelihood—the state periodically executes innocent people should propel capital punishment beyond the pale of possibility. . . . Since we know the courts can make grievous mistakes, how can we say we value life and perpetuate a program that sometimes kills innocent people?”  Read full editorial below.

EDITORIAL: Pull the switch on the death penalty
By Marv Knox, Editor, Baptist Standard

Gov. Rick Perry should place a moratorium on executions, and the next session of the Texas Legislature should vote to abolish the death penalty.

Reasoned opposition to capital punishment is rising:

• No reliable research supports the claim that capital punishment deters murder, according to an analysis of dozens of studies conducted across 36 years.

"Fundamental flaws in the research we reviewed make it of no use in answering the question of whether the death penalty affects homicide rates," Daniel Nagin, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who headed up the review for the National Research Council, told USA Today.

• National support for the death penalty has decreased to 61 percent, the lowest level in four decades, a Gallup poll showed.

And given a choice between capital punishment and life without parole, less than a majority of respondents favor execution, a similar survey indicated.

• Seventeen states have overturned the death penalty. Connecticut abolished the practice last month. Illinois, where the Innocence Project proved numerous false convictions, got rid of it last year. California will consider a referendum this fall.

• Tepid implementation of the death penalty seems to reveal a growing distaste for the practice.

Connecticut executed only one convict in 52 years. California, which houses 725 inmates on Death Row, has not executed anyone since 2006. Even Texas, the traditional leader in capital punishment, executed 13 people last year. That's the lowest level in 15 years, and the state is on pace to execute 10 inmates this year.

The case for eliminating the death penalty can be made for several compelling reasons.

First and foremost, the possibility—and almost certain likelihood—the state periodically executes innocent people should propel capital punishment beyond the pale of possibility. Dallas County leads the nation in proving wrongful convictions—30 in the last 11 years. Since we know the courts can make grievous mistakes, how can we say we value life and perpetuate a program that sometimes kills innocent people?

Second—a corollary to the first point—capital punishment disproportionately targets the poor and people of color.

Third, since the death penalty has not been proven effective in deterring crime, eliminating it would not be expected to result in an increase in violent acts.

Fourth, capital punishment is inordinately expensive, and the money can be put to better purposes. Analysis of the California system shows the death penalty costs that state $184 million per year. Opponents suggest eliminating capital punishment could save the state millions in legal fees and free millions more to investigate unsolved crimes.

Fifth, abolishing the death penalty would curtail protracted agony—for everybody. Capital punishment cases often drag on for decades, with repeated hearings, appeals and court proceedings reopening the wounds for victims' families.

Sixth, criminals convicted of heinous crimes still will receive severe punishment, and society still will be protected. Life without parole is enough to torment anyone. And permanent imprisonment will prevent inmates from harming other innocent people.

Seventh, life in prison extends the opportunity for re-demption. No, the salvation of a murderer does not bring the victim back to life. But it does restore one soul to eternal life. God's grace can reach even the most wicked. And while wrongfully convicted inmates eventually may go free, you can't resurrect the executed who were convicted falsely.

Eighth, it's inconceivable Jesus would execute a criminal. As Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy says: "In the New Testament, the one place where Jesus talks about the death penalty, he says, 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.' When I've reflected on the death penalty, the reality is I frequently ponder that passage."

Marv Knox is editor of the Baptist Standard. Visit his blog at www.baptiststandard.com.

(M. Knox, “EDITORIAL: Pull the switch on the death penalty,” Baptist Standard, editorial, May 11, 2012). See Religion. Read more Editorials and New Voices on the death penalty.