EDITORIAL: Death Penalty "Neither Just Nor Moral"

A recent editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune calls for Utahns and their elected leaders to consider abandoning the death penalty citing that "state-sponsored killing of a human being, no matter how heinous the crime, is permitted by a system that has been proven beyond doubt to be inherently capricious, unfair and shockingly fallible." The editorial also pointed to the declining use of the death penalty nationwide, with an all-time high of 328 death sentences in 1994 compared to 106 death sentences in 2009, a downward trend driven by the amount of inmates who have been freed from death row based on new evidence or recanted witness testimonies. The editorial concludes, "There simply is no denying that our system of capital punishment in the United States is unalterably broken. To continue to adhere to it is to tread beyond the bounds of what constitutes a humane, moral and just society." Read full editorial below.

Death penalty: Neither just nor moral
Tribune Editorial

More than a decade has passed since the state of Utah executed a convicted murderer. Now, as the state prepares to once again apply the death penalty, is a good time for Utahns and their elected leaders to consider abandoning this archaic and deeply flawed form of punishment.

In the interim between the execution of Joseph Mitchell Parsons in 1999 and the expected setting of a death date for Ronnie Lee Gardner, the legal, moral and ethical arguments supporting capital punishment in Utah have been eroding like sand castles at high tide.

That is because the state-sponsored killing of a human being, no matter how heinous the crime, is permitted by a system that has been proven beyond doubt to be inherently capricious, unfair and shockingly fallible. And, one by one, state legislatures across the country are deciding that they can no longer justify, even for merely financial reasons, retaining the death penalty as their supreme form of punishment. Already, 15 states have dropped the death penalty and some dozen others have looked at following suit. Lifetime imprisonment under severe restrictions, arguably worse than death, has become the preferred alternative.

Gardner, 49, was sentenced to die in 1985 for the shooting death of attorney Michael Burdell during an escape attempt at a Salt Lake City courthouse. Gardner, who had been brought to the courthouse for a hearing on robbery and murder charges (he was later convicted), also wounded a court bailiff before he was shot in the shoulder and recaptured. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his latest appeal and the Utah Attorney General's Office has asked a judge to set a date for his execution by lethal injection.

The welcome retreat from the death penalty in the United States began after 1994, a year in which there was an all-time high of 328 death sentences since the Supreme Court restored capital punishment in 1976. Last year brought just 106 new sentences. The downward trend has been driven by high-profile cases in which inmates have been sprung from death row by new evidence based on DNA testing, or by key prosecution witnesses recanting their testimony.

The Death Penalty Information Center has identified 129 inmates who have been released from death row since 1977 owing to new evidence. Nine were exonerated and freed last year after serving a combined 121 years behind bars.

There simply is no denying that our system of capital punishment in the United States is unalterably broken. To continue to adhere to it is to tread beyond the bounds of what constitutes a humane, moral and just society.

(Salt Lake City Tribune, April 17, 2010).  See also Innocence and Sentencing.  Read more Editorials.