Friday, April 06, 2007
Stonings, Beheadings, Executions - Oh My!
It’s springtime, when many a not-so-young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of execution, here in NH. Last week the legislature voted down a proposal to repeal the state’s death penalty. Despite the fact that NH hasn’t executed anyone since 1939, apparently our legislators want to keep the option open, so that state sponsored murder will be available in the future.
The shooting death last year of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs brought this issue back to the table. Attorney General Kelly Ayotte told legislators that repealing the death penalty so soon after Brigg’s death would be “an insult to law enforcement officers.” Governor John Lynch said he’d veto the repeal if it passed. The state is pursuing the death penalty in the case of Michael Addison, who is accused of killing Officer Briggs. It’s the first capital case in NH in over a decade.
We can all agree that the shooting of Officer Michael Briggs was a terrible crime. By all reports he was a good cop, and a nice young man with a family. He isn’t the only person who was murdered in NH during the last 10 years. In 2004, thirteen NH women were murdered in domestic violence cases. A little over a month ago, Brenda Hewey-Barnum was murdered by the father of her child. Jacob Smith entered the home of some friends, shot and killed Hewey-Barnum, wounded one friend, and shot and stabbed his own son, Matthew Smith, before turning the gun on himself. Jacob Smith saved the state the expense of a trial. Still, if we look at history, Smith wouldn’t have faced the death penalty, since no one has for a decade – a decade that includes the murders of 13 women in 2004. The message seems clear – that some lives are worth more than others, which means that the State of NH will pursue the death penalty accordingly. If NH is going to murder its murderers, shouldn’t justice be equally applied?
This year in Colorado, the House Judiciary Committee voted to abolish the death penalty. They voted to use the savings to help solve 1200 unsolved murders in the state. During the last 3 decades, Colorado spent $40 million on the death penalty. During that time they carried out one execution. There are 2 people currently on death row in Colorado. That’s a pretty hefty price tag for just one execution. The state of New York estimates a cost of $23 million for each person sentenced to death. One murder case in Georgia has bankrupted the public defender system, which has already spent $1.4 million on the case. A 2005 report found that the state of New Jersey had spent $253 million in a 23 year period on death penalty cases – while executing no one.
Our NH courts are already dangerously under-funded, and have backlogs of civil cases. It’s hard to imagine where, in revenue starved NH, the money will come from for a death penalty case. The only certainty is that some other program will be robbed so that the state can engage in macho vengeance. A far more sensible course of action (and a better tribute to the slain officer) would be to generate some money to hire more police officers, and ensure that our courts are running properly. The average stay on death row is about 13 years. Does anyone really believe that an execution in the distant future will act as a deterrent to a potential murderer? When your dog pees on the rug, do you wait thirteen years to rub his nose in it?
According to Amnesty International, 94 percent of all known executions in the year 2005 took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the US. Whoo-hoo – we’re keeping company with the human rights violators of the world – there’s a real feather in our national cap. Since 2000, executions performed by these club members have been carried out by: beheading, hanging, shooting, lethal injection, electrocution, stabbing, and stoning. Here in the civilized USA, we opt for electrocution or lethal injection. Does anyone really think that conducting an execution in a pseudo-medical backdrop (lethal injection) somehow puts us on a more moral high ground than the beheadings in Saudi Arabia, or the stonings in Iran?
NH is always looking for new revenue sources, and perhaps our newfound interest in execution could be a money maker. Beheadings could be a prime revenue source – far more vengeance than a sissy faux-medical execution. They could also be available on pay-per-view, just to up the ante. Stonings could also be exclusive, ticketed events, with the added bonus of a lottery to choose a few lucky folks to cast those stones. Firing squads would undoubtedly be very popular given the gun culture we have here in the live free or die state. Hangings – well, hangings might be a little too understated to generate much extra funding. Hangings would probably become the option for the low wage execution fans in our state. If we do it right, we could use the proceeds to fund all the executions, and maybe have a little left over for the General Fund.
Do we really want to join the ranks of Texas and Louisiana? Is this who we want to be as a state? Do we want to teach our children that some killing is okay? Is an “eye for an eye” the kind of new motto we want to adopt for our state? This is worth thinking long and hard about – both the intended and the possible unintended consequences.
“For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check, yet crime persists.” Albert Camus
In the interest of full disclosure - I have recently taken a job with the Kucinich for President Campaign. The views expressed here are not neccessarily those of the candidate. My writing gig is separate from my campaign job.
Posted by susanthe at 1:20 AM