The commonwealth of Virginia gave Paul Powell the chair today for the murder of Stacie Reed and the rape and attempted murder of her sister Kristie back in 1999. Virginia and states like Texas among others are on the right path of persistantly executing the worst criminals, but the process of taking a capitol offense to its conclusion is too expensive and has much room for improvement.
I am unabashedly for the death penalty. Some people do not deserve to live for their crimes. Others may disagree with me both on the moralty or the right of a government having the ability to sentence a person to death. We will just have to agree to disagree. However, because of the legal process, it is incredibly expensive to execute a man whether you believe a state has the rigt to do it or not.
Case in point, there were legal loophole that did not tie Powell’s rape and murder convictions into one crime. He was convicted of both crimes from the same night. How does that make him any less guilty of a capitol offense? That loophole got his capitol conviction overturned. He was still guilty, but the judge deemed he did not commit a capitol offense. Powell later admitted to some unknown facts in a letter that gave investigators enough information to retry him for a capitol offense. That is two trials the commonwealth had to pay for. Lawyers, judges, juries, the whole nine yards. It was a waste.
Loopholes like that and allowing the guilty to have appeal after appeal make for years if not decades where the tax-payer has to house someone who committed a crime heinous enough to be put to death for it. This is a travesty for the families of the victims and tax payers. Remember, the tax-payer foots the bill for building and maintaining the separate facilities for death row inmates along with all the trappings (guards, food, clothing, electricity, etc) that go along with it. Since it takes so long to execute a person, all the expense of the waiting and appeals makes a capitol conviction cost more than a life setence. That money could be spent on education, roads, or any number of investments. Instead, money goes to supporting a burden on society…
I propose some common sense solutions that each state could enact to fix the problems with the death penalty:
1) People who are dead-to-rights guilty (not just guilty beyond a reasonable doubt) should have an expedited death-sentence. Make it ‘the next level’ of conviction. The jury has no doubt and is aware of it, so they consciously give the sentence. This designation allows for no appeals or loopholes. It cuts a decade plus on death row to 90 days. Enough time for the convicted to get their affairs in order.
This would REQUIRE juries/judges to have irrefutable evidence like DNA or the combination of multiple credible eye-witness testimonies or a confession (like in Powell’s case) to lay down this kind of sentence and have an expedited execution. This process would serve justice AND unburden society of people like Powell, while also reducing the cost of their incarceration.
2) Increase the number of heinous crimes eligible for the death penalty. Namely 1st degree murder, serial rapists, and child rapists. No one will argue that these are life destroying/shattering crimes and that these predators need to be removed from society permanently. This not only justly punishes the guilty (in my opinion), an expedited death penalty would serve as a deterent.
3) Give an honest review of all the convictions with new evidence findings or the potential for new evidence. I speak specifically to DNA evidence that may exonerate or justify a conviction. We as a society owe it to those who may be wrongfully convicted of a crime to give them every chance to prove their evidence. We cannot base or give legitimacy to the post-DNA world of convictions until we use all the tools NOW available to investigate those who were convicted before DNA testing was available.
4) States like Texas and Virginia should lead the way with such processes, showing how it discourages heinous crime, saves money, and swiftly serves justice. They should help other states that are not open to capitol punishment and show them the merits of this system. Each state’s voters and legislators should make their own decisions, but by addressing the flaws in capitol punishment each state could have a better justice system.
The death penalty is about meting out justice, but in all fairness, it has become a topic of efficiently spending tax-payer dollars as well. State leaders have a duty to safeguard both.