It fits on a bumper sticker and packs a punch, both moral and legal. “Why do we kill people – who kill people – to show people – that killing people – is wrong?” Therein lays the basis of the moral argument against capital punishment, a government-sanctioned practice also known as the “death penalty” whereby the state puts a person to death as punishment for a capital crime, in the U.S., most commonly murder.
The moral argument in favor of the death penalty dates back to Leviticus 24:19-21, “a man who injures his countryman – as he has done, so it shall be done to him (namely,) fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Just as he has injured a person, so it shall be done to him.”
Retributive justice, rather than rehabilitation, is at the core of those who support capital punishment, believing that punishment commensurate with the crime is just, a social good and an effective deterrent to others committing similar crimes.
As a part of a Western states “mountain movement,” several conservative Republicans in Utah and Nevada are advancing efforts to end the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. They argue with evidence that it is a failed public policy, is a waste of taxpayer dollars, the risk of executing innocent people is too high and it causes unnecessary harm to victims’ families. We agree.
In Colorado, the death penalty was formally adopted as law in 1861. It was abolished in 1897 only to be reinstated four years later in 1901. Though Colorado has carried out only one execution in the last 50 years, in 1997, there is a move afoot in the state Legislature to repeal the death penalty, and it is one we support.
Colorado has the opportunity to join other Western states’ efforts as early as Wednesday, when Senate Bill 95 will be before the Senate Judiciary Committee. S.B. 95 would end the death penalty in Colorado and replace it with life without parole. It would not apply to anyone already sentenced to death and only to people committing offenses on or after July 1, 2017.
It would end decades of legal process and bring finality to victims’ families within several years and would reduce the exorbitant financial burden taxpayers incur. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado estimates that the average death penalty trial costs $3.5 million, compared to $150,000 for a trial for life without parole.
S.B. 95 would end the possibility of innocent people being put to death for crimes they did not commit.
We recall Sister Helen Prejean’s visit to Durango several years ago as a part of Fort Lewis College’s Common Reading Experience to discuss her book, Dead Man Walking. She has made abolishing the death penalty her life’s work. Hers is a plea for justice more comprehensive than the eye-for-an-eye mentality driving death penalty advocacy.
Like the bumper sticker, she questioned how moral is a society that condemns death on one hand and endorses it on another?
It is time Colorado join the 19 states and all other Western nations that no longer impose the death penalty. We appeal to state Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, to vote to advance the bill to the floor for discussion by the full Senate and support the dignity of human life by ending the death penalty in Colorado.