Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Price of Death

Monday afternoon as I was about to leave the house for an appointment, it was announced that the jury for the Scott Peterson trial had made a decision on his punishment. After deciding last month that Peterson was guilty of murdering his wife and child, the jury decided that he should now be put to death by the state of California.

The San Mateo County courtroom in which this trial took place is approximately 20 miles from my home. Despite the semi-close proximity, I was never once ever tempted to attend the big spectacle that took place so close to my turf, but apparently many other people did. Watching the TV news, one could see a large crowd spectators surrounding the courthouse, hovering around the area like a pack of awe-struck voyeurs. In the hours leading up to the decision, TV news reporters asked some of the bystanders why they were there.  One man holding a sign favoring Peterson’s execution was very happy to get his moment of fame on the TV news.  Listening to him talk, you’d get the distinct impression that his life consisted of watching the news, surfing the web, and camping out at public spectacles. 

One of the major statements that this man made was that the state of California would be saving a lot of money by putting Scott Peterson to death.  What this man didn’t realize is the fact that the death penalty is considerably more expensive than life imprisonment. In the state of California, $90 Million is spent annually above and beyond the ordinary costs of the justice system on capital cases.  $78 million of that total is incurred at the trial level. This type of price difference is certainly not limited to California. In Florida, an average of $3.2 million was spent per execution from 1973 to 1988, racking up an estimated $57 million for 18 executions. In Texas, the biggest state for executions, every death penalty case typically costs three times more than the price of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years.

I have a lot of problems with the death penalty. My biggest issue is that I don’t like the idea of a potentially innocent person being sentenced to death, only to find out later that they were actually innocent. Since 1973, 117 people in 25 states have been released from death row after evidence  was presented to prove their innocence.   Of the 117 people that were released, I can guarantee you that each and every one of these people had hard-working lawyers that spent a considerable amount of time to overturn each one of these convictions. Unfortunately, not every wrongly-convicted person on death row has been so fortunate, and mistakes have been made in the past.

Now, I’m not about to make any claims about Mr. Peterson being innocent, as he certainly appeared to act like a guilty man if there ever was one.  He had access to one of the most powerful lawyers in the country, so his conviction had nothing to do with being ill-served by inadequate representation.  While there was no definitive evidence that absolutely proved that Mr. Peterson murdered his wife, there was substantial evidence that he acted in a manner completely inappropriate to the circumstances.  

The message to the citizens of America is very clear- inappropriate behavior can definitely lead to a death sentence.

I could go on about why I believe the death penalty is such a terrible idea, but to bring it home to the “holier-than-thou” conservatives that claim to be in favor of fiscal government spending and the “sanctity of life,” I’ll make it as simple as possible.  

Death sentences cost considerably more than the price of life imprisonment, and once administered, they can never be reversed.

A death sentence can never return a murdered loved one back to the world of the living. It merely validates the act of killing.  Anyone that claims to be “pro-life” can never ever support the death penalty without appearing like an absolute hypocrite.  When you validate the death penalty, you can never ever claim to hold the “sanctity of life” as your absolute guiding principle, as you’ve contradicted your core beliefs.

Ultimately, the families of the murder victims and the murderers are the ones that are most affected by the decision to use the death penalty as punishment for the most heinous of crimes.  The pain that these families will suffer cannot be understated, as the murder of a loved one leaves a permanent stain on their lives that can never be erased. 

Millions have dollars have been spent on the Scott Peterson case, and the recommendation for the death penalty will ensure that millions of more dollars will be spent by the state of California for the invariable appeals process.  As the state of California struggles with massive budget problems, leading to a shut-down of various hospitals, fire stations, libraries, educational programs, and other important public services, there always seems to be plenty of money to pay for the business of death. The prosecution and defense lawyers will be gainfully employed for the continuing process, while the families will endure the trauma of this hellish legal nightmare with each and every new trial.

A simpler solution would be simply to sentence the guilty parties to life sentences, sparing unnecessary grief, and putting an end to a legal process that perpetuates massive overruns of state budgets.   

The guilty parties would live out the rest of their hellish lives in a threatened environment amongst murderers, rapists, sadists, and deviants.  The government would save a considerable amount of money, and remove the judicial branch from the business of legitimized murder.

 (This article was written by Eric Predoehl, and can be shared freely as long as proper credit is given. For more information, contact

Death Penalty Information Center

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

David Elliot’s blog of the NCADP

Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation

Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking”

Moratorium Now / Equal Justice USA
E.P. Thursday, December 16, 2004