Death Penalty Reax: I catch hell

So far the reaction to my column last week on the death penalty has been unremittingly negative — or positive, take your pick. Most people are positive I’m full of it.

Just a few observations: The caller’s I’ve had were all people who sounded very very angry over the death of that little boy in Davis County, whose  (allegedly!) brutal murder by the mother and step-father sparked calls for their executions.

No trials, just executions. It really sounds rather mob-like down there.

I understand anger, but am I the only one who sees that deciding to kill someone out of vengence for that little boy is not what anyone would call justice?

When Mike Dukakis, I think it was, was running for president he was asked, in one of those idiotic debates on TV, what he would do if his wife were raped and murdered. He hemmed and hawed and looked stupid, and that’s just one reason he lost. The Willie Horton deal didn’t help either. Nor did looking like a dork driving that tank.

His correct answer, if he’d had the cojones and presence of mind, would have been to say: “My feelings in that matter are irrelevant. Justice cannot be meted out from anger. If it were my wife, I would not have anything to do with the case because it would be a conflict of interest.”

I also see where Tim Gurrister has an excellent story in today’s paper looking at how much it will cost Weber County to prosecute the two death penalty cases it still has in the works. You can read his story here (click).

That’s just the county cost, most of it because if the county doesn’t help pay for a good defense the case will get ugly on appeal and all the money the county did spend would have been wasted.

Quit being so namby pamby and just kill those evil people? If you are willing to execute a certain number of innocent people, sure.

Ignoring the fact that a system that accepts the execution of the innocent is even more repugnant than murding a small child, you better hope one of those innocents isn’t you.

Ultimate, because the system at least pretends to try to make sure an executed person is the guilty one, it costs states about $2 million to kill someone. That’s an awful lot of money paid to lawyers that could be used to fix roads, plant trees, buy police officers, pay fire fighters, or whatever, and no matter how it is shared out among governmental entities we ultimate pay it, all of us.

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19 Responses to Death Penalty Reax: I catch hell

  1. Di Lewis says:

    I offer my whole-hearted woot of support for your position Charlie.

    Also I was tempted to come put a sign on your desk last week that said something to the effect of “Charles Trentelman: Taking up perfectly usable space in the Standard-Examiner with his hippy, liberal bull for 32 years and counting.” :)

  2. Jim Hutchins says:

    I find that very few of us take up political/social stances any different than where we were at the age of 10.

    On the death penalty, however, my views have changed since I was 10.

    If anyone is capable of having a rational discussion about the pros and cons of the death penalty, I haven’t found them yet. Rational discussion (as represented here in your blog, and in your column) only seems to engender high-temperature, high-volume bloviating.

  3. Doug Gibson says:

    Re: “Ignoring the fact that a system that accepts the execution of the innocent is even more repugnant than murdering a small child…” Charlie, it seems to me that you are demanding complete perfection of the position your opponents are taking. Under that logic, one could demand that there be no punishment for anyone because we accept a system where there will always be cases of persons unjustly jailed for a day, 5 years, or life who will die without vindication of the injustice done to them. That’s ludicrous. I’d be more impressed if you just reiterated that morally you don’t like the death penalty.

    I have no problem if the Sloops get life without parole. However, the death penalty also provides a solitary life of years to decades that is pretty hellish. A life without parole sentence provides a type of social life for the murderer, however constrained. The victim, of course, is denied any social life.

  4. Di Lewis says:

    Although this is not my sole reason for opposing the death penalty, Doug, I also think that your argument is shaky. It’s a lot easier to release someone from prison if it is discovered they are innocent than to resurrect them…

  5. Charles Trentelman says:

    uh, doug — dear friend and logical thinker — there’s just a slight bit of difference between expecting perfection of jurisprudence in someone you are about to kill and someone you are going to give 5-to-life to.

    Give a guy 5 to life, discover later you goofed, you say “Sorry!” and let him out.

    Kill a guy, discover later you goofed, you have something of a dillema on your hands and simply saying “Well, he sure seemed guilty at the time” doesn’t really cut it, not when you ponder how many times in the past political careers have been made by politicians who liked to look tough by executing people.

  6. Doug Gibson says:

    Charlie, I got say it so it will sink in: If you demand perfection, which is impossible, from an opposing viewpoint — even the death penalty — you are being demagogic.

    Unless you think your argument is perfect and no further discussion is needed; but that’s something else. I can certainly see arguments against the death penalty that extend beyond personal moral superiority.

  7. ctrentelman says:

    … but that’s precisely my point, doug — perfection of jurisprudence in anything, ESPECIALLY the death penalty, is impossible.

    If perfection is impossible in death penalty cases, and the results of imperfection are irreversible, then we should do away with the death penalty unless we are willing to accept the death of the innocent.

    I’m not willing to accept that. Are you?.

    Unless, of course, Doug, you don’t mind that it is your relatives that someone would have to say “oops!” to. Or, I should say, your survivors.

    That’s not demagogic, that’s lacking in desire to kill the innocent, or anyone else. That’s “keeping our options open.”

  8. Bob Becker says:


    Sorry, the perfection argument doesn’t fly with the death penalty. The death penalty is not, as far as I’m concerned, unjust when it’s applied to murderers. But we know… we absolutely know…. that it has not infrequently been applied to the innocent over the years. In just the past ten years of so, the number of people released from death row [thanks to the innocence project] via DNA exoneration is north of a dozen, I think, and climbing. And as others here have noted, a death penalty carried out cannot be corrected by release as a jail term, even a life term can. “Well, nothing’s perfect, so if a few innocent folks are executed for murders they didn’t commit, too bad” seems to me a very weak argument.

    I have no problem with the justice of executions of the guilty — the truly guilty, not those found guilt — for murder. The problem is those two sets — found guilty and actually guilty — are not identical. And as you note, we can never be absolutely certain under our judicial system that everyone found guilty and sentenced to die will be in fact guilty. That’s why we ought to end death sentences. Because, as you note, we can not be certain every time, because the system is not and can never be perfect, and because once the sentence is carried out, there is not and can never be a remedy for error.

  9. Doug Gibson says:

    I don’t accept the premise that life without parole is in the majority of cases worse punishment for some murderers. There is the anecdotal evidence of that disgusting tape of mass murderer Richard Speck indulging his pleasures in prison and in today’s constant reality TV world you can watch prison documentaries all weekend on MSNBC and the lifers don’t seem to be in such a tough environment. I don’t want prisoners abused but I think a life sentence should include 8 hours a day of hard labor and a very spartan existence. If not, it should follow the 23 hours a day isolation of a death row or SuperMax prison. But I suspect the first in line to oppose that type of incarceration would be many of the same who oppose the death penalty.

  10. Al says:

    Doug, who is arguing that life without parole is worse than the death penalty? You keep making arguments against things that people are not actually saying in this thread. And, come on, you’ve seen TV shows where some prisoners don’t seem to have it all that bad, and therefore life in prison isn’t sufficiently punishing? That can’t be a real counterargument.

  11. Al says:

    Pardon me, Doug, I posted before reading Charles’ original article where he does make that first suggestion. Charles, for what it’s worth I think your argument as you’ve put it here is stronger than the original. Doug, I still think you’re largely arguing with things that haven’t been said, rather than responding to the questions of the nature of justice and the uncertainty that plagues criminal trials, but at least I see where the comment came from.

  12. Mike Trujillo says:

    You saw it on TV, Doug?

    Oh. OK.

    Hey, I suppose being a POW in WWII wasn’t so bad, either. I saw it on Hogan’s Heros. They had good food and warm beds and were friends with the guards.

    When the Death Penalty can be administered with no bias and no mistakes, I’ll get behind it. Until then, I’m with Charley. Stand by, I have to go get the statistics on Nations who still have the Death Penalty.

  13. Mike Trujillo says:

    The 6 Nations with the most executions in the world in 2008 are, in order of most to least: 1) China, 2) Iran, 3) Saudi Aribia, 4) the U.S., 5) Pakistan, 6) Iraq.

    Pretty good company we’re keeping, huh?

    So, Doug. As a red blooded American Republican, why do you want to participate in something that puts us on the same level as 5 Nations who’s form of Government and moral views are antithema to everything you believe? They’re not even Christian, for God’s sake! (cue music notes descending- \Dun-Dun-Dun\)

  14. Doug Gibson says:

    I thought the show was Hogan’s Heroes, but I only saw it a couple of times. Our presentation editor loves it though. I’m not nearly as supportive of the death penalty as I think many of you are opposed to it. I think demanding perfection is an impossible, cynical standard; I’m doubtful, Michael, that you would really support if it met that impossible criteria you demand. I’ll accept an end to capital punishment if the courts or legislatures dictate it. My concern is that a life term in a social environment is not sufficient punishment for murder in some cases.

  15. Bob Becker says:


    You wrote: ” I think demanding perfection is an impossible, cynical standard.” Let’s keep in mind what “perfection” means in this instance: it means that everyone we execute for murder shall actually have committed the crime for which we execute them.

    Since you seem willing to accept less than perfection in this matter — to accept that we will, inevitably, execute some people for crimes they did not commit, and that’s ok with you because perfection is impossible — the question naturally arises, how many executions of innocent persons would you deem an acceptable rate of error in order to continue the death penalty? What number of innocents would have to die for crimes they did not commit before you’d change your mind about the acceptability of executing the innocent?

  16. Di Lewis says:


    I think the point is that we realize that perfection cannot be achieved. So rather than create an irreversible punishment for a crime that may not have been committed by the person found guilty, then we’d rather err the other way.

  17. Michael Trujillo says:

    “I think demanding perfection is an impossible, cynical standard;”

    Goddamn it, Doug. Nobody’s demanding perfection. We’re saying that, since NOTHING is perfect, we can’t support something that is so totally 100% irreversible.

    And contrary to what you may have learned on television, prison is not a socail club. It’s a dangerous, stressful, unpleasant experience. Let God mete out justice.

  18. Catherine Burt says:

    killing is so much easier than dealing with problems, isn’t it?

    death penalty: opposed.

  19. Willbike says:

    Spelling corrections Doug? How Petty.

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