(The following Op-Ed appears in the June 23, 2017 edition of Florida Today.)
“It’s time to put death penalty to rest in U.S.”
By Marshall Frank, Community columnist
One innocent executed is one too many — and that’s just one reason to abolish capital punishment.
Now that the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that juries must vote unanimously for the death penalty in order to validate a sentence, we can anticipate many new appeals and/or commutations of sentences for over 200 death row inmates to whom this will apply. Such appeals, or new trials, would be an extreme cost to the taxpayer.
Thus, we re-examine the death penalty once more. As a 30-year career cop and former Miami-Dade homicide detective, I’ve seen the worst of criminal behavior. I’m no bleeding heart.
I propose 10 valid reasons why capital punishment should be abolished, not only in Florida, but throughout the entire nation.
Too many risks of executing the innocent: In Brevard County, we’ve been witness to at least three life terms in which human beings have wrongfully served 27 years, 22 years and four years as innocent men. Had they been given a death sentence, two would probably be dead by now at the hands of an imperfect justice system.
A recent Newsweek study has determined that 4 percent of death row inmates are most probably innocent. Since 1973, 144 convicts nationwide have been exonerated as innocent. One innocent executed is one too many.
Costs: Numerous studies have been conducted which clearly show that maintaining the death penalty consumes at least double, or triple, the cost of imposing life sentences.
No deterrent: Many more studies have determined that the death penalty does not deter violent crime.
Violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Death row inmates in Florida are confined to solitary confinement in a concrete and steel cell, 24 hours a day, with no A/C and no social interaction. Of the 13 executed in the U.S. thus far in 2017, eight rotted on death row for more than 20 years and then were executed. Gary Alvord, age 66, died of natural causes on death row, where he spent almost 40 years. It’s serving a life sentence plus a death sentence.
Economic inequities: Some court-appointed attorneys have been known to be over the hill, less than enthusiastic and/or do not have the resources (investigations) to present a first-class defense. In contrast, consider a defendant like O.J. Simpson, or others steeped in wealth, who can hire the Dream Team. It’s simply unfair.
Barbarism: The U.S. is seventh-highest in executions in the world, among such company as Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan. All countries in the Americas have banned executions, except Guyana, Barbados and Trinidad. Worldwide, 141 countries have abandoned capital punishment. Among nations that extol human rights, we have the worst record in executing people.
Eighteen states have banned the death penalty: Of 32 states still on the books, only five have been active in carrying out executions, including Florida. California has the largest death row population with 750 condemned inmates, but haven’t carried out an execution since 2006.
Execution by injection is not punishment: The real punishment is suffering death row for 10 to 40 years. Eternal sleep is hardly punishment. That’s how we carry out “humane” acts for sick pets.
It can be argued that perpetuating capital punishment basically endorses state sponsored murder: Regardless of jury verdicts which are occasionally wrong, we cannot and should not be killing other human beings. Why? Because killing is fundamentally wrong.
People change: Often, especially after decades in isolation, we are not executing the same person who committed the crime. Consider the words of Napoleon Beazley, a 17-year-old Texas boy who joined up with two hoods to rob and shoot a man for his car in 1994. At his execution in May of 2002, Beazley was given an opportunity to speak his final thoughts:
“The act I committed to put me here was not just heinous, it was senseless,” he said. “But the person that committed that act is no longer here – I am.”