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Thinking About the Death Penalty

May 10, 1991



Thank you for the recent editorial ``Death Penalty Solution,'' April 22. You really get to the core issue. Those who think the death penalty acts as a deterrent believe that would-be killers will logically arrive at the conclusion that the crime is not worth the punishment. However, most murderers act out of passion, greed, fear, or just plain lack of any value for life.

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A young man I know had no criminal record. At age 18 he went out with a friend and by the end of the night, they had robbed, kidnapped, and killed a man. A jury found him guilty of first degree murder. It wasn't until the sentencing trial that he said to me: ``You know, it started to dawn on me in court today that they were talking about me.'' He had been so consumed by greed and sensuality that he lost touch with reality and everything he had been taught in his loving family. He was sentenced to life w ithout parole.

Let's stop torturing ourselves by thinking it is logical to kill killers. That is the same kind of passion and fear that leads the killer to kill.

Ralyne N. Robb, Oakland, Calif.

Special gratitude is due this editorial because of its top-degree honesty. The plea for elimination of the death penalty is not a new issue to US citizens but the fact that most advanced nations have already eliminated the death penalty is a clarion call to ``Wake up, America!'' Eleanor Smith, Weymouth, Mass.

Contrary to your editorial, there is no deep conflict in American thinking about the death penalty. A strong majority of the American people consistently favors capital punishment in certain circumstances. It is not the American people who throw sand into the legal process - it is unelected judges. Whenever the people have the opportunity, they throw judges who are thwarting their will out of office, as we did in California a few years ago. In addition, the death penalty provides a deterrence effect; this effect may be as large as nine murders deterred for each execution. This abolition of capital punishment would result in the virtually certain loss of innocent lives when this deterrent effect is removed.

The evidence as to ``racial inequities in applying the death penalty'' is far from conclusive. It is entirely possible that this problem, if proven to exist, could be eliminated with some less drastic measure than total abolition of capital punishment.

Mark Wylie, Los Angeles

Considering that executions occur only rarely, why not do away with the death penalty. And don't stop there, let's stop punishing criminals altogether. We'll just lock up the law-abiding citizens (which should also ease prison overcrowding) and let the murderers and rapists and drug addicts wipe each other out. We law-abiding citizens won't have to worry about it.

Kenneth Cole, Carthage, N.Y.

As national policy on capital punishment, bolstered by so-called ``tough'' crime bills, slips further and further into the Middle Ages, your editorial shines like a beacon. The increased use of capital punishment and the resort to mandatory long sentences have not curbed violent crime. They have revealed our unwillingness to attack the root causes of crime such as unemployment, homelessness, and drug addiction.

Phillip H. Miller, Annandale, Va.