Crime, Redemption, and Capital Punishment

In your editorial "On Execution" (Feb. 5) following the execution of Karla Faye Tucker, you say " even the most damaged lives can be redeemed and turned toward usefulness."

We will never know how many of the damaged lives among our vast prison population are possible candidates for redemption, unless America experiences a sea change in its thinking about crime and punishment.

Meanwhile, examples abound of criminals transformed into decent and useful citizens. One who comes to mind is Nathan Leopold. He and another man were wealthy college boys who murdered a 14-year-old just to show that they could commit the perfect crime. Famed attorney Clarence Darrow saved them from execution in 1924. Mr. Darrow told the judge:

"Your Honor stands between the past and the future. You may hang these boys by the neck until they are dead. But you will turn your face toward the past. I am pleading for the future, for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men, when we can learn by reason and judgment and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute of man."

Leopold lived to become a better person. His exemplary prison record and his contribution as a volunteer for dangerous malaria testing during World War II led to a reduction of his sentence by Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson and to a pardon in 1958. He went to Puerto Rico to work in hospitals and church missions. In time he married, earned a master's degree, and taught mathematics.

Donald Connery

Kent, Conn.

The editorial calls for sparing Karla Faye Tucker's life. Perhaps you need to be reminded that Ms. Tucker's victims, at the time of their deaths, were living dissolute lives, as was Tucker. Her victims, however, had no time to contemplate redemption. It seems to me that tears should be reserved for the victims.

Hal Heaberlin

Battle Creek, Mich.

How sad it seems that with all the progress we've made in our democracy that we are still killing people and calling it justice. Surely our laws are supposed to lead by moral example. I hope the day will come when murderers will find themselves having to take responsibility for their acts by spending the rest of their lives behind bars. When laws lack mercy and humanity, society has a long way to go before becoming great.

Linda Quade

Montrose, Colo.

Area codes and identity

"For Many, Area Codes Are Not Created Equal" (Feb. 6) carries the lament: "... the new area codes are taking away people's sense of place." But what's really sad is that, since World War II, the automobile, Balkan zoning practices, myopic developers, and corporate gigantism have combined to pretty much degrade and obliterate the American landscape.

Suburbs and strip centers and Wal-Mart parking lots look the same in Peoria and Boise as they do in Orlando - the area code is the only unique item left. "Yep, I grew up in 415!" How sad. (I draw my comment in part from James Howard Kunstler's book "Geography of Nowhere.")

Robert F. Alexander


(area code 713)

A real army, not 'guerrillas'

"How the Vietnamese See US Now" (Jan. 29) was very enlightening. I take exception, however, to your calling the North Vietnam Army "guerrillas," as it perpetuates a deep American misconception.

The North Vietnam Army was a well established, well disciplined military force superbly led by Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap. Not only did General Giap drive the Americans from his country and destroy the South Vietnam Army, he also defeated the French in the definitive 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu, ending forever the concept of French Indochina.

Frederic B. Viaux

Needham, Mass.

Your letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none acknowledged. Mail to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com

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