In his book "Man's Search For Meaning," Viktor Frankel mentions a discussion with a young man considering suicide. He asked what good deed that person had contributed to the world to earn the right to leave it. Had he done his share to better society? Mr. Frankel also mentions a horrible Nazi prison guard who had a complete change of heart and miraculously became a good person - a shock to all who had encountered him during the war. That guard may have been responsible for even more death and ugliness than Timothy McVeigh.

This kind of change is possible and even probable when a person takes time, or is forced to take time, to do nothing more than come to terms with his choices: time as the catalyst for insight. His victims' families are forced to take time to come to terms with Mr. McVeigh's actions. Why shouldn't he have to do the same?

What would be more meaningful to the victims' families in the long run? To see him executed, or to one day see him weeping for what he did so heartlessly, and to have him feel it, finally, in his heart.

Kristine Kallimani Chicago

Your May 11 editorial "Not even Timothy McVeigh" states: "A civilization's core reason for existence lies in its ability to uphold the sanctity of life and perpetuate it." Isn't that what a civilization is doing when it executes a murderer? This civilization is saying that keeping this one person alive to kill again is not worth it because keeping law-abiding citizens alive is.

Your editorial wants to say that murderers, if held in prison long enough, will "discover a conscience." If Mr. McVeigh hasn't found one in these past six years, what makes people think he will find one in the future? Ted Bundy never did before he was executed, and Charles Manson has been in prison for years and has not found any conscience or remorse in his heart.

Your editorial quotes the Bible: "Thou shalt not kill." This should not be taken literally in the case for punishments for crimes.

What really bothers me about your editorial is the fact that it shows sympathy for Mr. McVeigh. Why? If he showed some remorse for what he did, then maybe; but to have sympathy for someone who doesn't care about killing 168 innocent people is absurd. There is another Bible passage, Isaiah 26:10, that perhaps those with sympathy should adhere to: "Let favour be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness; in the land of the uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord."

Richard P. Mullen Crete, Ill.

During law school, I worked for the Texas Judicial Council, an arm of the Texas Supreme Court. Prior to my work there, the US Supreme Court had found the Texas and Georgia death- penalty statutes to be unconstitutional because of the arbitrariness with which they allowed the death penalty to be imposed. The decision rested in part on the hugely disproportionate number of blacks executed in the United States.

By the time I started work, a new law had been passed, and death row in Texas was filled again with 150 or so tenants. My work showed that even though the new death-row group had a more "reasonable" proportion of whites, over 99 percent of them were there for killing a white; two were there for killing an Hispanic. Nobody was on death row in Texas for killing a black. Even now, a nationwide study reveals that almost 90 percent of people executed in the US were executed for killing a white.

The arbitrariness of the system exists not just at the level of the court sentences; it runs rampant at the levels of crime investigation, the choices of whom to investigate and whom to prosecute, and the choices of the crimes with which a defendant will be charged. The causes of this persistent unfairness include limitations of time, manpower, and money as well as local political considerations and prejudice. There is nothing approaching justice in the overall implementation of the death penalty statutes.

Eric Troseth Boston

Countries whose cultural roots are agricultural tend to use prisons. Those with nomadic cultural roots tend toward fast and efficient expulsion, amputation, and execution. The US, with mixed cultures, has tended to imprison as we have become more settled.

But it appears to the ordinary citizen that when we spend huge sums per person to maintain life-term prisoners, it would be cheaper in the long run to execute them. Those who accept the presence of evil in the world are skeptical of rehabilitation efforts. It's not vengeance. It's not deterring others. It's just a matter of protection from the destroyers of a society most of its members value. Until our justice system protects society from those who would destroy it, we may expect the demand for capital punishment to continue - not for vengeance, but for the safety of our society and its members.

John E. Iacono St. Louis Park, Minn.

One by one your May 11 editorial laid out the death-penalty proponents' principal arguments, and then showed each to be a fallacy. In particular, the vengeance motive of those seeking the death penalty in any specific case deserves to be seen for what it is: a legally sanctioned hatred that is morally indistinguishable from the motive(s) of the crime itself. Under this regime of vengeance, the state, rather than being the instrument of justice, is merely the intermediary in the victims' and survivors' pursuit of retribution. The "victims' rights movement" wants emotion-laden descriptions of pain, suffering, and loss to be the focus of trials, with the objective of driving judges and juries to impose the maximum penalty.

Death penalty proponents may rationalize their lust for revenge, and they may offer anecdotal evidence when the existence of the death penalty has deterred a crime. But they cannot dispute that the exercise of the death penalty is a violation of the Sixth Commandment. The opinion that Timothy McVeigh doesn't "deserve" to live is equivalent to saying, "I, through the agency of the state, deserve to kill him."

Ron Douglass Healdsburg, Calif.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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