I’ve been writing about capital punishment for about 20 years now, which is about 20 years too long. It’s easy enough to poke holes in the ideas that drive the practice itself; it’s expensive, it doesn’t deter crime, it hits the poor and people of color harder, the rest of the world abandoned the practice long ago, etc.
Likewise, when you’re writing about a death row exoneree who was actually innocent but was sentenced to die anyway, that’s an easy sell. Most people understand that it’s wrong to kill someone for a crime they didn’t commit (though some judges are on the fence about this; Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in 2009, “This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” That passage can be translated to: “It’s OK to kill innocent people, so long as the process looks fair.”).
Then, there are the real murder cases with the really guilty people and really horrific circumstances. When you examine those cases, high-minded policy arguments tend to dissolve, sympathy wanes and the reader is left thinking, “Well, maybe the death penalty isn’t so bad after all.” This, I suppose, is what keeps a few alt-weekly-reading liberals on the fence about the continued viability of American capital punishment.Read More ›