The Scales Of Justice, And The Delaware Death Penalty

Currently there is legislation making its way through the Delaware Legislature, Senate Bill 19, that would repeal the death sentence in the state of Delaware.

Of  course this bill has drawn a great amount of attention, both from the public and the media.  There are, of course, arguments on both sides of this hotly debated issue.  And emotions run high.

In most cases involving justice, we would expect that one would want to keep emotions as far away from the decisions as possible. However, it is not realistic to say,  in the case of the death penalty, that this is possible.

When we talk of the verdicts in these cases, we should expect that the decisions are made by people who are not emotionally involved in the cases, this is why, it is said that justice is blind. The jury is vetted by both the prosecution, and the defense, in order to ensure that the jury is as impartial as  possible.  Judges are selected based on their ability to be as impartial as possible as well. All of this, in the hope, that the defendant will receive the fairest trail possible.

But in the case of whether or not the death penalty should be an option for punishing certain crimes, well in that case we are talking about the view point of the society, and with that, comes all of the benefits and flaws that live within us all.

Now of course there are those who feel that the death penalty is inhumane, that it is actually more humane to lock a person in a cell that is the size of a small outdoor shed for twenty two, to twenty three hours a day, than it is to end their life for the crime they committed.

You may have already guessed that I am not one of those people. In truth, for some of the crimes that result in a death sentence, to end the life of the criminal only once, may be too lenient.

Those who oppose the death penalty will also tell us that  the death penalty is not a deterrent to future crimes, and I would agree with that. Personally I don’t believe that any punishment is ever a deterrent to any crime, not for those who will actually commit  the crimes.  For example, we have laws that punish people for stealing, yet we still have people who steal, not once, but multiple times. Even after serving time for these crimes, we have repeat offenders. We have laws against rape, against child molestation, and again these people repeat their crimes many times over.

Even as we toughen our laws, our crime rates go up. So, do I believe that the death penalty will deter anyone from killing or raping? No.

However, the death penalty is a solution. It solves the problem that society has with a proven killer. If a person is convicted of a crime that results in the death penalty, and has exhausted the appeals process, and the sentence is carried out, then society will never have to fear that this person will ever kill again. Now as I said, this will not deter another person from committing a murder or other crimes that carry the death penalty, but it does solve one problem.

Right here in America, on a daily basis I would imagine, we put down rabid animals, and mad dogs, that have attacked people, children, and even other animals. We do it humanely, and we do it because we recognize that once an animal has experienced this act, that the likelihood of them doing it again is high.  Is it really so different when a person has experienced the act of killing? We know that a large number of people who kill, will kill again if not stopped. Is it so outrageous to treat these people who act like mad dogs, like mad dogs? To put them down, humanely, so as to protect the rest of society from them?

Now of course, again those who oppose the death penalty will tell us that locking them away for life will protect society. But will it?

First off, they will still be a danger to those they come into contact with while in prison. Other inmates that are in for lesser crimes, and let us not forget how many death row inmates end up killing or injuring prison guards. So to say that life in prison, without parole, will protect society, is false in my view. It may protect those who would leave them there to rot and never think of them again, but many are still at risk from these desperate people.

A larger concern with the repealing of the death sentence, is that along with it comes the commuting of sentences that have already been handed down. SB 19 would not only repeal the death penalty in the state of Delaware, but would also commute those of the seventeen people currently on death row. That would mean that the state legislature would take upon itself, the power to overturn the decision of a duly appointed jury. In my opinion this violates the separation of powers between the courts and the legislative branches.

Along with this fear of the overreach of the legislative branch, comes the fear of future overreach based on this precedent.  If the legislative branch can overturn the decision of the jury from a death sentence to life without parole, what is to stop a future legislature from changing life without parole, to allowing some of these criminals to be paroled?  After all, there are some who already feel that life without parole is also inhumane. If that where to happen, the false sense of security that life in prison affords us on the outside, would evaporate.

Some have made the argument that keeping a prisoner in prison for life is actually less expensive than putting them to death. That seems unlikely to me, but I am little concerned with the cost either way. This is an issue that I feel goes beyond our usual fiscal concerns. So I will neither argue one way or the other based on cost.

I will now make my argument for keeping the death penalty in the state of Delaware. Not based on my emotions, since I have been blessed to have never lost a loved one, or a close friend to a capital crime. Not based on economics, because as I just said, I feel this goes beyond those concerns.

No, I will attempt to make my case based on my view of justice. I know that some will not share this view, others  will  feel that I do not go far enough in my defense of the death penalty, and say that I am weak for not appealing to the most base emotions of the human animal, hatred!

Let me start by reminding people of the image of Lady Justice. We have all seen some representation of her. A slender, blindfolded woman holding a set of balance scales.

I have described earlier the meaning of the blindfold, it represents that justice sees no color, no race, no creed, no gender, no class. That justice is based on the facts of the case and the moral decisions of the society. At least that is the intended act of justice.

The balance scales,  in my view, are what is important in this discussion of whether to keep or repeal the death penalty.  The scales represent on the one side, the crime, and on the other side the punishment. So we are shown that for justice to truly be just, the punishment must be equal to the crime. I am not talking about scripture here, because not all within our society share the Judeo-Christian values of many who support the death penalty. I am talking about a punishment that is equal to the crime committed.  I feel that based upon this idea of a balanced justice, that the death penalty falls squarely within the Eighth Amendment where it says; “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”.  For if the punishment is equal to the crime as decided by society, then how can it be deemed cruel or unusual?

Let us look at some of the seventeen men on death row in Delaware, currently there are no women awaiting execution in Delaware.

Of the seventeen, all have been convicted of murder in the first degree.  Ten are African-American, the other seven are listed as white, though three of those would appear to be of Hispanic heritage. I know that some who are in favor of repealing the death penalty also argue that their is a disproportionate number of minorities on death row, personally I believe that we should ask ourselves why a disproportionate number of minorities are committing capital crimes.

Of the seventeen, four were convicted on two counts of murder in the first degree.

First we have Luis G. Cabrera, 44 years old,

Facts of the Crime:

On January 21, 1996, a pedestrian discovered the bodies of Brandon Saunders and Vaughn Rowe in a wooded area of Rockford Park. The victims appeared to have been killed and then dragged to the location in the woods, where they were covered in a maroon bed sheet. Both victims had been shot in the back of the head. Rowe had also been beaten.

Cabrera was sentenced to death on March 14, 2002.

Two people shot execution style, one beaten and then the bodies are hidden, showing that he knew right from wrong.

Next, James E. Cooke Jr., 43 years old,

Summary of Offense:

On May 1, 2005, James E. Cooke, Jr., 34, broke into the apartment of University of Delaware student, Lindsey Bonistall, 20; he proceeded to rape and strangle her to death, then he put her body in the bathtub. In an attempt to throw off the police detectives, Cooke scrawled white-supremacist graffiti on the walls of Lindsey’s apartment before setting it on fire in an attempt to cover up the crime. Cooke used a blue magic-marker to write “KKK” in several places near the front door of Lindsey Bonistall’s Towne Court apartment.

Raped and strangled an innocent girl in her dorm room and then attempted to mislead investigators, again showing knowledge of right and wrong.

Michael R. Manley, 39 years old,

Murder for hire, shot and killed one witness in a trial and was ready to kill another. Was sentenced 2/03/2006. The victim was shot five times in the back.

Adam W. Norcross, 43 years old,

Facts of the Crime:

On November 4, 1996, Norcross and co-defendant Ralph E. Swan broke into the home of and shot to death Kenton resident Kenneth Warren.

Norcross was sentenced to death on October 3, 2001.

Home invasion has to be one of the most frightening crimes imaginable, and then to kill the person as well.

Norcross” co-defendant Ralph E. Swan, 42 years old,

Sentenced to death 10/03/2001

I have no intention of going through the entire seventeen, but as you can see, the men on death row are there due to acts of great violence and a total lack of respect for human life.

My final example however holds a great deal of emotion for those of us in  Sussex County,  Derrick J. Powell, 26 years old,
 On Sept. 1, 2009,  Georgetown Patrolman Chad Spicer is shot and killed during a traffic stop in town. Spicer’s partner, Shawn Brittingham, is hit in the neck by a bullet fragment. Authorities later say driver Christopher Reeves jumped out and ran, and passenger Derrick Powell fired a single shot from the back seat of the car, striking Spicer in the face.

Officer Spicer left behind his parents and a young daughter who will now grow up without her father, all because Mr. Powell had no regard for human life and was willing to kill anyone who got in his way.

I call on our Delaware legislators to think long and hard on this issue of repealing the death penalty. To consider two important points.

First of all, to retro-actively overturn the sentences handed down by duly appointed courts and juries is an infringement upon our judicial system by the legislative branch and sets a serious precedent.

Secondly, I would encourage the law-makers to think about that set of balance scales that Lady Justice holds, about how in our system of justice the punishment must weigh even with the crime, this does not mean merely that the punishment must not be too harsh, or cruel, but that the punishment must not be too lenient. For if it is too lenient, then where is the justice for the victims and their families left behind.

Some will say that to take a life as justice for taking a life is barbarous. That life in prison without parole will protect society. But is that a balanced justice?  Can the families of the victims of these men come and visit the victims once a week? Can the victims read a book, exercise, eat, drink? Can they watch a movie?

I will close by once again pointing out that the death penalty is not a deterrent, but it is a solution.  We have a duty to protect ourselves from the mad dogs of the world, and we owe a balanced justice to the victims of these violent and senseless act.

4 Comments on "The Scales Of Justice, And The Delaware Death Penalty"

  1. kavips says:

    I used to be for the death penalty. For many of the same reasons you spoke.

    What changed my mind, was a survey published on a back page of a country newspaper, that said 100% of America’s wardens were against capital punishment.

    I was incredulous. How could that be? How could those who have the most knowledge and experience with death row, certainly not the bleeding liberal type, all be against capital punishment?

    They were all practical reasons. Death was expensive; more than life. Having someone spend their entire life in prison, shook up the other prisoners more than having everyone their own age and younger, ..Many prisoners actually preferred being put to death over living 50 years behind bars. Dying is a privilege, like time off for good behavior. continued living is a punishment. Apparently the mindset inside a prison, is completely different than ours outside.

    Outside the walls, we think death is a deterrent. Have you ever been in trouble, even for little things? Perhaps with your wife? Did the potential consequences stop you before you did what got you in trouble? No? They don’t for criminal either.

    The people we put in charge of our prisons, are unanimously in favor of doing away with capital punishment; we need to support them…..

    Like everyone who is honest, if someone harmed myself or my family, I would enjoy putting a bullet through their head. I totally understand the need for closure. That said, not being allowed to do it myself, but have someone do it for me, really doesn’t cut it. I would want them to suffer as much, and as long as possible. Getting an early card out by being condemned by the state to die, isn’t fair. If I can’t pull the trigger, having them wake up every day of their life, regretting what they’d done, is my idea of justice….

    I’m sure others out there think that getting killed is worse than living a long life in prison. I can understand their thirst for justice and that whichever punishment is deemed worse, that ti be the one applied to the convicted.

    So whether you think living incarcerated or getting killed is the worse punishment, either way, it is based entirely upon speculation… There are people who do know. They’ve run prisons.

    They unanimously feel that life imprisonment is the way to go… none of us out here, have the credentials to argue against them…

    If they say Capital Punishment should go…. it should go.

  2. Frank Knotts says:

    Kavips, first of all, quoting an un-named survey is not much of an argument. Also surveys are not much of an argument to begin with. Also, did you read what I wrote? I said that penalties are never a deterrent. As for the cost I don’t think that it really matters one way or another. And when we are talking about the balance of justice, then the wishes of the victims and the families, in my opinion weigh more than a prison official? Please go back and read it again. I am not talking about which punishment is worse than the other, I am talking about which is more just for the crime committed. Have you heard how the mother of Officer Spicer feels about the possibility that the killer of her son may have his sentence commuted?

  3. kavips says:

    Thanks, I did read your article but read it only once so possibly I may have missed some items. Sorry if I duplicated anything.

    I apologize for not having the survey. It was done long before I ever had a computer, and it will have to be dug up by someone else’s search engine… It is probably no where but on microfiche. The survey was published near the time the movie The Green Mile was up for an Oscar, and I believe it was an AP one, but back then to be honest it could have instead still been UPI….

    I remember it only at because it was one of those pivotal pieces that happen in ones life, where one decides to switch sides from what he had deeply believed for a long time.

    And although we all use individual testimonies like that regarding Mr. Sp[cer to bolster our arguments, we must beware to avoid letting one story override the wishes and feelings of a majority of others….

    A large number of victims testify that closure over 24 to 35 years is way too long… Without capital punishment, closure ends immediately at the end of the trial.

  4. mouse says:

    Shrink, I want to kill

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