By Brian Low
There has been a good deal of publicity lately regarding several convicted killers slated to die in the United States. Two of the most prominent are Canadian national Stanley Faulder and German national Darell Mease. I really can’t figure out why they’re killing these guys.
The response that you hear most often is “as a punishment for their crimes.” Fair enough. But why death? I think it has to do with our motivations for punishment. I also think those motivations are seriously flawed.
One of the most logical arguments for capital punishment is that it protects society. If these men are dead, there is no way that they will kill again. This is very true. It is, however, also true that if they are in jail for the rest of their lives, they will not have the opportunity to kill again. So the protection of society must not be the reason for these men’s deaths. If it were, execution would really just be (pardon the pun) overkill.
Another reason we punish is to help criminals reform. In a place like jail, we hope criminals can learn to deal with whatever problems motivated the crime so they can return as productive members of society. This, however, is clearly not what is going on with these two. The us is not interested in reforming them. It’s trying to kill them, for heaven’s sake! To reform a man and then kill him would be the equivalent of teaching your beef cattle to shake a hoof right before you slaughter it. It just doesn’t make sense. There must be some other reason.
Perhaps they’re trying to send a message to all the would-be killers. Woe betide anyone who engages in similar conduct! This, too, has problems. The idea that capital punishment deters murder presupposes that killers are both rational and forward thinking. Reason and experience would seem to indicate that they are generally neither. Before and after studies indicate that capital punishment has no deterrent effect on murder rates. It would appear that when criminals engage in crimes, they’re not planning on getting caught. Imagine that. So scratch deterrence from the list, too.
I suppose that some might think that when we kill despicable men, we don’t have to waste any of our tax dollars supporting them in prison. How wonderfully frugal. So what price are you willing to place on a human life? Does one’s intrinsic value as a person rise or fall depending on one’s actions? If it does, what is the dollar figure for your head versus the Pope’s? Do we really think that we can put a monetary price on life?
Even if we are prepared to evaluate the value of someone’s life in dollars and cents, it is only cheaper to execute someone than to jail him if you live in Stalinist Russia, or some other comparable dictatorship where there is no effective legal system. In modern democracies, it costs the state far more to execute a man than it does to house him in prison for the rest of his life, because of the appeals necessary to put someone under the noose. It actually costs more to kill a man than to keep him alive. So clearly, thrift cannot be the motivating factor behind these men’s deaths.
So what is left? The only thing I can think of is that it somehow brings people a sense of satisfaction to see these men die. They feel that they will set right what each had wronged. This, of course, is a ridiculous proposition. The initial victims are just as dead as they ever were, and all we’ve done is expand the tragedy. Sure, we may be dealing with heinous people here. So what? They’re still people. That anyone derives some form of capricious validation in seeing another die is despicable. It indicates that s/he is made of the same stuff as the criminal, a desire to satisfy his or her own passion at the expense of another’s life. If this is why they’re killing these men, God have mercy on us all.
And what if there has been a mistake? What if one of these men is another David Milgaard, another Guy Paul Morin, another David Marshall? These are all men who would have been dead by now if Canada had capital punishment; each one was later proved completely innocent. People’s lives are too important to entrust to any legal system short of perfect.
I’m not saying that they turn either Faulder or Mease loose to roam the streets. I am saying that their death at the hands of the state defies all reason. It’s wrong. And if it’s not wrong, it’s stupid, at least. I still can’t figure out why they’re killing these guys.