This month prosecutors – including my stepfather, Joe Shannon – accused Edward Lee Busby Jr. of robbing Laura Lee Crane, a former director of Starpoint School at TCU, and then driving to Oklahoma with her in the trunk, killing her and leaving her body in the woods, head covered with duct tape, dead. Jurors found him guilty, no doubt a victory for Fort Worth and for TCU.The jury then sentenced Busby to death. Is this too a victory?
My stepfather believes so: “This man would kill again. He’d kill other prisoners inside a prison, or other people outside of one should he escape; either way, the people of Texas deserve to be protected.”
How do we know he will kill again? “No guarantee, but if we execute him, it is a cinch he won’t.”
I cannot see the inability of prisons to control their inmates as a viable argument for capital punishment. Neither can Ernest van den Haag, a legal scholar who favors the death penalty. We shouldn’t kill simply because prison systems won’t shape up.
Nor should we kill because it saves money – it doesn’t. A 1992 study by the Dallas Morning News found it’s cheaper, by millions of dollars, to jail someone for life.
Jailing for life also ends the possibility of executing innocents. The Death Penalty Information Center lists 122 people, since 1973, who have been freed from Death Row on evidence of innocence.
What then can death penalty proponents say to support their case? Does the death penalty deter potential criminals from killing? Both van den Haag and West Point philosopher Louis Pojman, also an advocate of capital punishment, admit no statistical study shows that the death penalty actually deters potential murderers from killing.
They rely instead, in Pojman’s words, on “nonstatistical evidence based on common sense.” Specifically, they believe people fear death more than life without parole and will refrain from murder accordingly.
I disagree. To adapt an argument from Cambridge philosopher David Conway, I certainly fear a zero more than a 10 on a final exam, but the fear of getting a 10 is sufficient enough to keep me studying. Likewise, I fear death more than life without parole, but life imprisonment is enough to keep me from murdering (Criminals who don’t think about punishment can’t be dissuaded by legal penalties anyway).
Once we give up the idea that capital punishment is a better deterrent than life without parole, death penalty proponents might still claim society deserves to satisfy some sheer desire for revenge.
But not everyone wants revenge, not even a number of murder victims’ families. Celeste Dixon attended the trial of her mother’s murderer had initially hoped for execution. But now, as a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, she works to abolish capital punishment. “I was so full of hate,” she pointed out, adding that she no longer wants to be “that kind of person.”
No statistics show the death penalty actually discourages murder – life without parole can do that job. Capital punishment executes innocent people. It’s more expensive than life without parole. And the prison system’s laziness is no argument. So what example do we give each other by satisfying bloodlust?
A poor one.
Douglas Lucas is an English and philosophy major from Fort Worth.