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April 27, 2005

Let's leave vengeance to the Lord

The drive to re-instate the death penalty in Iowa is doomed, despite the anger stirred by the recent murder of a child in Cedar Rapids and the fact that two-thirds of the state's adults favor it.

Senate co-president Michael Gronstal says he'll continue to make sure the Senate doesn't consider the bill, and Gov. Tom Vilsack is sure to veto it if it does make it through the Legislature. I find, somewhat surprisingly, that I'm glad.

Never had a big problem with the death penalty for a good many years. Some people richly deserve to get fried and I'll shed no tear for the likes of Timothy McVeigh and a lot of others who've met the executioner. But ...

The "buts" started weighing heavily over the last few years, as inmate after inmate on Illinois' death row was proven to be innocent of the crime that put them there. The count's at 13 now, and Illinois is hardly the only state with a problem. Since 1973, 119 people on the death rows of 25 states have been exonerated.
One hundred and nineteen is a big number, too big for any person of conscience to ignore.

Illinois is trying to repair its death penalty law so that it can continue to execute the deserving, without worrying about killing the innocents. If that can be done, fine and good.

In the meantime, though, we know that the number of innocent people executed in Iowa since 1965 is zero. That's a number that's pretty easy to live with, as more and more Iowans acknowledge. Though 67 percent favor the death penalty, the number is down from 81 percent in 1993. Given that the most recent poll was taken in the wake of a highly publicized child murder, even the 67 percent figure may be a spike upward.

Iowa was among the first states to abolish the death penalty, and it's hardly become a hotbed of murder and a haven for murderers as a result. Only three states have lower murder rates than Iowa's 1.6 per 100,000 residents. Interestingly enough, of the 13 states with the lowest murder rates, eight are no-death penalty states, which pretty much destroys the death-penalty-as-deterrent argument.

I've been among those who've argued in support of the death penalty by saying it makes no sense to pay for keeping someone in prison for life; just kill 'em and save the money. Even this argument is falling as a hard look at the numbers indicates, however counter-intuitively, that executions are more expensive than a life-without-parole system. There's considerable controversy on this topic, given that anti-death penalty advocates were early sources for the numbers.

But rigorous official studies in Tennessee, North Carolina and Kansas, among other places, support the assertion that life-without-parole is a significantly less expensive option.

So the death penalty really isn't a deterrent, and it's more costly than the life-without parole option. What's left to justify it?

Not much, except vengeance, and "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."

Let's leave it to Him.

John Beydler is news editor at Quad-Cities Online. email johnbeyd@qconline.com

Posted by jcb at April 27, 2005 03:26 PM


We should be able to do a better job of figuring out whether a person is guilty or not, given all the tools law enforcement has gained in recent years.

I don't have a problem with an execution, for instance, if there is DNA evidence.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 27, 2005 03:43 PM

How many more young children have to die in Iowa before we realize what should be clear even to the dullest mind. The animals that do these things are not curable, and like the rabid animals that they are, should be put down. The crimes of Murder, Kidnapping & Rape, should all merit the death penalty. The accussed should be given a fair trial and then, if proven guilty, a rapid execution. The only appeal allowed should be a review to make sure the law was followed during the trial.
There are those who say this will be no deterant to these types, but I defy anyone to name a child-molester who, after being hung, repeated his crime.

Posted by: Richard Kurtz at April 27, 2005 11:08 PM

Oh, by all means do not pass this legislation - let the guilty go to jail (only to be released within a matter of time) to commit more crimes!!

Posted by: Pat Prouty at April 28, 2005 09:55 AM

I believe in leaving "vengeance to the Lord;" however, in a virtually conscienceless society, what incentive is there to obey the law?

Posted by: anonymous at April 28, 2005 12:52 PM