By JEFFREY WHITE
Currently up for review by the U.S. Supreme Court is the constitutionality of carrying out the death sentence on mentally retarded killers.
Again at the forefront of this legal battle is convicted rapist and murderer John Paul Penry, who has an IQ somewhere between 51 and 63, and who has, according to his lawyer, the intellect of a 7-year-old.
As you probably remember, back in 1989 the Supreme Court used Penry’s case to rule that the execution of mentally retarded murderers is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Well, it seems Penry is going to get another shot at it, as the nation’s highest court has agreed to reconsider his case.
Personally, I don’t see why Penry or any mentally retarded convict on death row should be treated differently because of his lack of intelligence. If anything, that would make the punishment more humane, as mentally inferior convicts would not fully understand the process and would probably not be so anxious or afraid.
Thus, in a sense, it could be argued that it would actually be slightly more morally palatable to execute someone who lacks the brainpower to really comprehend what is happening.
Also, if the court upholds its prior decision to allow mentally retarded murderers to be executed, it sends out a message to all would-be felons that our justice system does not tolerate such heinous crimes as murder and rape, meaning capital punishment would remain intact as a deterrent to such activities.
However, the death penalty is not a deterrent as it is currently administered. Study after study has shown this to be the case.
One thing that certainly does not help the death penalty to be the deterrent that it could is the fact that very few actually know what goes on when a person is executed in an electric chair, gas chamber or by lethal injection.
Even educated people have a difficult time actually grasping the concept of death. However, seeing it with one’s own eyes would certainly help a person understand the gravity of being put to death. This is why I think that executions should be televised.
Like C-SPAN, which televises the proceedings taking place on Capitol Hill, I think there should be a channel that airs executions. This way, we get more bang for our buck when we kill one of our prisoners. Ideally, much like C-SPAN, this channel would be free, even if you forget to pay that cable bill.
If you saw what actually happens when someone is electrocuted to death in the electric chair, or when a human dies of asphyxiation in the gas chamber, that would be a pretty powerful experience — possibly powerful enough to make you think twice before committing that violent crime.
This may seem like a somewhat radical proposition, but really, it is not. Public executions were commonplace worldwide for centuries, even in this country, until relatively recently.
We shouldn’t be ashamed of what our government has relegated to private, behind-closed-doors sessions, and instead make it as public as possible, which would be to televise all government-sanctioned executions. This way, the death penalty will finally be given the chance to be an effective deterrent to capital crimes.
It is true; some parents may not want their children to see real death on television. Well, that’s what that box in the corner of the screen is for that says “”TV-MA.”” And frankly, parents should be in control of what programs their children watch, anyway.
However, children are already exposed to so much death in the media and in television shows, it would be somewhat pointless not to allow them to watch the executions. The only difference between waching an execution and the countless other shows in which people are killed would be that parents would have to explain to their children that these are real people actually being killed for crimes they have committed.
In fact, parents should make it very clear to their children exactly who is executing these people; that it is in fact mommy and daddy killing them. Or maybe mommy and daddy don’t even realize that fact.
Fortunately, I have another proposition: execution duty. Execution duty would be the equivalent of jury duty, except that U.S. citizens would be chosen at random to “”throw the switch”” for all executions.
It is true that this would create a huge amount of bureaucracy and probably some moral objections as well. But really, we are all “”throwing the switch”” already, as we more than tolerate — in fact, overwhelmingly support — the death penalty in this country.
So really, it wouldn’t be any different if we physically killed the prisoners ourselves. People would just be more aware of what they have been doing all along. That can’t be a bad thing.
I want to throw the switch myself. I want to see, with my own two eyes, that convicted felon die as his body is electrocuted or poisoned. I want the reality that I already kill on a regular basis to be real in my mind, for that fact to be concrete and tangible.
This doesn’t make me crazy. It’s already what I’m doing. It’s already what you’re doing.
Face it: You have blood on your hands — though unfortunately not literally, since the government we’ve elected is so good at keeping our murders out of sight, therefore out of mind.
That’s why it should be on television. That’s why we should be forced to throw the switch ourselves. That’s why we should have to tell our little children that mommy and daddy kill people. Maybe then we will actually realize what we are doing. And once we do, maybe then we will actually be in a position to decide whether we approve of capital punishment.
I agree with what former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once said: “”The question with which we must deal is not whether a substantial proportion of American citizens would today, if polled, opine that capital punishment is barbarously cruel, but whether they would find it to be so in light of all information presently available.””
So get all the information presently available, so you can at the very least put yourself in a better position to make that decision.