Death penalty abolitionists advocate the death penalty is indefensible, beneath the dignity of a civilized society and fails to serve as deterrence to murder and other violent crimes. Instead, they advocate an across-the-board moratorium or elimination of the death penalty, asserting a guaranteed sentence of life without the possibility of parole will serve as a fair and humane punishment for even the worst serial killers, sexually sadistic psychopaths and mass murderers. This benevolent social concession is fraught with red flags and merely serves up the American people as guinea pigs in yet another social experiment of dubious merit.
One huge gap in the logic of replacing the death sentence with a punishment of life without the possibility of parole is that in America there are 51 separate criminal justice systems.
States account for about 95 percent of all crimes committed and federal statutes only apply when crimes are committed on federal property, against federal employees or are interstate in nature. Therefore, to replace the death sentence 33 states (the number of states that currently allows execution), the federal government and the military court would have to change their laws not only to eliminate the death penalty, but also to substitute life without the possibility of parole and offer up some kind of guarantees that these laws would not be subject to the capricious whims of pandering politicians.
Should the political climate change and attitudes toward crime and punishment undergo a fundamental shift I guarantee, as surely as there will be individuals pleading for the life of Richard Ramirez (Nightstalker) or Richard Allen Davis as they are strapped into the gurney, legislation will be introduced and court rulings will alter, tweak and create loopholes in the law.
Before we declare an across the board moratorium on the death penalty, we should also consider the repercussions of unilateral disarmament. At best, there will be no positive impact on crime statistics and at worst we send the message to killers that they can continue to kill with impunity with full knowledge that they have achieved victory without concessions.
Criminals would know that regardless of the crimes that they commit, they will not have to pay for their crime in kind, even in its mildest form. That in fact, if caught, the worst they can expect is guaranteed room, board and health care in perpetuity. This is a social concession that despite the mindset or nature of the criminal, we are affording them a power that society is unwilling to assign itself. The message is obvious and fraught with ominous implications such as, “You win.”
However, the most straightforward argument for deterrence is that it saves innocent lives by preventing convicted murderers from killing again.
On January 7, 1965, 23-year-old Robert Lee Massie was sentenced to death for murdering Mildred Weiss during a botched robbery near her home. The sentence was commuted to life in 1972. Massie was paroled in 1978. Eight months later, Massie killed Boris Naumoff in another botched robbery. Pleading guilty, Massie was again sentenced to death. Finally, in 2001, Massie was executed.
In 1966, Kenneth Allen McDuff forced a teenage girl and two teenage boys into the trunk of a car. He raped the girl then murdered all three. During his trial, McDuff said that killing a woman was like killing a chicken, ”They both squawk.” The jury recommended the death penalty. When the death penalty was suspended in the U.S., McDuff was released from prison. In the early 1990s, McDuff murdered at least nine more women. He was again arrested, convicted and sentenced to death for those crimes. He was ultimately executed in 1998.
With no death penalty and only life without parole there isn't any deterrent for inmates serving a maximum sentences from killing others while in prison or after escape. In fact, there is positive incentive for individuals with a predisposition to kill, knowing that eliminating evidence, thrill killing and other horrors have been voided of external controls. There are many killers imprisoned in states that do not have the death penalty who have killed again and again, knowing their penalty cannot be increased.
In 1980 Clarence Ray Allen was serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, yet he masterminded the murder of three of the witnesses who had testified against him from his prison cell. He was ultimately executed for the subsequent crimes.
Approximately 810 of the 52,000 inmates serving time in state prisons for murder in 1984 had been convicted of murdering 821 persons following their previous murder conviction. Executing each of these inmates would have saved 821 lives.
In 1981 there were 701 murders in Houston, Texas. Since 1982, when Texas resumed executions, Houston has executed more murderers than any other city or state (except Texas) and has seen the greatest reduction in murder, 701 in 1981 down to 261 in 1996 - a 63% reduction.