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Vote No on Proposition 34: Deterrence and the Death Penalty

There are numerous ways to demonstrate the deterrent effect of the death penalty. Here are a few of them.

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.

And, never forget. Bundy, Gacy, Massie, McDuff and Allen will never kill again for they have been deterred.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Peter Brown July 19, 2012 at 10:44 PM
There are too many instances of innocent people on death row. Besides if you say that one reason for the death penalty is deterrence then you are aking society to kill someone so another crime will not happen. Very rarely do you sentence someone for something he has no control over, like a future robbery by persons unknown. Have you considered that putting twelve people in a room to decide to kill someone may also not be legal or desirable.
chris irvin July 20, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Death penalty needs to be back, life for a life,these prisoners sit there getting 3 meals a day,elecritiy, TV time,computer time,yard time and most have cellphones inside,they have all the luxries and rights if not more than any American person....so we the innocent pay for these killers to be housed,feed and entertained,plus every guard is being paid by tax payer money, I would like a big huge refund as an American of California, no wonder why this state is broke, but wait we now can afford a high speed rail,now that's really funny
Peter Brown July 20, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Actually you pay a lot more to have them murdered
Albert Rubio July 20, 2012 at 02:34 AM
>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. Your plan if followed would actually lead to the execution of 52,000 people and not just 810. The world is moving in the direction of abolition of the death sentence and the floodgates of crime have not opened. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment#Movements_towards_humane_execution >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. This is not a matter of logic and not a problem and not a fault with abolitionism. Again for social liberal reasons it is better to have authority distributed. We don't want a powerful centralized police and court system with the ability to execute citizens. While I sympathize with the intention of justice, the policies suggested would greatly weaken the principles of freedom in society. What is not taken into consideration is the history of temptation to use absolute power, once granted, to be used for personal gain, prejudice and caprice. I have further outlined the reasons against state executions here: http://newark.patch.com/blog_posts/vote-no-on-proposition-34
Marc Klaas July 20, 2012 at 03:47 AM
I believe that my blog demonstrated that the death penalty is a deterrence. I offered two individuals who had total control over their victims. McDuff and Massie were both removed from death row and placed back into society where they killed again. Once they were finally executed they stopped killing innocent people.
Marc Klaas July 20, 2012 at 03:50 AM
Peter, murder is what they did to their victims. They are being punished - executed if you will. It is unfair to label juries and judges as murderers when they are simply carrying out the law and the will of the people. Also, obstacles to the death penalty have been created by the very people who say that it costs too much. If they worked within the law these obstacles could easily be cleared.
Marc Klaas July 20, 2012 at 03:56 AM
The other day you said, "There is no evidence that the death penalty significantly deters crime or murder." Today I demonstrated some of the ways that it does deter future murder, yet you ignore everything that I said. Also you jump to hasty conclusions. Only 2% of murderers serving time in American prisons sit on death row.
Peter Brown July 20, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Prison sentences for life are the only way to handle the extreme cases. Murdering people is not a solution just a panacea for the families of the victims and for society as a whole. We may not arm society with the decision to engage in ritualistic killings following lengthy trials and errors. Most of society has moved on from there with pockets like Iran, China, and other primitive societies insisting on their blood sports.
Marc Klaas July 20, 2012 at 11:03 PM
I cannot debate your moral superiority.
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Albert Rubio July 21, 2012 at 01:53 AM
the keyword is significantly. I would guess there is no statistical difference. I will have to research this idea more to be more clear about it. One idea to keep in mind however (discussed in the lecture cited) is the cruelty and barbarity contained in the law before the liberal era. Today's death penalty is mild (IMO) compared to judicial torture and death in the past eras. Yet, the amount of crime does not appear to be significantly changed by making punishments more severe. This is not just my estimation it is well known apparently. Is there a study that arrives at your conclusion for your evidence? The problem is that it is not clear what is the cause as crime is always rising and falling and >Today I demonstrated some of the ways that it does deter future murder, yet you ignore everything that I said. I don't think you demonstrated it. I think it is very inconclusive on the evidence cited. I am willing to spend more time to research the effective deterrence of the death penalty.
Albert Rubio July 21, 2012 at 02:03 AM
>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. > Also you jump to hasty conclusions. Only 2% of murderers serving time in American prisons sit on death row. 1. You claim there were 52000 inmates serving time for murder 2. How would you have executed the right 810 second offenders before their second offense? Unless it was for their first offense. 3. Your statement said nothing about death row. I did not think that the 810 were on death row prior to their second murder conviction. 4. Therefore I reasoned that you believe in the death penalty for all with a murder conviction. I think my conclusions were reasonable given what you wrote, but if I got it wrong I am not trying to misrepresent you. But please do clarify what you meant and your position so I get it right. -Albert
Albert Rubio July 21, 2012 at 02:39 AM
The idea of capital punishment is very plausible. for this reason I have been on the fence about it for some time until recently. While it is true that most societies have moved or are moving away from capital punishment, what is more important and are the reasons why. Only the strongest reasons can persuade. There are many things most nations do that are in fact wrong or unethical. The fact that they do it is not an endorsement by itself.
Albert Rubio July 21, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Anectdotal Evidence/Fallacy >I believe that my blog demonstrated that the death penalty is a deterrence. I offered two individuals who had total control over their victims. McDuff and Massie were both removed from death row and placed back into society where they killed again. "The expression anecdotal evidence refers to evidence from anecdotes. Because of the small sample, there is a larger chance that it may be true but unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise non-representative samples of typical cases. Anecdotal evidence is considered dubious support of a claim... The term is often used in contrast to scientific evidence ... Some anecdotal evidence does not qualify as scientific evidence because its nature prevents it from being investigated using the scientific method. Misuse of anecdotal evidence is a logical fallacy and is sometimes informally referred to as the "person who" fallacy ("I know a person who..."; "I know of a case where..." etc. Compare with hasty generalization). Anecdotal evidence is not necessarily representative of a "typical" experience; statistical evidence can more accurately determine how typical something is." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anecdotal_evidence
Albert Rubio July 21, 2012 at 08:03 PM
From Columbia Law School Website Capital Punishment: Deterrent Effects & Capital Costs by Jeffrey A. Fagan, Professor of Law & Public Health; Co-Director, Center for Crime, Community, and Law "In this essay, Professor Jeff Fagan questions research that supports the long-accepted view of the deterrent effect of capital punishment. States must also come to terms with the fact that each execution can cost between $2.5 million and $5 million, he writes, and ask themselves whether that money can be put to better law-enforcement uses." "When we apply contemporary social science standards, the new deterrence studies fall well short of this high scientific bar. Consider the following: Most of the studies fail to account for incarceration rates or life sentences, factors that may drive down crime rates via deterrence or incapacitation; one study that does so finds no effects of execution and a significant effect of prison conditions on crime rates. Another report shows incarceration effects that dwarf the deterrent effects of execution. Most fail to account for complex social factors such as drug epidemics that are reliable predictors of fluctuations in the murder rate over time. The studies don't look separately at the subset of murders that are eligible for the death penalty, instead lumping all homicides together." http://www.law.columbia.edu/law_school/communications/reports/summer06/capitalpunish
Frank Geefay July 23, 2012 at 04:39 AM
I feel that as long as those convinced of a capital crime are taken out of society forever that is good enough for me. I feel more concern for the safety of society than I do for any sense for revenge or to "take an eye for an eye". I don't know if capital punishment is an effective deterrent but I have heard it said by some of those incarcerated for life that they would prefer the needle. If I were to select one method over the other it would be based more on economic considerations than any sense of justice. To me they both seem extremely harsh and are enough to deter me from ever thinking of committing a capital crime. If it cost more in appeals, etc. to execute a convicted murderer than to incarcerate them for life then I am against the death penalty. This also has the benefit of freeing the few who are proven to have actually been innocent. On the other hand if lifetime incarceration is proven to be more expensive then I would be for the death penalty. I make no pretense of playing God or being a moralist in these matters. I also make little distinction between those who are accused of molesting or raping a non-consenting child or adult. Both are horrendous acts and deserving of hard prison time and treatment if they are ever released back into society. As for consenting sexual crimes I need to make a case by case judgment. In general if an individual poses no danger to society I tend to be much more lenient.
Peter Brown July 23, 2012 at 03:17 PM
The punishment is not what deters me from killing people it's the fact that taking someone's life is just not acceptable. Life is sacred even though our society has built in a number of loopholes that allows us the right to kill others. As long as you stay within those rules you can kill with impunity such as stand and defend, soldiers at war, capital crime jurors. To those you can add a number of other situations where killing is frowned upon but usually not taken seriously, doctors who terminate lives, drunk drivers and presidents who send others to war. For the unlucky few who did not follow acceptable rules, there is usually no outlet. That raises the serious question of whether all sociopaths should be killed when identified.
Frank Geefay July 23, 2012 at 05:28 PM
I simply cannot fathom the emotions of hopelessness, anguish, despair, frustration, and bitterness that surviving victims of homicides such as Marc Klaas must have felt upon searching for and hearing of the death of a loved one. But I have wondered what would be my response had my loved one been kidnapped and murdered. Recent event at Aurora, Colo. bring closer the realization that no one is really safe. I am not a religious person but I do believe that with the possible exception of sociopaths whom I cannot relate to, there is much of me in everyone. Thus if I were a surviving victim of the homicide of a loved one I would hope I would have the grace to visit the murderer in prison and tell him/her that I don’t understand why they did such an heinous act but I forgive them and really mean it. I would do this more for me than them to bring closure and peace of mind so I could appreciate more those I still have and love and care for them as never before as well as cherish all the memories I had of my departed with a smile and a tear. Of course I might do just the opposite if such were to really happen but I would hope for the sake of my sanity not.
Peter Brown July 23, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Frank, I admire your candor. I am an atheist because I saw too many people die. I don't forgive nor do I forget I swore that I would never be party to taking another person's life because that is not my decision to make. I am comfortable with that because things happen in such a random way that no matter what the personal pain was and is, there is really no other solution but to move on. Not a day goes by that I do not relive some of the events. That changes not one iota of my perception of the sanctity of life, when the eyes cloud over and that unmistakable moment of death arrives, there is nothing to do or say. They are gone and you hope to heaven that they did not take you with them into the insane world of retaliation and revenge.
Peter Brown July 23, 2012 at 08:41 PM
I have known two certifiable sociopaths, one has not killed yet, that I know of, the other has. Their world is very strange because there is no commonality with ours. Every moment of empathy they give you is based on an act that they learned growing up and has no relation to the heart. If you meet one, run like hell because you cannot live in their world and not be hurt.
Peter Brown July 23, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Nad have we not dropped into a very nasty pit, I prefer to move along gently and with great dignity, yhe pain is less intense that way.
Maddy Farfan July 24, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Sorry.. But this is one California prop that really needs to make it. Just remember however to vote "No" on the new slavery prop (Prop 35).. which by the way is "supported" by "The California Peacemakers Association". And if you are THINKING CLEARLY, it is well past time that the "blank checks" STOP for so-called "law enforcement". They already have WAY too much power over citizens as it is... So, 'NO' on Prop 35, and 'Yes' on Prop 34. Take back YOUR power from the police!!! They are NOT our 'friends' and never have been. "Peacemakers" indeed... Hmmp!
Leni Park July 24, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Mr. Klaas, I've been unable to find any organized effort or campaign to defeat Prop. 34--or SAFE CA. A simple Google search led me to your article but I still can't find any active campaign where I can devote my time. I'm assuming you know where to I can go?..Please let me know!
Thomas nelson July 24, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Mr. Klass, First thing, my deepest sympathy to you for the loss of your daughter. As a family member of a murder victim, by The Nightstalker, I applaud your effort to get the otherside out on this proposition. It is disgusting that those who have caused our appeal system to be backed up, are now saying we should get rid of the death penalty now, because it takes so long to execute people. My grandmother's murder was sentenced in 1989 to death, first time we heard any news on his appeals came around 1998 or 99. If people truly want to change the wait time of this state's death penalty they should look at changing the constent delays in filing appeals these people use to get advantage. Hopefully this state population will not be fooled into voting for this. Tom. PS: like a poster above I found this article through a search looking for a site for, no on prop 34. Didn't see any site that appears to be around but if you know where the No on 34 can be found I would appreciate it.
Marc Klaas July 24, 2012 at 05:33 PM
The website for No on Prop. 34 can be found here - http://waitingforjustice.net/
Albert Rubio July 25, 2012 at 05:46 AM
Mark, >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. I still don't see how this is a valid argument. I am still interested in understanding how you can save 821 lives without executing all 52,000 inmates. Or is it your open position that we should execute all inmates convicted of murder? Or is there another explanation?
Chris Bernstien September 06, 2012 at 09:03 AM
The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. Proposition 34 is being funded primarily by a wealthy company out of Chicago, the ACLU, and similarly-oriented trust funds. It includes provisions that would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials and significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those grounds. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com and http://waiting4justice.org/.

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