gravity in every murder trial comes from the fact that a life has
been snuffed out a life that cannot be brought back. Unfortunately,
our own justice system has too often colluded in that. Over the
last decade, dozens of convicted "murderers" have walked off death
row, exonerated by DNA evidence that proved their innocence. Wrongful
convictions in capital cases are frightening enough. But even more
troubling is what these miscarriages of justice imply: Many other
innocent people have almost certainly died, executed for crimes
they didn't commit.
there's more. The death penalty doesn't work as a deterrent. It
doesn't give anyone "closure" because only forgiveness can do that.
And finally it diminishes us the executioners by reducing us
to the same violence as the murderer.
blessed this summer with two very important Supreme Court decisions
that suggest a new mood about the death penalty. Writing for a 6-3
majority in Atkins v. Virginia, Justice John Paul Stevens said that
cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment
is determined mainly by "evolving standards of decency." He noted
a new "national consensus" against executing the mentally disabled.
That makes good sense. Americans recoil from hurting the weak. Mentally
deficient persons cannot be judged and punished by the same standards
applied to fully competent ones.
v. Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled that, in states where aggravated
circumstances need to exist before the death penalty can be imposed,
a jury not a judge or judges must determine beyond a reasonable
doubt whether one or more of the aggravated circumstances do exist.
In effect, the Ring decision called into question the sentences
of all three men currently on Colorado's death row and helped to
trigger the State Assembly's special session this week.
respect proposals to make the death penalty contingent on a unanimous
jury decision. This approach clearly better protects the rights
of the accused and the interests of society. But more importantly
we should remember that Catholic teaching on the death penalty
flows from the sanctity of the human person. All life is sacred.
Every person, even the murderer, is a child of God with God-given
dignity. As a result, except in the most extreme circumstances,
capital punishment cannot be justified. In developed countries like
our own, it should have no place in our public life.
This is a good
time for Coloradans to put all executions on hold; a good time to
think carefully about the kind of justice we want to witness to
our young people. We don't need to kill people to protect society.
We don't need to kill people to punish the guilty. And we should
never be in a hurry to take anyone's life.
As the Assembly
meets on this vital issue this week, the governor and legislators
could do our state a great service. They could commit themselves
to re-examining the death penalty its justification and its application
in a serious way in next year's regular session.
nothing to lose and a lot to gain from the debate. The times call
for it. So does common sense.