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Until death to us part

Posted: November 2, 2009 5:42 p.m.
Updated: November 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
There are death penalty arguments aplenty. The common ones are: Does it deter crime, is it moral, equitable, more costly than life imprisonment - is it "cruel and unusual punishment?" People don't usually consider what happens after an execution. These and other death penalty issues will be addressed in an upcoming symposium. The death penalty's greatest issue is finality. Executions cannot be undone.

Consider those left behind. Survivors of crime victims and the condemned endure the stress of the trial, the lengthy appeals process and a bitter end - the execution. Nothing is more painful than seeing a loved one put to death. Conversely, victims' survivors may feel triumphant, vindicated and a sense of closure.

Does closure ever come? The condemned and victims' loved ones share this: The person they loved is gone forever. Victim Impact Statements (VIS), detailed accounts of the emotional, physical and financial effects on victim's survivors, bring closure to some. VIS are submitted by crime victims, close relatives, guardians and depending on jurisdiction, close friends.

The VIS' purpose is to give survivors the opportunity to be heard, to participate in the justice system and for judges to know the impact of the crime. Inequities exist in the criminal and judicial process of the death penalty. Surprisingly, VIS are not always equitable. Who, what and how much is heard in VIS is not universal. As mentioned, friends are not always permitted a VIS.

Potentially a victim's unmarried partner may be deprived a VIS. VIS are guaranteed in 31 states, occasionally allowed in two states and five states are undecided.

The prosecution may manipulate VIS. In the case of the Oklahoma City bombing, survivors who opposed Timothy McVeigh's execution were denied a VIS. In the Timothy Dawson murder trial in Georgia, relatives who hadn't seen Dawson for four or more years were allowed to plead for his life. The court prohibited recommendations of a death penalty sentence and edited the VIS of the four slain individuals. One mother's VIS was reduced from eight paragraphs to three.

Like VIS, execution methods vary by state. Four states - Arizona, California, Missouri and Wyoming - use the gas chamber. Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington authorize hanging. Idaho, Oklahoma and Utah authorize shooting by a firing squad.

When family members request execution and the defendant is executed, we assume a sense of justice, closure. Ironically, many family members desire a more painful execution.

Since the execution method differs by state, perhaps it's not unreasonable to desire a more brutal execution for someone who took the life of a loved one.

Amazingly, many family members of murder victims oppose the death penalty. When victims' loved ones speak against execution they offer the most profound argument because they have the most compelling reasons to support it. There are several organizations of families of victims and families of the condemned who come together to oppose the death penalty. As long as capital punishment continues, their work is never done.

Some victims, as in the case of 9/11, want neither death nor leniency. They want answers. Answers never come if suspects are silenced by death. When survivors of victims and criminals aren't heard, or don't get what they want, they feel unfinished; realizing what they should have said after they should have said it. Closure never comes.

Many death penalty arguments are circular. Theorists include the death penalty as a cog in the oft studied cycle of violence. Capital punishment is frequently rationalized as a method of teaching others not to kill. Is it logical to kill someone because they killed someone to teach others not to kill? As the only Western nation practicing capital punishment, the U.S. is often criticized. If we continue state-sponsored killing, will we ever improve our image in the eyes of the world?

In numbers of people executed yearly, the U.S. executes more than other governments that perform capital punishment. Will those countries ever catch up, or will we always lead in delivering the death penalty? We condemn Korea, Saudi Arabia and other nations for systematic violation of human rights. Can we criticize them when we continue to violate the most basic human right, the right to live? When it comes to the death penalty, it ain't over till it's over and then it still isn't over.

You're invited to a death penalty symposium, Saturday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at La Quinta Inn, located at 25201 The Old Rd., and sponsored by the Democratic Club of the SCV and the DAA.

Patty Sulpizio is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Democratic Voices" appears Tuesdays in The Signal and rotates among several local Democratic activists.

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