Paul Stam: Death penalty dispute

Published 7:24 pm Tuesday, October 6, 2015

By Paul Stam

Special to the Post

The writer is responding to a recent column about the death penalty:

Mr. Patrick Gannon repeats familiar arguments against the death penalty for first-degree murder:

1. Claim: Opposition to abortion logically requires opposition to the death penalty.

Refutation: It is difficult to imagine a sin, much less a crime, which any unborn child has committed. But those on death row for first degree murder have been convicted beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury and have had their cases reviewed by at least 47 judges looking for errors of law or fact over the course of 10 to 25 years. The unborn child has had zero representation and has been charged with nothing.

2. Claim: The death penalty is inefficient and expensive.

Refutation: Much of the expense results from obstruction by opponents of the death penalty.

3. Claim: Many people have been exonerated from death row.

Refutation: In the modern era there have been 44 executions in North Carolina, all convicted of first-degree murder. Not a single one of them had any colorable claim to innocence.

4. Claim: There is no clear consistent evidence that the death penalty deters crimes.

Refutations: There are dozens of peer reviewed academic studies showing clear deterrent effect for a death penalty for murder that is actually applied.

In North Carolina no one has been executed for first degree murder since 2006. There is little deterrent value in a penalty that is never applied. The studies vary, but a conservative estimate is that 25 innocent lives are saved by each execution of a guilty first degree murderer in a state that actually applies the death penalty.

5. Claim: Criminals deserve a long time to reflect and repent so that God can redeem them.

Refutation: It takes 10 to 25 years for a death sentence to be carried out. Whether a person is more likely to repent and be redeemed when facing life in prison that goes on indefinitely, more likely to repent and be redeemed when facing an imminent execution is ultimately unknowable. Intuitively I would think the latter is more likely.

The death sentence for first-degree murder carried out after thorough review for innocence respects human life for victims in a way that a sentence of life in prison can never match.

The innocent lives lost due to the lack of a sufficient deterrent for first-degree murder cry out for justice.

Rep. Paul Stam of Apex is speaker pro tem of the N.C. House.