Capital Punishment1

Capital Punishment
by Drew Benson

In 1985, fifteen-year-old Paula Cooper of Gary, Indiana and three of her friends began skipping school and participating in illegal activities. The teenagers needed video game money for entertainment and thought they had a good means of obtaining some. Ruth Pelke, a Bible teacher the girls knew, was seen as an easy target for the girls to victimize. The girls gained easy entry into the house by saying they wanted to take Bible lessons. Once in the house, Paula Cooper stabbed the 78-year-old Pelke thirty-three times with a twelve-inch butcher knife that she had brought along. Mrs. Pelke recited the Lord’s Prayer as she died while the girls left with thirty dollars to play video games (Guernsey 12.)
The debate over capital punishment is fairly recent in comparison to history. Most ancient civilizations agreed that certain crimes should be punishable by death. Most of the civilizations that have existed endorsed the retaliation of the death penalty as well as the fact that some crimes were too heinous and dangerous to society to let the criminal go on living (Winters 15.) The death penalty and support for it remained as prevalent in the Middle Ages as any time in history. Most of the crimes punishable by death were religious crimes such as heresy, sacrilege, and atheism. The American colonies punished crimes like witchcraft, murder, and rape with the death penalty. The debates over capital punishment did not really begin until the Enlightenment of the 1700’s (Winters 17.) During this period, people starting pushing for the restriction of the death penalty for many crimes. Through controversy and debate the death penalty has remained a tool of the criminal justice system and is still argued today.
The case of Paula Cooper and thousands more like it are heard in courts every year (Guernsey 12.) Offenders such as these deserve the death penalty. The death penalty is an effective and fair means of punishment for four reasons: It is an effective deterrent, it is morally and legally just, and the chance of wrongful death is virtually zero.
The most obvious and convincing advantage of capital punishment for murderers is its deterrence factor(McCuen 54.) Opponents of the death penalty would like everyone to believe that the death penalty does not prevent murders. However, with six percent of all murders being committed by repeat offenders, the death penalty would be an obvious deterrent since the murderers would have been killed before their chance to commit murder a second time. In Georgia, out of a sample of 164 murderers, eight of them committed murders after their prison release (Winters 78.) One out of every twenty murderers released in Oregon were found to kill within five years of release (Winters 78.) These examples are clear evidence that if the death penalty was applied as it was meant to be, it could save six percent of all murders. That would save just under 1,400 lives annually since there are over twenty-two thousand murders every year (Gottfried 23.) Capital punishment opponents also argue that states without the death penalty that adjoin states with the death penalty have crime rates that are just as low (McCuen 45.) However, this is circumstantial and it must be considered that a state with the death penalty has the death penalty for a reason, and that its crime level could be higher without it. Murders that require planning and forethought are also affected by the death penalty. In a study of collected files of the Los Angeles Police conducted by Justice McComb of California, it was found that fourteen defendants said the possibility of the death penalty was what kept them from taking a human life (Cassell, 66). The evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the argument that capital punishment is a deterrent to murder and its proper enforcement could save many innocent lives every year.
The death penalty is morally and legally just and serves as a potent reminder to the value and sacredness of human life by imposing the harshest penalty possible for destroying it. Capital punishment abolitionists adamantly claim that the sacredness of life is the very reason that the death penalty is morally wrong. They claim that it is unjust to take a life from a human being.