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D.C. Sniper Should Not Be Executed

by Brian Gilmore

But Muhammad will die on Nov. 10 by lethal injection. He will be executed under the laws of the state of Virginia. No one will save him. Not the U.S. Supreme Court. Not Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. Not President Obama. Each could do so but won't.

I understand why families of Muhammad's victims want him to die: He terrorized a city, he ruined lives and he destroyed futures. I was living in Washington, D.C., at the time, and I can still recall my own fear - for myself, my family and my friends - that there was a random shooter on the loose.

But the justified anger of the victims' kin does not justify state-sponsored killing.

Capital punishment is morally wrong and irrational.

A recent report, entitled "Smart on Crime" and published by the Death Penalty Information Center, exposes many of the basic problems with the death penalty.

First of all, it is not a deterrent.

According to "Smart on Crime," the nation's police chiefs rank the capital punishment last in reducing violent crime. Criminologists cited in the same report conclude that the death penalty does not effectively reduce murders in the United States. In fact, 88 percent of the nation's top criminologists "do not believe that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide," the report says. As proof, since the year 2000, executions have declined 60 percent in the United States but the murder rate has also gone down, not up, as proponents of the death penalty would predict.

Second, the death penalty is arbitrarily applied. Back in 2005, the Associated Press studied capital cases in Ohio over a two-decade period. It found that in one county, only 8 percent of those charged with a capital crime got a death sentence, whereas in another county, the rate was more than five times higher.

Third, there is a pronounced racial bias. If you murdered a white person in Ohio, you were twice as likely to be sentenced to death than if you killed a black person, the AP study found.

Another major problem with the death penalty is the cost. For example, California, which was recently borderline insolvent, spends $137 million per year on its capital punishment program; yet, no one has been executed there in three and a half years. Other states report similar cost issues.

Then there is gnawing question of innocence. How can we ever be sure that the person who is executed is not innocent? Have we already put people to death who did not do the crime?

Recently, the case of Cameron Todd Willingham again called our entire state-sponsored machinery of death into question. Willingham, executed in February 2004, was convicted of killing his own children by arson. However, the evidence used to convict him of deliberately setting the fire that killed his daughters has been proven to be not sustainable. In other words, Willingham did not set the fire that killed his daughters but was put to death for that very act.

Even if we are confident that the person is guilty, however, as in the case of John Allen Muhammad, capital punishment is still wrong.

It is premeditated murder, and that's immoral whether an individual is doing the deed or the state is.

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