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Governors in hot seat for courage
If we're going to keep putting people to death, it would be good to avoid mistakes.

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Date published: 1/19/2003


PERHAPS IF I LOST a loved one to violent crime, I would angrily preach the virtues of the death penalty and decry the actions of governors who would dare to question it.

But while that is hardly a stance I'm likely to take, I think there are a lot of people like me, who espouse so-called "liberal" positions on most key social issues of the day, who also hesitate to take an across-the-board stand against the death penalty.

These are people who would say it's probably wrong for the government to take a life, and would want to feel certain that if it is to be done, that it is done fairly. These people, like me, would need to think twice when it comes to killers such as Richard Evonitz, who murdered Sofia Silva and Kristin and Kati Lisk, but who killed himself as police closed in to arrest him.

They might also try to put themselves in a convicted killer's shoes, and consider whether life in prison without parole is actually a harsher punishment than doing a killer the favor of death by lethal injection. At least there was some pain suffered by other forms of capital punishment.

Evonitz apparently preferred self-inflicted capital punishment to what lay ahead in prison for a child abductor, rapist, and killer.

Capital punishment will remain a cornerstone of the U.S. criminal justice system because so many Americans believe it is a deterrent to crime, even though studies suggest it isn't. Many also believe in "an eye for an eye" and appreciate state-sanctioned vengeance.

So if we're going to keep putting humans to death, it would be good not to make mistakes or be arbitrary about it. And that's why Gov. George Ryan, the outgoing Illinois Republican, and Gov. Parris Glendening, the outgoing Maryland Democrat, should be commended for putting the issue of capital punishment fairness on the table.

Ryan not only imposed a moratorium on capital punishment during his administration, he closed out his term by freeing four men on death row and commuting the sentences of 167 others to life in prison.

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