Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Execution of Tookie Williams

The state of California executed Tookie Williams this morning for 4 murders. His case attracted international attention because he has written children's books and has been nominated for the Nobel Prize. His supporters claimed he was a changed man.

Yesterday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied Williams's request for clemency. The governor cited among his reasons for denial that Williams had never admitted guilt and had never expressed remorse for his crimes.

Williams founded the Crips, a violent gang guilty of many crimes, including murders. Even to the end, members of the Crips supported Williams.

Williams's supporters generally oppose all capital punishment. They say the death penalty is the moral equivalent of murder, making the state no better than the murderer being executed. This moral equivalence ignores the difference between crime and punishment. For example, if the death penalty is the moral equivalent of murder, does that mean that imprisonment is the moral equivalent of kidnapping? Is a fine the moral equivalent of stealing? Is the use of force to enforce the law the moral equivalent of the use of force to commit a crime?

The opponents of the death penalty also say that the death penalty does not deter murder. In this regard, we note that the murder rate is down since the death penalty was reintroduced, although isolating the effect of the death penalty is difficult at best. The deterrent effect of the death penalty would increase if the delay between the murder and the execution were reduced. Before World War II, execution followed a murder by only a year or two. The men who kidnapped and murdered the Lindbergh baby lived about 18 months, not the 18 years that occurs all too often today. However, the opponents of the death penalty also oppose reforms that would accelerate the punishment and increase the deterrent effect. You can not have it both ways, but death penalty opponents try to do so.

Death penalty opponents also claim the death penalty is applied unevenly. Making the death penalty automatic for certain classes of murder would cure that problem, but death penalty opponents oppose that, too.

Death penalty opponents say that imprisonment is sufficient to protect the public from convicted murderers. Unfortunately, prisoners do escape, prisoners do murder guards and other prisoners, and murderers do gain parole. One man in Texas was convicted of the murder of 3 teenagers in the 1960s and was sentenced to death. When the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Texas death penalty statute, the man's sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. Eventually, the parole board released the man. He disappeared and killed 7 people before he was captured. He was once again convicted and sentenced to death. When the death penalty was carried out, the death penalty opponents did not bother to show up to protest, as they always had done before. Even the death penalty protesters realized that opposing the execution of this man, a resident of death row who was released, was bad public relations for their cause.

Tookie Williams was rightly executed last night. Society has a right to put murders to death in order to punish the murderer and to protect itself.

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