That would have to be for me a qualified, ‘it depends.’ Of course that would be of little comfort to those awaiting sentencing, and would be impossible to use and apply fairly. Could you just imagine a grumpy judge or jury deciding whether or not for them the offense qualifies for meeting out death to a fellow human being?
Rather than delve directly into argumentation, opposing views, pros and cons, &c., I thought that I would relate two stories that come to mind whenever the topic of the death penalty is brought up, one fictional and one true.
The first one comes from Planet of the Apes–the original movie. I don’t remember all the details, but relevant ones are that one of the apes had killed another ape. This had never happened before, so they had no precedent to follow. Could they let him go? Not a wise choice. Would they kill him themselves? But then they would be guilty of the same crime, some argued. They group of apes ended up chanting his crime out loud at the miscreant as they closed in around him. He climbed up a tree to try and get away. He ended up falling off the branch on his own, so to speak, and died when he hit the ground. Were the other apes going to kill him anyway? Were they trying to drive him away? Did he subconsciously let himself slip and die, because he could no longer bear the accusations of his peers or his conscience? That is left up to the viewer.
The other story is how a small country made up of many islands around about the Indian Ocean dealt with a murderer. I saw it on a news story in the 90s and it had all taken place several years earlier. A German man and his girlfriend were vacationing in that country. I don’t remember all of the details, but he ended up killing her and there was heavy drug use involved. Now, this country did not have the death penalty, did not really have violent crime to speak of for so long that they were in a quandary as to what to do, because it would be setting a bad precedent to just let him go, and he would in all likelihood keep on using the drugs that had contributed to the murder, and might do it again or something worse. This country’s leaders did not want to see anyone else get hurt either.
So this is what they did, and both he and the German government agreed to the arrangement. Since this country did not have any prisons, they sent him to one of there most remote islands. It had a small, self-sufficient population who had also agreed to take him in. The only contact with the outside world was from a few boats a year that were sent to check up on the people living there and trade for a few provisions. They took the man in, and he became apprenticed to the village carpenter, and got married to one of villagers. He helps repair the homes that get damaged during the stormy season.
The news commentators were of the opinion that this was just terrible. How could justice be served in this way? He kills someone, and then gets to live in paradise as if nothing had happened at all. What they meant was that it wasn’t fair, and that he should have been punished more harshly for what he did. But I would ask those commentators, to what end? And what would be harsh enough without going too far? Who would get to decide?
I think that country did the best possible thing in the given circumstances. In reality he is in prison. He is not allowed to leave that island, ever. It serves one of the purposes expounded for the necessity of prisons, which is to keep people who are a danger to themselves and others out of the general society. Another reason for prisons, or correctional facilities as they have been called, is to reform the prisoner. Without commenting on the success of this reason in prison systems around the world, this killer is reformed–completely. He no longer can use or have access to drugs. He has learned a useful skill and spends his time helping others surrounded by his new family. He has all but forgotten German, his native language, his English. He speaks now only the dialect of those native inhabitants. He cannot return to his former ways, friends and family or to the amenities of modern life. Who he was is dead, and so he has suffered the death penalty, and yet without the loss of additional life.
Well, these are two of the things that come to mind. Hopefully food for thought.