Switching sides on the death penalty

by Diane Dimond on July 5, 2008

There is an inner voice in my head that can’t stop screaming!

I’ve heard it since last week when the United States Supreme Court declared the rape of a child under the age of 12 should not – cannot – be punished by death. That, a majority of the court ruled, is not a “proportional punishment.”

The case before the court came from Louisiana, representing the only two men in the entire country who faced death for what they did to small children. One repeatedly raped a five year old. The other attacked his own 8 year old daughter so viciously she required surgery. The court concluded their actions did not rise to the level of crimes that deserve death, namely crimes against the state (like treason) or murder.

Part of my logical brain wants to scream into the faces of the Supreme Court Justices to come to their collective senses, the other part of my brain reminds me I am against the death penalty.

I truly believe that the evil behind murder is comparable to the evil that fuels the rape of a child. The perpetrator can literally kill vital parts of the child – their ability to trust, to love, to find intimacy. Often no true peace can be found for a child who has been brutally, sexually savaged by an adult. On some level, and sometimes it is profound, their suffering constitutes a life sentence of psychological confusion.

My husband and I have long argued about capitol punishment over morning coffee and newspapers. I maintain the real punishment comes with keeping the monster locked up every single day of his life, condemned to a live where other inmates often prey on criminals who’ve targeted children. To execute him lets him off easy. And besides, I believe, when the state takes a life it is killing … the very act we say we abhor.

My husband scoffs at my argument that keeping convicts in prison is worse punishment as a vast majority on death row would take life over execution any day. He also believes society has the right to mete out punishment that is commensurate with the crime, death for death. And death for child rape if a state so decides.

There are countless pro and con debate points on capital punishment, including the false conviction rate, the cost comparison of life in prison versus death and the religious principle “Thou shall not kill.” Some make the point that the high court has stepped outside its narrow constitutional function to decide points of policy and the narrow 5 to 4 decision proves that.

There isn’t enough space in this entire newspaper to do justice to all the arguments. And experts say those who have made up their minds whether they are for it or against it are unlikely to switch opinions.

Really? Because my anti-death penalty resolve dissolves when you talk about harm to a child. I guess that makes me a hypocrite.

To say that I surprise myself on my reaction to the Supreme Court ruling is an understatement. How can I even think they were incorrect in that ruling if I am truly against the death penalty? I agreed when the Court banned executions for the mentally retarded and under aged – but not this.

I can’t help but think of the horror a small child faces during the act. The terror, confusion and physical pain an infant, toddler or elementary school child endures at the hand of an adult acting like an animal with no regard to their innocence or future state of mind. I want retribution; I have the urge to kill. I border on being ashamed of that feeling and feeling consoled that such an act would rid the world of a wicked fiend.

Those two men in Louisiana will now be sentenced to life without parole and the state will have to change its law on child rapists. So will the legislatures in Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and probably Georgia (the status of this state’s law is in doubt) And the three other states in the process of writing laws to make it a capitol offense to rape a child, Missouri, Colorado and Alabama, are also wondering what their next course of action might be.

Troy King, the Attorney General of Alabama sounds as though his state may decide to fight the decision. “Anybody in the country who cares about children should be outraged what we have a Supreme Court that would issue a decision like this.”

I am among the outraged. In effect the Supreme Court has said society must wait for the child to be murdered too before enacting our harshest punishment.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Nasser N. Montes September 1, 2008 at 11:45 pm

Dear Ms. Dimond:

I really know how you feel about your dillema: Being overall against the death penalty, but went it comes to molesting children you want those criminals to die, (and maybe a slow, painful death.) What makes me sick is that groups like NAMBLA think that it is okay to molest children. While they may have a right to that opinion (First Amendment) I hope when they get caught that they get the worst punishment that should be available (Death.)

It was perhaps sweet justice when even the inmates at a Wisconsin State Prison, killed child molester/killer Jeffery Duamer. That just shows that even among criminals, child molesters are the lowest of scumbags. I think the Supreme Court dropped the ball on this, but it was not the first time, becuase there was a case in Florida that asked the same thing about giving the death penalty to child molesters. If I remember correctly, Florida actually had a statute that made child molestation a capital crime. The Supreme Court said that the law was cruel and unual punishment and thus unconstitutional. I say if we are going to have the death penalty, then you might as well put child rape on the list that includes first degree murder.

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jeff liddell October 6, 2008 at 9:14 pm

There is nothing so innocent as a newborn child and nothing more difficult to watch than a child growing up with scars inflicted by uncaring adults. Never, never should a child suffer from any form of abuse. I am not a proponent of the death penalty as administered in this country. If the penalty is ever carried out, it takes years and only serves to keep the wounds of the victims and/or their families open and is not a true deterrent to crime. If a manner to serve the death penalty in a quicker manner could be devised, then it might serve its purpose. However, crimes against children should be treated with the most severity of possible punishments and perhaps a scarlet C stamped in the forehead of the criminal should also be considered. Simply registering as a child molester or pedophile can still allow one to walk anonymously through the streets where they live.

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