Has capital punishment — the death penalty — become so cumbersome and expensive to carry out in Washington state that it should be eliminated?
That’s an extremely emotional question that is difficult to answer because it so emotional as well as complex.
Earlier this month the Union-Bulletin took an in-depth look at capital punishment in an effort to spur a thoughtful discussion on the subject. The various facets were looked at from many angles.
It’s clear the death penalty costs taxpayers a lot of money. The appeals process accounts for much of the high costs.
And, for that reason, it does cost more to have the death penalty as the ultimate punishment rather than simply sentencing those who commit the most heinous crimes to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It’s difficult to come up with an exact dollar amount as there are a number of factors that change when looking at cases where the death penalty is being considered and when it is not an option.
We’ve looked at the various scenarios and concluded that over the past three decades, since the death penalty was reinstated in Washington, having the death penalty has cost taxpayers roughly $20 million.
Some argue that the death penalty is not a deterrent. That, however, can never be proved. We will never know what murders were not committed because this state has the death penalty. Ten? Five? One?
Even if it was just one, the extra millions could be justified.
But even if the death penalty isn’t a huge deterrent, it does serve a purpose in the judicial process. The threat of capital punishment has allowed law enforcement officials to gain confessions that serve justice.
Green River killer Gary Ridgway, who murdered 48 women over a 20-year span, confessed to his crimes rather than face execution. Ridgway was given life in prison because he agreed to plead guilty and provide information about the crimes. This expedited the process, saved money and, more importantly, brought closure for the families of the victims.
We believe the death penalty is of value — although it is gut-wrenching to end any life.
Still, the death penalty should be used sparingly. And it is in this state.
Since 1981, more than 7,000 homicide cases have been filed. Just 30 death sentences have been handed down and only four men have been executed. None claimed they were innocent of their horrible crimes.
The death penalty should be reserved for the most heinous crimes in cases where there is absolutely no doubt of guilt.
Washington state’s system isn’t foolproof, but to this point it seems to have worked as a way to attain justice.
Every effort is made to erase doubt about guilt and ensure the defendants have an opportunity to fairly appeal their convictions and sentences.
The death penalty must be reserved as the ultimate punishment for the most horrible crimes.