Did anyone notice?

Did anybody notice? Was it more than background noise on the newscast? Was it just another headline to glance at on the way to the sports section?

In case you missed it, the state of Mississippi put someone to death last week. Benny Joe Stevens, 52, was put to death by lethal injection at the State Penitentiary at Parchman.

The media went through our normal routines. We told you what he wore (red jump suit), what he said (“I’m sorry.”), what time, (6:22 p.m.) and how long it took for him to die (8 minutes). We told you about his victims (four people, including an ex-wife, her husband, her11-year-old son and a friend of the boy). We even told you about the new drug that was used ( a mixture of pentobarbital, Pavulon and potassium chloride). It did the job.

All the details were reported. Here are a few more.

Time and costs
It took 12 1/2 years and more than $200,000 to get Stevens to the death gurney. That is really faster and cheaper than it usually takes to carry out a death sentence. It usually costs states more to kill a prisoner than to lock him or her up for life. Mississippi does it more economically than most.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, executions are down. They were down 12 percent last year and 50 percent compared to the last decade. They are down dramatically in Texas, the capital of capital punishment, where they discovered two people were executed and another was pending who were innocent. Ooops.

The arguments for and against capital punishment have been made passionately since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976. There are the practical ones, like cost, the statistical ones that show how it is used disproportionately, and the moral ones, as in “thou shall not …”

The new twist is DNA evidence that has proven some innocent after being found guilty “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” That has prompted moratoriums in some states were officials are conscientiously reassessing its use.

Arguments remain
While public opinion may be moving against capital punishment nationally, it is very politically popular here. Most of the death sentences have been carried out in the South, which also might tell you something about the politics.

As you might can tell by now, I oppose capital punishment. I oppose it on moral grounds, but also on others – it doesn’t work, isn’t administered fairly and is not a deterrent to crime. I don’t trust the system to decide life or death.

I once thought that if the nation started lining up and executing publicly all the people on death rows, there would be such revolting reaction that it would end capital punishment. I don’t know anymore.

I now wonder if we have relegated it as irrelevant, that we don’t want to think about it – just get it over with and move on. It was just another guy being put to death for a crime long ago. It was just another blip in the news cycle.

Actually, it is just another reason why the death penalty doesn’t work.

David Hampton


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