On Thursday the Houston Chronicle published an op-ed by columnist Bill King, former mayor of Kemah, Texas, entitled Death penalty leaves no room for error. King gives the usual reasons why we should abandon capital punishment, placing special emphasis on his belief that the death penalty does not deter murders.
Here is an excerpt from King’s column:
I also knew that the deterrent effect of capital punishment has always been muddled at best. There have been a number of high-profile studies claiming a measurable deterrent effect. But those studies have increasingly come under critical attack by other researchers. Also, states without the death penalty consistently have lower murder rates than states with it.
Because murders are so frequently crimes of passion, the deterrent argument never made much sense to me intuitively.
Despite their high-profile media coverage, cold-blooded murders, those in which one could argue the murderers might have the presence of mind to be deterred, are actually quite rare. Interestingly, polling shows that the public, notwithstanding its support of capital punishment, has come to the conclusion that the death penalty does not provide much of a deterrent.
Now why has the public come to that conclusion? It is the result of the incessant bombardment of claims by the opponents of capital punishment that the death penalty does not act as a deterrent. And when they put forth that claim they are being deceitful. The death penalty does deter countless premeditated murders and the abolitionists damn well know it.
Let me acknowledge what the death penalty does not deter. King is right when he says capital punishment does not deter murders committed in the heat of passion. He is probably right when he says most murders are crimes of passion. And the death penalty no longer deters felony murders because the gangbangers, dope dealers, burglars, robbers and rapists who kill know that if they are caught and sentenced to death, they will not be executed for 10-20 years, if ever.
There was a time when executions were not delayed by endless appeals. That’s when the death penalty served to deter many burglars, robbers and rapists from murdering their victims. When I was a cop, we used to arrest many armed robbers who robbed their victims while using an unloaded gun. When asked why they did not load their guns, almost all of them would say something like this: If I carried a loaded gun I might shoot someone in a moment of panic, and I sure don’t want to get topped (executed).”
I doubt King is correct when in his op-ed he says that cold-blooded murders where the killer “might have the presence of mind to be deterred” are rare. There are far more of those kinds of murders than King thinks. The reason a killer might not be concerned about the death penalty is because he does not believe he will be executed if caught.
When King says “states without the death penalty consistently have lower murder rates than states with it,” he is basing that statement on misleading statistics. That claim ignores the demographics of the states that do not have capital punishment. Most of those states have relatively few urban centers with a high concentration of criminals. I’ll bet that the murder rates in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Maryland are not lower now as compared to when those states had the death penalty. The abolitionists like to point out Michigan as a state with lower murder rates, but if you look at Detroit and Michigan’s other big cities, you will find that the murder rate in those cities is not lower than the murder rate of cities in death penalty states.
Let me conclude by asking: How many of you have ever given serious thought to killing someone? I know I have. There are two reasons why people do not carry out those thoughts. Some are deterred on moral grounds. But I suspect that most are deterred by the fear of getting caught and then sentenced to death. Accordingly, there are countless premeditated murders that are not committed because they are deterred by the death penalty.