Questions on death penalty? Ask Prof. Gallows

syringeTo help shed light on Thursday’s 12-12 state Senate vote that keeps capital punishment on the books in New Hampshire, today we check in with noted death penalty advice columnist Professor Gallows, who has generously agreed to answer a few questions from readers.

Dear Professor Gallows —

I’m no religious scholar, but I always thought God was quoted as saying, “Thou shalt not kill.” Not, “Thou shalt not kill, unless the person did something unspeakably evil.”

— T.C.

Dear T.C. —

The death penalty is an extraordinarily controversial issue — one of the most fascinating loopholes mankind has created when it comes to obeying God’s commandments.

And the people we’ve elected to decide on our behalf whether it is right or wrong are often faced with a mind-numbingly difficult decision.

For example, here’s what Hampton Republican state Sen. Nancy Stiles said after casting her vote to keep the death penalty in New Hampshire.

“I’ve always felt (capital punishment) was always a good tool to have in the tool box.”

Adding some context to what may sound like a spectacularly unfortunate choice of words, she said, “There are some crimes that are so heinous that it is deserving.”

Further explaining why she believed it was so important to maintain New Hampshire’s ability to kill killers, Sen. Stiles said jailing such a person like a “caged animal” is “not respecting life either.”

If that sounds like some twisted logic, consider the words of her colleague Sen. Russell Prescott of Kingston, who describes himself as “pro-life.”

“I believe life is so important that we need to make sure there are consequences to harming life.”

Try to wrap your head around that one. On second thought don’t. It will make your head hurt.

He appears to be saying, essentially, “I believe life is so important that sometimes we need to terminate it.”

Why he thinks those “consequences” must sometimes involve killing other humans rather than forcing them rot in jail until they die remains unclear.

* * *

Dear Professor Gallows —

I’m all for the death penalty, but a lot of states nowadays use lethal injections and I’m a little squeamish about needles.

— Bernie

Dear Bernie —

Not to worry. According to my research, in addition to lethal injection, New Hampshire law also allows execution by hanging.

At least several states still allow execution by gas chamber, firing squad and, of course, the electric chair.

Also, many other less-civilized countries prefer beheading and even stoning.

* * *

Dear Professor Gallows —

I think the death penalty is really terrific. They do it all the time in China, Iran and Texas, why shouldn’t we?

— Jimbo

Dear Jimbo —

Well, for one thing there is powerful evidence that — despite society’s best efforts to avoid this — innocent people have been executed. And it is an irrefutable fact that some innocent people have been sentenced to death only to be — lucky for them — exonerated before the deed was done.

From a historical perspective, folks in Massachusetts back in the 1690s thought they were acting in the name of justice when they hanged a bunch of people proven to be “witches.”

If you prefer a financial argument, executing a person costs taxpayers untold millions of dollars. In most states, death row accommodations are far more expensive than regular incarceration.

But even greater sums are expended on courtroom costs, as most of these doomed inmates file endless appeals.

* * *

Dear Professor Gallows —

I am incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of government “legally” killing people. But many, perhaps even most law enforcement professionals believe the death penalty is a powerful deterrent preventing criminals from killing cops.

Plus, when you talk about executing heinous criminals who have been sentenced to death for taking a human life, you’ve got to sympathize with the families of their victims, right?

— Marge

Dear Marge —

Absolutely. The voices of those two groups deserve to be honored and closely listened to in this debate, and I can certainly understand why they feel the way they do.

Yet I am even more strongly moved by the story of state Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton, whose father was brutally murdered in 1988. Since then he has become perhaps the state’s most tireless advocate for repealing the death penalty.

“The death penalty would not have brought my father back,” Rep. Cushing has said. He believes that if we allow those who kill to turn us into killers, “then evil triumphs. And we all lose.”

And then there is former Manchester police officer John Breckinridge. On Oct. 16, 2006, his partner, Michael Briggs, was gunned down by Michael Addison, who now sits on death row.

I saw Mr. Breckinridge on television Friday night very somberly explain that — though for a long period after his partner was slain “I wanted to see his killer die” — over time and upon deeper reflection he has come to oppose the “premeditated” execution of even the most savage offenders.

“As a Christian, I have to respect the value and dignity of human life,” said he. “I have to stand up for it.”

— John Breneman


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