New York Times Bestselling Author Weighs Pros and Cons In Book About “The Night A Twisted Fantasy Became Demented Reality”
An Excerpt From The Epilogue of A CLOCKWORK MURDER:
I personally am not a fan of the death penalty in its present form. I have several reasons for that:
–Prosecutors who file death penalty papers in order to coerce a defendant into accepting a lesser plea. As noted in my colleague John Ferak’s wonderful book, Failure of Justice, five innocent people pleaded guilty and served more than twenty years in prison after being threatened with the death penalty;
–Too many innocent people have been convicted, including some who have been executed or are currently on death row. In my opinion, the bar needs to be higher. The death penalty should be an option ONLY when guilt of having committed the crime has been established beyond any and all doubt, not just reasonable doubt, and that the murder(s) was premeditated. The lawyers can argue over whether defendants are insane and therefore criminally responsible for their actions, as well as the usual weighing of aggravators and mitigators. But there should be no doubt that the defendant killed the victim.
–The system takes too long and costs too much money. Most death penalty cases go on long after a jury has rendered its verdict and the sentence is handed down. Years and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars are spent on appeals. Victims’ families are put through the wringer time after time, in part under the defense theory of wearing them down and trying to co-opt an agreement for a life sentence. There should be one appeal, before an appeals court, a trial of the trial after which the decision of the appeals court is final. And if execution is the sentence, it should be carried out quickly.
I do think that the immediate family of the victims should have a say in whether or not the death penalty should be sought. There are some whose faith teaches them forgiveness, or who believe that taking another life is not the justice they seek, or they simply don’t want to go through the years of appeals and hearings. If they don’t want the death penalty option to be pursued, it should not be. However, others, such as the parents of Jacine Gielinski, the victim in A CLOCKWORK MURDER, wanted the death penalty as what they believed was justice for the murder of their daughter. Their wishes should be considered, too.
Other than those caveats I have no qualms with a killer being executed. By taking a life, killers who have committed premeditated murder with aggravating factors—such as being carried out in a particularly cruel and heinous manner—have forfeited their lives.
I’ve heard all the “life in prison is a worse punishment” arguments. Maybe for some, especially first-timers or those who had good lives on the outside. But the truth of the matter is that many people who are committed to prison become “institutionalized.” Prison is home. They get warm, clean accommodations, three meals, and color television. It’s where their friends are and other friends and family can visit them. One reason so many offenders get out of prison and commit other crimes right away is they are simply more comfortable and happy in prison than out.
Anti-death penalty advocates will argue that it isn’t a deterrent, and that life in prison without parole protects others and the community just as effectively. Well, that’s simply not true. Inside a prison, those who have nothing left to lose are more likely to take the life of other inmates or prison personnel. What are you going to do to a lifer? Add more years?
And life without parole does not always mean life without parole. In my book, SMOOTH TALKER, I wrote about how serial killer Roy Melanson was released from prison just twelve years after receiving a life without parole sentence, and prison authorities aware that he was a suspect in the murder of at least one woman, Michele Wallace. He then killed two, and probably more, other women after his release.
Parole boards change. The definition of what “life in prison” changes. Mistakes happen and prisoners get released. Or dangerous individuals are placed in situations—such as reduced security prisons, like the one Melanson is currently housed in—and they escape. The death penalty is the only sure way of keeping a murderer from killing again.
Those opposed to the death penalty argue that there’s no proof that the death penalty is a “deterrent,” the thought of which might cause someone to reconsider killing another. My answer to that is we can’t know that because in reality the death penalty is not a “real” threat even to those condemned. In many states, inmates spend decades in prison as their cases wind through the appeals process. No one has been executed in Colorado since Gary Davis in 1997 and that took eleven years from crime to punishment. The only way to ascertain that would be if carrying out the death penalty was a quick and sure as the crime that was committed.
I do know that at least some killers fear the death penalty. In my book, BOGEYMAN, serial child killer David Penton, already serving a life sentence in Ohio, pleaded guilty to the murder of three more little girls in Texas on the condition that he not be transferred from Ohio to Texas, where the death penalty is carried out. In that case, the threat of the death penalty resolved three cases for the families involved. And George Woldt, one of the killers in A CLOCKWORK MURDER wept and begged for his life at his sentencing.
And lastly, there’s the argument that society should not be “punishing” criminals for their behavior and that prison should be all about rehabilitation. No eye for an eye, or life for a life. That’s a bunch of hooey. Of course society has the right to punish a criminal, particularly someone convicted of murder—the one crime that can’t be “taken back.”
As just about every society since the beginning of time has known, it can be cathartic to know that a monster has been cast from the circle of humanity. His or her name forgotten instead of a reminder every parole hearing and anniversary of a murder, and the money spent keeping a killer alive ended. And that’s just the community.
Every Christmas, every birthday, families and friends of murder victims are reminded that the killer of their loved ones gets to share the occasion with families and friends, even if it’s in a prison visiting room or over the telephone. The families of killers can hear their voice, talk to them about daily events, and even get a hug at the end of a visit. What do you think Peggy Luiszer would have given to be able to hold her child or tell her she loved her one more time? That’s a privilege killers get that their victims do not.