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Centre Daily Times

Do We No Longer Care About Capital Punishment?

by Diane Verna Farley

2 December 2004
Copyright © 2004 Centre Daily Times. All rights reserved.

Reading about today's scheduled execution of George E. Banks at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview prompted me to examine my own feelings and gather information about the death penalty.

I haven't heard the debate in recent memory; I suppose it has been quelled by other urgent and timely issues.

Do we not care about it anymore or is it just that we don't talk about it since it hasn't made headlines in Centre County since 1999?

As I began to consider the issue further, I hoped it was more that we don't think or talk about capital punishment often anymore -- there have been only three executions in Pennsylvania since the commonwealth reinstated the death penalty in 1978 -- rather than it being something we don't care about, one way or another.

After I began to wade through my dormant feelings, I did an Internet search. I found that, just as in any debate, this one has proponents and adversaries. The proponents argue that the death penalty is a deterrent to future homicides. The abolitionists object on moral and ethical grounds.

I would agree that the impact of the death penalty as a deterrent to murder and other violent crimes is something to consider. I read several articles and reports, though, stating there is just no valid evidence one way or another.

As I continued to search and ponder, I realized I was looking at this issue in a detached sort of way. Thankfully, none of my family or friends has ever been the victim of homicide or violent crime. I don't know how I would feel about this issue if the opposite were true.

I do know that, aside from the retribution aspect, being safe from further harm from killers who are in prison for life without parole is all but guaranteed.

From the beginning of time, societies needed to exterminate dangerous perpetrators for the good and protection of the people. These criminals were a real threat as they could not effectively be contained.

Now, with our technology and maximum-security facilities, is killing the prisoner to protect the public a realistic response?

I next turned my attention toward the way the death penalty is meted out -- unfairly, inconsistently and not even necessarily to those who committed the most heinous acts.

Not only this, but capital punishment is not even an option in Alaska, Maine, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Vermont, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

I had never really thought about that. Literally, we're talking about an issue with the magnitude of life and death, and it is a moot point in 12 states and two other jurisdictions. How can that be fair -- one nation, with one Constitution, but without one standard on something as important as the death penalty.

Finally I thought about Banks, the man whose life hangs in the balance. While he indisputably took the lives of 13 people, including five of his own children, what will be the effect of the state taking his life now?

He killed these innocent people 22 years ago. He's now 62 years old and has been in prison ever since. Can any good come from stopping his heart, deliberately engineering his very last breath today?

He is scheduled to be injected in a sterile environment by a team of "medically qualified individuals" with prearranged witnesses and after a chosen last meal -- but it that so very different from what he did in Wilkes-Barre 22 years ago?

What is the answer?

I can't answer the question for anyone else, but I did some soul searching. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that whatever one's argument concerning the death penalty, I hope the debate will go on and take the spotlight once again.

I hope that we, as a county, will never become so apathetic or out of touch that the taking of a person's life becomes a matter of fact. I hope that people do care -- one way or another.

Godspeed, Mr. Banks.

Diane Verna Farley is an instructional paraprofessional in special education in the State College Area School District.

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