Death at Midnight ... Hope at Sunrise

Article excerpt

If Connie Ray Evans was some awful monster deemed worthy of extermination, why did I feel so bad about it, I wondered. It has been said that men on death row are inhuman, cold-blooded killers. But as I stood and watched a grieving mother leave her son for the last time, I questioned how the sordid business of executions was supposed to be the great equalizer. I watched Connie's family slowly make their way to the parking lot, attempting to console each other over their private grief. "Is there ever an end to the pain?" I asked aloud, to no one in particular.

- Donald Cabana, Death at Midnight: The Confession of an Executioner

As warden, from 1984 to 1989, Donald Cabana gave the order to execute men at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. Yet, with each execution, Cabana came to realize more and more the utter pain, the profound waste and the senseless dehumanization that the death penalty places upon our society. His recently released book, Death at Midnight: The Confession of an Executioner, is a powerful account of the failings and inconsistencies of the death penalty by someone in the best position to make such an observation - the person in charge of carrying it out. It has been more than 70 years since we have had the benefit of such a perspective - not since Lewis Lawes, the warden at Sing Sing, gave us Man's Judgment of Death in 1924. Through their first-hand experience with the death penalty, both Cabana and Lawes became firmly opposed to capital punishment.

The failure of the death penalty as a crime-fighting measure also has been noted by law enforcement officials. In January 1995, Peter D. Hart Research Associates conducted a survey of randomly-selected police chiefs from around the nation. The Hart survey found that police chiefs rank the death penalty as the least effective way of reducing violent crime, placing it behind such alternatives as curbing drug abuse, putting more police on the streets, lowering the legal barriers to prosecution and improving the economic condition. With respect to public safety, the police chiefs also ranked the death penalty last among cost-effective priorities, putting at the forefront community policing, police training and equipment, neighborhood watch patrols, drug and alcohol programs and anti-gang efforts.

Apart from the lack of any value in deterring crime, the death penalty continues to be tainted with all the problems of its troubled past. …