Capital Punishment Is Just and Necessary for Civilized Society

By Morris, David G. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 14, 1997 | Go to article overview

Capital Punishment Is Just and Necessary for Civilized Society


Morris, David G., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


There seems to be an effort to halt capital punishment again in this country.

A minister told the audience at a recent non-denominational service that included President Bill Clinton, "When the state supports execution, it invites an ongoing cycle of violence." The minister called for forgiveness for Timothy McVeigh, who is sentenced to die for blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 children.

Actor Ed Asner appealed to Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan to commute the sentence of Alan J. Bannister, convicted of murdering a Joplin man to get $4,000 in a contract killing. Recent motion pictures, such as "Dead Man Walking," have depicted the struggle waged by those opposed to the death sentence. Polls indicate, however, that Americans favor capital punishment by almost 3 to 1. This hasn't always been the case. In the 1960s, polls showed less than half of Americans surveyed supported the death penalty. And, in 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court in the controversial Furman vs. Georgia case banned capital punishment by a slim 5-4 vote. This decision appeared to reflect more personal conscience than constitutional interpretation. Two of the majority, Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, noted that they found all capital punishment to be cruel and unusual. While appearing to have overstepped its jurisdiction, the court set up guidelines for challenges to the Furman decision. As a result, costly legislative action was begun in states seeking to reinstate the death penalty. More than 600 condemned American prisoners were given a new lease on life. I knew some of them who had been on death row at Menard Penitentiary. I was employed there for many years, including a stint as counselor for the condemned prisoners. All the men awaiting execution in 1972 received new sentences because of the Supreme Court's moratorium. I saw most of them released from prison in the 1980s, and I saw some of them come back to prison for new crimes. The moratorium ended on Jan. 17, 1977, as a firing squad executed Gary Mark Gilmore in Utah. About six months earlier, in July 1976, the Supreme Court made Gilmore's execution possible by ruling that appeals filed by Texas, Georgia and Florida met their guidelines for a constitutional death penalty. Since then, a number of capital punishment cases heard by the Supreme Court seem to reflect a more conservative position. In 1989, for instance, a number of such decisions were made, including decisions involving mental illness pleas and appointing attorneys to file appeals on death row inmates' behalf. …

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