It took axe-murderer Karla Faye Tucker 14 years to turn her life around. Despite rehabilitation, she stands little chance of overturning her death sentence. By contrast, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols — neither having shown any remorse — are two men who used a bomb that killed 168 people. McVeigh was sentenced to death but Nichols was not. Across America, courts are divided as to who should get the death penalty and who should not, and under what circumstances.
The death penalty serves no purpose other than revenge. The government’s responsibility is to prevent murder, not commit it. Tucker, McVeigh and Nichols are not the first monsters to roam the streets and countrysides of America in search of victims, and they won’t be the last. The death penalty does nothing to stop them, nor does it add significantly to effective punishment.
In 1972 the Supreme Court declared state death penalty laws were applied in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner that violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection of the laws and due process. Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, along with a world-wide coalition to abolish the death penalty, have documented how the innocent have been wrongfully executed, deterrence is unproven and racism helps decide who dies. Almost all people on death row today come from impoverished backgrounds or are mentally retarded or disabled. More than 40 percent of death-row inmates are black and a disproportionate number are Native American and Hispanic. But condemning equal numbers of blacks and whites or males and females to death does not even the score. It just makes the kill list grow longer.
In 1976 the court brought the death penalty back, ruling that it does not violate the Constitution if it is administered in a way that prevents arbitrariness and discrimination. Going forward with Tucker’s execution after she had demonstrated a complete turnaround, but not sentencing the remorseless Nichols to death is arbitrary and capricious, and violates the 1976 ruling. The courts can’t seem to make up their mind. Meanwhile, people are being killed. The legal threshold for imposing death is criminal intent — an act of will. Issuing the death penalty is in itself a willful act. Society needs solutions, not revenge.
The brutality of the crime, the gender of the killer, the number of killings, or the state of mind of the killer during the criminal act or during sentencing should have no bearing on a court’s decision to issue the death penalty. It is wrong to issue the death penalty under any circumstances. The death penalty is a government sanctioned killing.
While on death row, Tucker appeared in drug-education videos aimed at youth, studied the Bible and married a prison-ministry worker by proxy. The death penalty defeats these rehabilitative efforts and prevents society from further understanding what drove Tucker and others like her to commit their crimes. Alive, Tucker has much to tell us. Dead, she offers nothing. The criminal justice system will best serve the people it represents by finding solutions to violence — not endorsing acts of revenge.