Death penalty raises debateat the U and among legislators

by Molly Moker

Although Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s call to reinstate the death penalty in Minnesota has not garnered much support from state legislators, it sparked debate on campus.

In reaction to the arrest of a repeat sex offender in the abduction of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin, Pawlenty announced Dec. 2 he wants the death penalty reinstated.

There have been no executions in Minnesota since before the Legislature abolished the death penalty in 1911. Although some students said heinous crimes should make the state think twice about the policy, others said if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

Continuing education student Hillary Bastian said she likes Minnesota as it is – one of only 12 states without the death penalty.

“If the death penalty did pass, I’d be very ashamed of Minnesota,” Bastian said. “I like how liberal our state is.”

Bastian said her experience serving on a jury made her think twice about how different factors – such as personal and psychological issues – can affect how fair a jury will be. She said based on that, sentencing people to death is unwise.

But first-year student Kasim Shouman disagrees. He thinks the death penalty should be available under extreme circumstances.

“When the crime is so heinous, I think people should get what they deserve,” Shouman said.

However, Shouman said he believes punishments should fit the crimes, so he only supports the death penalty in murder cases.

“I don’t think anyone is worthy of being killed unless they’ve killed someone themselves,” Shouman said.

Law professor Richard Frase said Minnesota’s justice system is adequate without the death penalty, and he sees no reason to resurrect it.

“I am not in favor of reinstating the death penalty,” Frase said. “Just because other states have it doesn’t mean that we need it.”

While University students and faculty grapple with the issue, legislators are doing the same.

State Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis, said he opposes reinstating the death penalty for a variety of reasons.

Ellison is part of Minnesotans Against the Death Penalty, a group of community, state and local leaders. The group held an informational meeting Dec. 6 that Ellison said went well.

“The community really came together to strategize ways to defeat the death penalty,” he said.

But Ellison said morality is just part of the issue.

“The death penalty tends to take resources away from other important places,” Ellison said. “It costs $50,000 to kill somebody. Imagine what that would do to tuition increases.”

Ellison said he would rather see criminals sentenced to life in jail than executed, because of the possibility for error.

“At least they’re not dead,” Ellison said. “When you kill someone, it’s irreversible.”

Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter, said he also opposes the death penalty, especially after representing a man on death row in Texas 10 years ago.

“It’s an expensive, corrupt and faulty way of punishment,” Hottinger said.

He said in the last poll he saw, senators opposed 3-1 reinstating the death penalty.

Ellison said his group will convene again soon and he hopes more young people will get involved.