In 2007, New Jersey became the first state to legislatively abolish the
death penalty.Saved from execution,
among others, was Jesse Timmendequas, who,
according to CNN, “lur[ed] Megan Kanka into his Hamilton Township home to see a
puppy, then rap[ed] her and strangl[ed] her.
As a professor of persuasion for over 40
years, I have been struck by not just the illogic of those legislators seeking
repeal of the death penalty.According
to Patch.com, Sen. Bobby Zirkin argues that his change of heart on the issue is
based on the utterly selective and unrepresentative “testimony of
some victims who said the death penalty provided little closure because of
lengthy appeals” and the irrelevant observation of the fact that “the state
hasn't executed anyone in nearly a decade.”
But I have been more taken by the lack of
repeal supporters’ publicly engaging the critical arguments at all.
Please allow me to ask the following
important questions to legislators and others, questions which should be addressed
– or should have been addressed --
before the state of Maryland repeals capital punishment.Failing that, these are questions for which
voters in a referendum should seek the answers before sustaining the end of
1.If there is a
Newtown in Maryland with children massacred, will you stand by your vote for
the repeal of the death penalty?
2.If a convicted 1st
degree murderer orders killings from prison, how would you stop this?What should be the punishment if one or more
is carried out?Why would a murderer
necessarily ever stop if there is no death penalty?
3.If a convicted 1st
degree murderer kills inmates or prison guards, what should be the punishment?
4.If you base your
vote on public opinion polls, does your position vary if that measured opinion
changes?After Timothy McVeigh murdered
168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing, a USA
TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll indicated that 81% of the public felt he should be
you argue that capital punishment is racially biased, would you agree that the
major source of that conclusion, the Paternoster study, argues that the race of
the defendant does not produce a disproportionate use of the death penalty,
only the race of the victim does so.Do
you not agree that this could be changed and is largely an effect of the
disparities in geographical use of the death penalty?
you argue that capital punishment is not a deterrent, are you moved by the fact
that The New York Times, hardly a
bastion of capital punishment support, reported in 2007 that according to about
a dozen studies “executions save lives. For each
inmate put to death, the studies say, 3 to 18 murders are prevented.”?A study by Emory University echoes this
position and argues that decreasing the time between conviction and execution
would also save lives.This may be
because executions delayed create the perception of no executions.
The lack of implementation and the lengthy time of disposition of
executions should not be the basis for eliminating them.It should energize Maryland to shorten the
period between conviction and execution.
The fear of a mistake can be alleviated by raising the standard of
proof, if need be, to “beyond any doubt.”That would also eliminate the possibility of serial murderers continuing
their grisly behavior.
Even a death penalty unused, but utilized for plea bargaining, is
superior to not having its availability.
Regardless, to act in such a definitive way to save murderers from
executions deserves a full addressing of the issues, not a rush to
Professor Vatz has taught Persuasion for decades at Towson University,
is author of The Only Authentic Book of
Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013) and will be giving a keynote address
on the book at the Southern States Communication Association Convention in