Our Turn: Respect the dignity of life – end the death penalty

Published: 4/24/2019 12:10:24 AM

If the governor vetoes the repeal of the death penalty, the House and the Senate should override the veto with a strong bipartisan supermajority. Our state should embrace a culture of life, not death.

Our Catholic faith and all other faith traditions teach that human life is a gift from God. Every person has intrinsic dignity, even those who commit serious crimes. Because the sanctity of life comes from God, it cannot be earned through good acts or lost through bad acts.

Executing someone takes away their chance to redeem themselves. Many people who have committed crimes come to understand what they did and seek forgiveness and mercy from God. It is not the place of others, and certainly not the government, to foreclose someone else’s opportunity for redemption.

Human beings are inherently fallible. A justice system run by ordinary people will always make mistakes. The research bears this out. According to a 2014 estimate published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, at least 4% of defendants sentenced to death in the U.S. – one in 25 – may be innocent. For those of us who value human life, these numbers are shocking and disturbing. A society that practices capital punishment will execute innocent people.

Scripture tells us: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17). The death penalty is not noble. It brings out the worst in us, fanning the flames of revenge and perpetuating the cycle of violence by answering killing with more killing. In each moment of our lives, we have the chance to reflect on who we want to be. State-sponsored executions do not represent the best in us.

There are those who claim that keeping the death penalty is a way to show support for law enforcement. But many law enforcement officers will tell you that our state would be safer without the death penalty. The millions of dollars we spend to maintain the death penalty could instead be used to fix our broken mental health system, provide better equipment and training for police officers, and, most importantly, support the families of homicide victims so that they can heal.

In fact, in 2009, a nationwide poll of police chiefs showed that the death penalty is at the bottom of priorities among those with experience in law enforcement. The chiefs did not believe the death penalty acted as a deterrent and they rated it as one of the most inefficient uses of taxpayer money in fighting crime. In New Hampshire, sentences of life without the possibility of parole are available to hold offenders accountable and keep the public safe.

Just as law enforcement officers are not of one mind about the death penalty, the families of homicide victims do not speak with a single voice. Some support the death penalty; some do not because they don’t believe it will aid in their healing or honor their loved one’s life. In any case, the death penalty offers victims’ families a false promise rather than “closure.” Because a life is at stake, death penalty appeals are longer and have more procedural layers than other homicide cases. Since two out of three death sentences are overturned, families endure years of appeals when life without parole is the most likely result.

When New Hampshire ends the death penalty, it will join a nationwide trend away from capital punishment. The Granite State will become the 21st state to abandon the punishment and the ninth in the past 15 years. We are the last New England state clinging to this archaic practice.

New Hampshire has not had an execution since 1939. We don’t even have a death chamber. The past 80 years have shown that we don’t need the death penalty. It’s time to put capital punishment behind us and focus our attention on loving one another, supporting each other and doing the most good.

(Fintan P. Moore Jr., a retired police officer, and Stephen Kaneb, a businessman, are ordained deacons in the Catholic Church.)

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