One more reason
By: Celia Murray
The outrage over the failure of the jury to impose the death penalty in the Brian Nichols case in Fulton County sparked considerable activity in the state legislature over the past few weeks. After all, if the man who murdered a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff’s deputy and a federal agent didn’t deserve the death penalty, who does? Unfortunately, last week a move by House leaders to push through controversial legislation that would allow non-unanimous death sentences killed a bill which would have allowed district attorneys to seek life without parole for murder without having to seek the death penalty.
Many people oppose the death penalty for a number of valid and logical reasons. Numerous studies indicate there is no scientific evidence that the death penalty deters crime. In fact, a recent nationwide survey of police chiefs conducted by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) found: Police chiefs rank the death penalty last as a way of reducing violent crime, placing it behind curbing drug abuse, more officers on the street, and other factors; The chiefs rated the death penalty as the least cost-effective method for controlling crime; Police chiefs do not believe that murderers think about the range of possible punishments. More compelling, however, is the simple fact that mistakes happen – as of August 2008, there have been 130 exonerations in 26 different states, most based on DNA evidence, including six here in Georgia.
This is a startlingly large number, given that there have only been 44 executions in this state since the death penalty was made legal again in 1976, and there are currently 107 people on death row. No reasonable person can doubt that innocent persons have been executed in Georgia. While a moratorium on the death penalty is, in this writer’s opinion, certainly in order, there is now another compelling reason – the state’s financial woes.
The Nichols case brought to the public’s attention the enormous costs of death penalty trials. That case, which was the most expensive in Georgia history, took more than three years to bring to trial and cost between five and six million dollars, all of which was paid for by the taxpayers of this state.
In the words of Richard Dieter, executive director of the DPIC, spending millions of dollars on a case that does not result in an execution “is like building a bridge to nowhere.” Without exception, every study conducted on the subject has found that the cost of a death penalty trial through the appeals process to execution is much, much more expensive than a life-without-parole trial and sentence.
Last month, when Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley addressed the Maryland Senate, he advocated abolishing the death penalty to cut costs. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a long-time supporter of the death penalty, has recently been forced to rethink his position in light of the economic realities and on March 18, signed a bill to repeal his state’s death penalty statute. Currently lawmakers in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and New Hampshire have pushed bills seeking to repeal the death penalty, citing the economic savings. Such bills also have a good chance of passing in Maryland and Montana.
At a time when Governor Purdue is furloughing state employees, including corrections officers, and vacant positions are going unfilled because of budgetary concerns, perhaps he should consider a moratorium on the death penalty. Surely, Georgia’s tax dollars are better spent on schools for our children, assistance for our unemployed, healthcare for our elderly, police officers for our streets, than being spent on more exorbitantly expensive trials which may or may not result in executions.
Celia Murray is a member of the Morgan County Democratic Party.
Printed in the January 26, 2009 edition.