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Kill the death penalty 

Georgia should put an end to capital punishment

With the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection in March of Troy Davis' appeal for a new trial, it's likely that a new execution date for the state's best-known death row inmate will be announced any day now. But state officials would be wise to take a hint from the embarrassing difficulty they recently had in getting their hands on lethal drugs and instead call an end to capital punishment in Georgia.

I don't say this because I believe executions are inherently barbaric or that a society has no right to take the lives of its citizens. Quite the contrary. I feel strongly that there are certain crimes so heinous that death is an appropriate punishment. But I've also reached the inescapable conclusion that our court system cannot be trusted to apply justice in an impartial, equitable and reliable manner. More than that, though, I don't believe the death penalty justifies its considerable cost.

It's hard not to lose a little faith in state-issued jurisprudence each time DNA evidence proves that some luckless convict spent decades in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Even more damning are reams of recent statistics showing that such factors as the defendant's race, the race of the victim and the county where the trial takes place are disturbingly predictive for whether a convicted murderer winds up on Georgia's death row. Brian Nichols aside, there are dozens of killers now serving life sentences in prisons around the state whose crimes are fundamentally no different from many who await execution. Too often, the pronouncement of a death sentence is an arbitrary happenstance that depends more on political and social dynamics than on the needs of justice.

But I soured on the death penalty long before I knew any of that. I hate to be coldly pragmatic, but I became a capital punishment opponent the day I learned that it costs far more to bring a man to execution — when you add in the price of a capital trial and the legal expense of the inevitable appeals — than it does to keep him in prison for the rest of his life. There are lawmakers in Georgia whose solution for fixing this imbalance would be to make it easier to execute killers by spiking the requirement for unanimous jury verdicts. But if modern juries — in court parlance, the "will of the people" — have become less comfortable with the idea of sending men to death row, shouldn't that tell us something?

I can no longer think of a single compelling argument against abolishing the death penalty in Georgia. It's not as if any rational person believes it's an effective deterrent to violent crime. And whether or not one agrees with the moral reasoning, America's dogged attachment to capital punishment has lowered our standing in the eyes of other democratic nations.

Frankly, if the death penalty doesn't save the state any money, it cannot be applied fairly and uniformly; and if it arguably doesn't serve the aims of justice in a meaningful way, what possible purpose does it serve?

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09/25/2014

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