I rarely think about capital punishment. Living in a statethat abolished the death penalty nearly 100 years ago, state-sponsoredexecutions enter into my consciousness only when especially horrific casesgenerate media attention nationally. Lately, however, the topic has been on mymind. Sean Penn, receiving the Academy Award for his performancein Milk, got me thinking about his earlier Oscar-nominated turn in DeadMan Walking, the film adaptation of Sister Helen Prejean's book thatchronicles her experiences counseling prisoners on death row. The day after theAcademy Award ceremonies, I began jury duty where, while waiting in the juryassembly room, I listened to prospective jurors discuss their relief that theywouldn't have to make a life or death decision in any trial they might end upjudging. While waiting in that same assembly room (which is mostly what I didon jury duty) I read the recent New York Times' article on states consideringthe abolishment of the death penalty as a potential cost saving measure.

Now, I know that the majority of Americans approve of capitalpunishment, but I don't. Before writing me off as just another bleeding heart,let me say that I have no sympathy for people guilty of crimes for which theycould be given the death penalty. Lock them up and throw away the key. Thereare certain crimes for which the perpetrator should never again see the lightof day. However, the state should have no more say over who lives and who diesthan does the person who murders someone.

Does anyone really believe that the death penalty deterscrime? Do would-be murderers compose a list of pros and cons while consideringthe taking of a human life and then decide against it because of thepossibility of execution? If that were true, wouldn't we have seen a downturnin violent crime in states that carry out executions? Texashas been back in the execution business since 1982 and the number of executionsthere has increased in the past decade, not lessened.

The New YorkTimes article (February 25, 2009)presents a current take on the subject. Many states are now consideringrepealing the death penalty to save tax-payer money in these tough economictimes. I know common sense would indicate that it is cheaper to execute someonethan it is to keep them in prison for decades, but that isn't the case. In Maryland,one state that is considering repeal, it costs three times more to prosecute adeath penalty case than it does to bring a case to trial where capitalpunishment is not sought. The solution for some is to not repeal capitalpunishment, but to limit the convicted person's right of appeal. But do wereally want to hurry justice at the risk of executing an innocent person?Capital punishment is a permanent decision which, as we know, has occasionallybeen proven to make mistakes. There is no altering the outcome of an executionif future DNA results exonerate the executed. Perhaps no part of America'sjudicial system better demonstrates the two systems of justice in this countrythan the death penalty. There is a system for those with power and privilege,and a system for those who lack access to the resources, the education, and theconnections that those with power and privilege have. Of course, this assumesthat capital punishment is about justice, when perhaps what it's really about isvengeance.