Right Side Round Table: Should the death penalty be repealed?

Question: Earlier this month, Maryland became the sixth state in six years and the 18th state in the country to repeal the death penalty. Should Tennessee and Georgia follow suit and ban the death penalty or keep capital punishment in place?

Opposition to the death penalty is nothing new for liberals and progressives. Rallies against capital punishment and candle-light vigils for death row inmates are par for the course for bleeding hearts. But an increasing number of conservatives are also coming to the conclusion that the death penalty fails on a number of levels.

In 2011, public support for the death penalty fell to its lowest level in nearly four decades. That's because the death penalty drains resources, fails to serve victims' families and loved ones, is applied more often to poor and minority offenders, does nothing to keep communities safe and can result in the execution of innocent people, according to Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

The group is right on every level.

The death penalty is not successful in even its most basic function - deterring future crimes. Study after study indicates that the death penalty is no more effective at deterring violent crimes than the prospect of life in prison.

Further, the death penalty is an extraordinary expense to taxpayers. A Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury estimate found that death penalty trials cost an average of 48 percent more than trials in which prosecutors sought life sentences, according to Fox News.

Once the trial is over, the expense to taxpayers continues. It is considerably more expensive to house a death row inmate than an inmate serving a life sentence. According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, a typical inmate costs taxpayers $67.21 per day, while a death row inmate comes in at $96.75 a day - a difference of nearly $270,000 per prisoner over the span of 25 years.

The fear of executing an innocent person is a particularly compelling argument against the death penalty, especially in light of the fact that more than 140 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973. It makes you wonder how many dozens, or even hundreds, of innocent people have been wrongly put to death by states across the county.

The disturbing prospect of killing even one innocent person is enough to justify abolishing the death penalty. It certainly seems just and moral to allow vicious criminals to spend their lives in prison when the alternative is occasionally killing innocent people.

Even if we lived in a dream world where states never executed an innocent person (and technology may one day make that possible), the death penalty should still be repulsive to conservatives who believe that government's power should be limited.

What greater power can government have than the authority to kill its own citizens? Once the government is granted that power, there is no logical end to what it can do.

Earlier this month, Sen. Ran Paul, R-Ky., filibustered for nearly 13 hours to protest the possible use of drones to kill Americans suspected of terrorism on U.S. soil. According to Gallup poll released on Monday, 79 percent of Americans agreed that the government should not kill other Americans.

If government extermination of its own citizens is wrong when drones are doing the killing, why should it be any different when the death occurs via lethal injection?

As conservatives, we must rethink the death penalty. Why spend millions of tax dollars on capital punishment when it doesn't make us any safer, puts us at risk of killing innocent people and enables government to kill its own citizens? Vengaence just isn't worth the cost.

Barrett Rich

State Rep. R-Somerville

Chairman of the House Health Subcommittee

The subject of capital punishment, in any circumstance, is an unsavory one. However, we must always keep in mind that very few people convicted of murder actually receive the death penalty.

As we know, it is reserved for only the most egregious and cruel of murderers. It is imposed only in cases of aggravating criminal factors, such as the murder of a pregnant woman, or the rape and murder of a child.

Those people convicted and sentenced to capital punishment appear before a jury of their peers. Their cases are sent to appellate courts for review. Hundreds of eyes and ears receive information relating to the case and a great period of time elapses before sentencing is actually carried out.

While capital punishment in our state is not the only deterrent contained in Tennessee law, I do feel it is an important and vital addition to our criminal code.

Joyce House

Mother of an exonerated former death row inmate

Tennessee and Georgia must follow Maryland's lead and repeal the death penalty. Maryland's lawmakers realize that the risk of executing an innocent person is all too real. I know it is because it almost happened to my son, Paul House, who sat on Tennessee's death row for nearly 23 years for a crime he did not commit.

While we waited for years for DNA evidence to be considered by the courts, my son wasted away in prison with untreated Multiple Scleroses which now confines him to a wheelchair. Paul is not a free man today because the system worked. He is free despite the system.

Paul lost decades in prison, and Carolyn Muncey lost her life. After all these years and millions of dollars wasted, no one has been held accountable for her murder. How did the death penalty further the cause of justice for any of us?

Editor's Note: Charges against Paul House in connection with the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey were dropped in 2009 after DNA evidence concluded House did not commit the crime. The new hearing resulted from a 2006 United States Supreme Court ruling that determined there was enough evidence to clear House of the murder charge.

Rev. Stacy Rector

Executive Director of Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

What do we want from our justice system? We want to support murder victims' families. We want offenders to be held accountable and for our communities to be safe. We want a system that is fair and accurate, not for some, but for all.

Maryland's lawmakers repealed that state's death penalty because they concluded that it did not help to achieve these goals. It provides neither swift nor sure justice for surviving families of murder victims but instead focuses on securing death sentences for a handful of perpetrators - sentences which, in Tennessee, take an average of 22 years to be carried out (if ever).

The death penalty system is far more expensive than life without parole and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars that could be better spent supporting victims' families, closing cold cases, and assisting law enforcement. It is time to repeal the death penalty in Tennessee and Georgia.

Dr. David P. Gushee

Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University

States are rushing to abandon the death penalty because it is not good public policy. It does not deter or prevent violent crime, it is not applied in a consistent or rational manner anywhere in America, and it costs too much. The death penalty is also bad public policy because when mistakes occur, the consequences are lethal. I don't trust fallible governments with this much power.

As a Christian, I oppose the death penalty because I believe that Jesus Christ is for life, not for death. If there is any way to solve a human problem that does not require violence, then that is the path we should take. Murder should be deterred if possible, and murderers should lose their freedom to kill again. A certain life sentence for murder, every time, meets this goal.