Journalists weigh in on death penalty debate

Should the state have the power to put prisoners to death?
Should the state have the power to put prisoners to death? Chris Ison

OPINION: Journalists Roderick Makim and Carlie Walker have found themselves on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to the dealth penalty debate.

Rod's against putting prisoners to death but Carlie is in favour of the state killing inmates found guilty of shocking crimes.

In fact, Carlie wishes we had the death penalty in Australia and you can have your say on whether the death penalty should be introduced here by voting in the poll at the end of the columns.

Some might say Rod has an unfair advantage in the arguments department since he holds a law degree but you be the judge.

Rod says:

THERE are a few topics in the world where it is impossible not get into an argument when you find someone whose opinion differs from your own.

One of those is the death penalty.

The Chronicle office became the scene of just such argument recently.

I had to hold my own against two women who demanded to know why I didn't support the state-sanctioned killing of mass murderers or other monsters, via the death penalty.

There is no denying there is a clear appeal to the idea of the death penalty.

Serial killers, parents who murder their babies, paedophiles who abduct children who are never seen is easy to think of examples of criminals who could be put to death without any tears being shed by the general public.

There is also the argument about natural justice for the family and friends of the victims of such crimes.

People wonder where the justice is for these people to lose their loved ones, only to see the person who killed them leave prison in as little as 15 years and go on living their lives.

These are powerful, emotive arguments - but they are undone by two important words.

Wrongful conviction.

If the death penalty results in even a single execution of an innocent person, then its price is too high.

There is ample evidence of wrongful convictions in murder cases in Australia.

To name one, Darryl Beamish spent 15 years in jail for the murder of Jillian Brewer.

A deaf mute, Mr Beamish was accused of brutally murdering Ms Brewer with a tomahawk and scissors.

He was convicted on a "strong" prosecution case, which somehow ignored a confession to the crime from another man, who happened to be a known killer.

Then there is Lindy Chamberlain - convicted of murdering her child and later acquitted when it became clear a dingo really did kill her baby.

Considering the public hysteria that surrounded that case, it is easy to think that Ms Chamberlain might have been given the death penalty had it been available - and later evidence proving her innocence would have come too late.

The Australian Institute of Criminology has looked closely into the issue, including information from countries that allow the death penalty such as the USA.

In a report on the prevalence of wrongful convictions, the AIC stated that in the US, up to 5% of prisoners have been wrongfully convicted, and at least 23 innocent people have been executed.

When a person is killed for a crime they did not commit, that is the fault of everyone.

After all, the government which sanctions such an execution gets its power from the voters (at least in theory).

What then happens to the argument about natural justice?

Does it apply to the loved ones of someone who has been murdered by the death penalty?

Because that is what the execution of a wrongfully convicted person would be. Murder.

And we would all be the murderers.

I certainly would not be comfortable with that.

Carlie says:

SOME people do not deserve to take up space on this planet.

It's a hard truth and one that many people resist in this age of rehabilitation and psychoanalysis.

I support the death penalty - I wish we had it in Australia.

But in the world we live in today, the death penalty is frowned upon as something too barbaric, too abhorrent to consider.

You see, according to the growing number of bleeding hearts, all us are victims of our past - every bad decision and horrific action can be explained by the psychological impact of something that has happened to us.

No one is accountable any more, personal responsibility is dead, we are all just victims, mindlessly and unintentionally hurting each other.

I wonder if any reasonable person actually believes this is true?

I'm not talking about killing someone for drug offences, like in some Asian countries.

The death penalty should be reserved for the crimes that really shock us.

The ones so horrible they keep us awake at night wondering how another human being could commit atrocities so terrible.

It should not be used as deterrent for those thinking about committing crime, because I don't think it works, and not principally to save money (although I'm not opposed to the idea) because these people won't be crowding the prisons any longer.

It should not be used out of revenge.

The death penalty should be a simple acknowledgement that some crimes are so shocking, so horrific, that the person who committed them does not deserve to be alive.

They don't deserve to have the chance to escape from a prison and inflict more pain and more hurt.

They have forfeited the right to anything more than a humane and dignified death, which in many cases is a lot more than some of these criminals offered to their victims.

Take the case of Richard Ramirez, who is currently on death row in America.

Known as the Night Stalker, he killed at least 14 people in San Fransico while on his rampage in the 1980s.

His youngest victim was a nine-year-old girl named Mei Leung.

The oldest was Malvial Keller, 83, who was beaten to death with a hammer.

Don't talk to me about how he deserves to live out his life with three square meals a day - I simply don't buy it.

He even got married in prison.

Why should he get to live his life when he took that away from so many others?

I used to think I couldn't support the death penalty unless I was comfortable with the idea of being the one who flipped the switch or delivered the fatal injection.

So I guess the question is, would I flip the switch on a creature like Richard Ramirez?

In a heartbeat.

Should the law in Australia be changed to allow the death penalty?

This poll ended on 13 March 2013.

Yes - 64%

No - 35%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Topics:  carlie walker death penalty debate jail prisoners roderick makim

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