Kent Bush: Death penalty justified in worst cases
The death penalty has a funny political profile.
Typically, those who identify themselves as conservative espouse the death penalty as a deterrent to crime. Those further to the left of the political spectrum are often opposed to capital punishment because of how it is applied in the court system.
I believe in the death penalty in limited cases because, for some crimes, there is just no other way to achieve justice.
On June 29, 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that the death penalty was unconstitutional because it was applied more frequently and unfairly to convicts who were black or poor - or more often both.
But by 1976, the states had refined their death penalty statutes to fit under the requirements of the court. In Gregg v. Georgia, the court lifted its ban.
Today, 36 states and the federal government have provisions for capital punishment.
The advent of DNA evidence has eroded both shores of the death penalty debate.
Prosecutors feel even more certain than before that they have the correct person in custody thanks to the certitude of DNA evidence. However, foul-ups and corruption in crime labs have created doubt where there should be none.
The ability of DNA evidence to clear convicts who have been on death row for years has also slowed the wheels of justice that do not want to travel down a road that ends with an innocent man being put to death for a crime that he did not commit.
Utah was the first to take advantage of the Supreme Court reversing its previous decision when they executed a man by firing squad. They recently made news again by using the same less-humane method to put a murderer to death.
I currently live in Kansas, where no one has been executed since the 1972 Supreme Court ruling, although 12 men have been sentenced to death since the passage of a capital punishment law went on the books in 1994.
As an editor in Oklahoma, I was a media witness to the lethal injection executions of two murderers from our county.
Those executions are the primary reason I believe in the death penalty.
Neither were black or especially poor.
One man claimed he had defended himself when he killed the father of his ex-wife after hunting him, by laying in wait all day for the well-respected former fire chief to return home.
When the man got home, the convict defended himself about 20 times with a pistol, reloading it during the crime and a couple of the shots were execution style. That's high-quality self-defense. The world became a better place when we watched the last few breaths leave his body.
The next execution I witnessed was that of a man who made the other murderer look like a Boy Scout.
This young man, who weighed about 150 pounds when he entered the custody of the state and about 300 when he was executed, beat, bit and by all accounts tortured his girlfriend's toddler to death. After administering the fatal blow that left a dent in the sweet little girl's forehead the size of a baseball, he put a bottle of Coca Cola in her crib next to the unconscious child and took a nap.
After covering this trial and seeing the photos of the living hell that made up the child's final days, I can assure you that I was a death penalty advocate - especially in cases this severe and sure.
The state has to have the ability to execute criminals of the lowest order. Justice demands it.
Justice also demands that this ultimate punishment be reserved for the worst crimes and should only be administered when there is no doubt that the suspect is responsible for that crime.
With another Supreme Court Justice nominee being considered to fill a spot on the bench, the balance of liberal and conservative justices will be as important in this arena as in any.
Kent Bush is publisher of the Augusta (Kan.) Gazette.
The opinions in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.