Guest Columnist

Make capital punishment available in Iowa

The death chamber and the steel bars of the viewing room are seen at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas, U.S. on September 29, 2010.  (Courtesy Jenevieve Robbins/Texas Dept of Criminal Justice/Handout via REUTERS)
The death chamber and the steel bars of the viewing room are seen at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas, U.S. on September 29, 2010. (Courtesy Jenevieve Robbins/Texas Dept of Criminal Justice/Handout via REUTERS)
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A staff editorial claimed that “Iowa lawmakers shouldn’t reinstate the death penalty, or waste time discussing it.” Savor the irony: An American newspaper telling lawmakers they shouldn’t waste their time engaging in an “ongoing national debate.”

The self-appointed doyens of The Gazette view the issue of capital punishment in Iowa as a settled matter. Liberals do this a lot. Things they like are moral and just, never to be challenged or changed. They can be pretty conservative at times, great defenders of the status quo.

Capital punishment does not deter, they assert. It’s too expensive, they proclaim. It takes too long. It strains the delicate citizens who sit on juries. It is applied to minorities and the poor too often.

But make no mistake — these arguments are pure chaff, countermeasures designed to evade this essential question of justice: Does the punishment fit the crime? Is life in prison without parole a sufficient punishment for murderers?

But let’s take a look at the issue of deterrence. Deterrence is the “inhibiting of criminal behavior by fear of punishment.” Punishment must be swift and certain. Does anyone think our judicial process serves as an effective deterrent?

After a murder is discovered the police collect evidence and identify suspects. If an arrest follows, prosecutors, grand juries and defense lawyers enter the fray. Add judges, juries and trials. If convictions result in death sentences, years of appeals are sure to follow — appeals mainly generated by an activist cabal of abolitionists.

So, what deterrence? Murderers fear punishment after their crimes, not before. Every person behind bars is a failure of deterrence. Statistical studies abound on both sides of the deterrence debate. Mark Twain popularized the phrase: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Without the death penalty as law, it cannot deter. With it, it is at least arguable. In any case, it is still irrelevant.

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Convicted murderers sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole are supplied with room and board for the rest of their natural lives. They receive free medical care. They have access to television, books and newspapers. They can cheer for their favorite sports teams and write letters to their loved ones. They can even become remorseful for their murderous actions.

Meanwhile, our memories of murder victims fade. Do you remember the name of the young woman who was shot in the back at the Coral Ridge Mall three years ago? I do. Do you remember the names of the two police officers ambushed and killed in the Des Moines area two years ago? I do.

And I resent the fact that their killers are alive today. They were judged guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at their trials. But I believe we can say more — much more. We can say with absolute certainty that these men murdered their victims. No dream team of lawyers dancing on the head of a pin will ever change those facts. Justice requires that if you take an innocent life, you should forfeit your own.

I applaud and encourage the efforts of Iowa lawmakers to start discussions on making capital punishment available to Iowa prosecutors and juries. Unlike some folks, I believe our state legislature is the right place to have this debate.

• Christopher H. Marks is an Army veteran residing in Amana

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