There are a lot of reasons to oppose the death penalty.
In no particular order, here are ours:
— If there is any societal value in the death penalty, it would be as a deterrent. But there is no study that has ever shown that the death penalty acts as a deterrent. That would happen only if it were administered swiftly, but that will never again be the case in our litigious society.
— It’s barbaric, and an abolition of the death penalty in this country would provide greater separation between us and those who cut off the head off James Foley. Life in prison without the possibility of parole, it could be effectively argued, is a far worse punishment than death, even if state executions aren’t always swift and occasionally are clumsily done.
— It’s expensive. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it costs the state a lot more to execute someone than it does to feed, cloth and house them for the balance of their lives. But a lot of lawyers do make money on the slow walk to death by the condemned that includes a lot of detours through the courthouse.
— It is arbitrarily administered, with the poor and people of color more likely to receive the death penalty/.
— The death penalty returns to the front pages of the newspapers the condemned as they take on celebrity status when advocates rush to their defense, proclaiming their innocence and giving a final finger to the long-forgotten victims. We would prefer that the guilty suffer in silence.
— And the most obvious, which we are reminded of as new evidence surfaces that suggests Henry Lee McCollom is not guilty of the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in 1983, and that Leon Brown did not rape the child. The Robesonian broke this news story, which we think will continue to grow, on Tuesday and more details are in today’s newspaper. We are content to follow the facts in this case, but it seems now there is reasonable doubt to the guilt of both men.
But both McCollom and Brown in 1984 were sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Buie. The murder conviction against Brown was later overturned as a second trial determined he did not help murder Buie, and he is now in Central Prison serving life; McCollom remains on death row, spared now by a 7-year-old moratorium on executions in North Carolina that was put into effect because of concerns about how it was administered.
But it took 30 years after the initial conviction of McCollom for evidence to surface that suggests there might be reasonable doubt that he was involved in her murder. Even when the wheels of justice turn as slowly as they do in death penalty cases, that is plenty of time to carry out an execution.
It is good that has not happened and that McCollom is with us as the courts will try to determine once again what his involvement was — or if there was any at all — in Buie’s death. If he is eventually exonerated, then he would have paid an incredible price — three decades in prison — for an act that he did not participate in.
At least, however, he would not have paid with his life.