The merciless killings of 18-year-old Abreeya Brown and 22-year-old Ashley Conaway of Hamtramck are among the most dastardly and heinous on record. It doesn’t matter who the barbarians are that murdered them, the crime should heighten the public desire for the ultimate form of punishment.
Michigan banned the death penalty in 1846, nine years after becoming a state. The law was made part of the state Constitution in 1963. Subsequent legislation and petition drives aimed at striking down Michigan’s ban have gone nowhere. That means the harshest penalty a first-degree murderer can receive is mandatory life with no parole.
Yet public opinion polls consistently show that the majority of Michigan citizens favor capital punishment.
The refusal of the state to move toward reinstating the death penalty seems counterproductive considering that the risk of being brutally murdered in Detroit, Flint and elsewhere has probably doubled in the last half century. Crime statistics have Detroit on course to be one of the most murderous ever this year.
The judicial ordering of execution morally repulses many Michiganians. Even in states where the death penalty is allowed, killers are likely to be sentenced to death and remain on death row for a lifetime because of endless appeals and foot-dragging by the justice system.
Some of the concerns that contribute to the reluctance are worthy of debate. Death penalty opponents, for example, argue that capital punishment is cruel and unusual and fails to deter crime.
I even understand that when prosecutors seek the most extreme penalty hesitant juries may choose not to convict on the more serious charge of first-degree murder.
Detractors also contend that the race of the victim and the killer too often determines who ends up on death row. Blacks, it is alleged, are far more likely to be sentenced to death if their victim is white. Black-on- black, or white-on-black killings seem to have less of a stigma and generate less public outrage. Black defendants, according to another argument, are more likely than whites to be charged with a capital offense. Critics say such findings undermine any faith that the judicial system deals fairly and equitably.
However, a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling held that statistical evidence of racial disparities in the use of the death penalty is not sufficient to prove capital punishment laws unconstitutional. Each defendant must show direct evidence of intentional discrimination by judges, juries or prosecutors before a death sentence can be overturned, said the court.
Michigan’s high kill rate gives added weight to the contention that a properly administered death penalty is essential. Since a disproportionate number of murder victims are black, the black community should be loudly demanding “appropriate” justice.
We must, of course, protect against sending people to death row when courts do not provide competent counsel or defendants are falsely accused. Only those who are proven guilty beyond “any” reasonable doubt should face execution. No one wants to put innocent people to death.
Is it worth debating whether capital punishment provides a deterrent to the massacre occurring each day in our urban cores? I don’t think so.
Murder victim survivors may want the perpetrator to suffer a similar end to their life. Most might prefer to be judge, jury and executioner. That capital punishment gives them a satisfying sense of retribution is sufficient.
Too many killers populate our prisons enjoying three squares a day, access to television, basketball courts and a better life inside prison walls then they enjoyed outside them — at the expense of surviving families and friends. Most never gave a second thought – no conscience or regret – as they committed the ultra violent act that removed loved ones from our lives.
Increasingly, law-abiding citizens are executing home-invaders and attackers.
Why then, should it still offend our sensibilities to want state government to get back in the death penalty business?