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March 14, 1991

Letters Editor
The Bellevue Journal American
P.O. Box 90130
Bellevue, WA 98009-0130

Dear Editor:

In his March 10 editorial concerning the death penalty, John Carlson bases his support for this practice on two premises.

First, Mr. Carlson states that "some criminals deserve extraordinary punishment for committing extraordinarily brutal crimes." No sane person could possibly deny that the crimes which Mr. Carlson takes so much of his article describing are perhaps the most heinous that can be committed, and it is obvious that the most serious crimes deserve the most serious punishments. In a civilized society, however, we have limits regarding what can be done to punish criminals. We have long since abandoned the practice of torture because we cannot condemn cruelty and violence while carrying it out in the name of justice. We have decided that our criminal justice system should be above the actions of those we are punishing, so why should we kill in order to condemn killers?

Secondly, Mr. Carlson twice refers to those who are not executed living in prison "at public expense." While I do not think it is a morally justifiable position to advocate killing in order to save a few dollars, the point is irrelevant. Numerous studies have shown that carrying out the death penalty actually costs the taxpayers two to three times more than keeping a person in prison for life! That is why prosecutors in small counties rarely ask for the death penalty; they cannot afford it. The higher cost is mainly the result of the greater procedural protections that the US Supreme Court has determined are required in death penalty cases. There have, of course, been proposals to streamline the process, thus reducing the cost, but the price we would pay is a greater risk of an innocent person being sentenced to death. I, for one, am not willing to take that risk, nor am I willing to dig deeper into my pocket just so that we can kill.