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Death Penalty Emotionally Satisfying, Wrong Choice

Death penalty emotionally satisfying but wrong choice for New Zealand
by Jim Peron

Who wasn¹t shocked at the horrific stabbing murder of Mona Morriss? The person who did this is a monster. Rangitikei Mayor Bob Buchanan knows the solution. He wants the death penalty.

He even suggested that the execution need not be a humane one. I can relate. My gut reaction to such crimes is a desire to see perpetrators roasted on a spit slowly.

When I saw the video of that woman stealing funds for the victims of the tsunami I desired to see her publicly flogged. But I recognise these are my emotions speaking. This is inspired by a sense of justice, by a genuine heart-felt hope to see every person treated justly.

Murderers are monsters. Someone who would steal from those who have lost everything is a terrible person. I have no sympathy for them.

But the desire that inspires me to want awful punishments for bad people also tells me that I have to temper my emotion with reason and common sense. That¹s why I oppose the death penalty.

It¹s not that I don¹t desire punishment for the perpetrator of this murder. My fear is a relatively simple one. I don¹t believe in omniscient government. I recognise that the justice system makes mistakes. Innocent people get convicted. And that¹s more likely to happen in very emotional cases like this one.

We have a justice system to remove the emotional. It uses the cold forces of reason alone to judge the case, weigh the evidence and punish the criminal. But even still it makes mistakes. That¹s why I oppose a punishment which can¹t be reversed. A falsely incarcerated man can be freed, apologies issued, compensation paid. But a dead man is dead. He can not be revived, no apology can be heard by him, and no compensation is sufficient to undo the wrong he suffered.

Kiwis are incensed at senseless murders. A nana stabbed brutally in her own home, infants left to die in the bushes, a young woman killed before she could even go home to blow out her birthday candles. All these things sadden us, anger us and inspire us to demand justice.

But will the death penalty give us these things? It will give us erroneous convictions and some innocents will be executed. I thought it awful that Mrs Morriss was killed. She was innocent. But a penalty that makes the state a perpetrator of the very same crime is the wrong way to go. We need to avoid taking innocent lives and that means, until infallible government is invented, no death penalty.

This is not to say there should be no penalty. We do need to send a message to criminals that is sufficient to make them think twice. What is needed for that to happen? First, there must be a fairly decent arrest and conviction rate for crimes. Second, there must be a sufficient punishment to discourage criminals.

New Zealand doesn¹t do too badly on the first count. But on the second we fall woefully short. Unfortunately this government has been very lax when it comes to criminals. They tend to see criminals as ³victims² in need of Nanny¹s help, not as individuals deserving punishment.

A life sentence in New Zealand is not a life sentence. Even the terrible murder of six-year-old Coral Ellen Burrows resulted in a minimum punishment of 17 years.

The killer himself noted: ³I¹ll get to see daylight again at some stage. Coral won¹t.²

Phillip Edwards murdered TV personality David McNee. For that Judge Justice Marion Frater said he should serve a minimum of four and a half years. Murderers in New Zealand can spend less time in prison than some students on state aid spend in Univeristy.

Criminals deserve punishment but so far the legislative agenda for Labour has included wiping some criminal¹s records clean and making it illegal to reveal their criminal past. We should get serious about real crimes‹where there are victims. And that means if someone viciously kills another person they deserve life in prison and that ought to end, not with parole, but with their demise.

That would send a message to criminals that New Zealand won¹t tolerate murderers. But it also leaves us with the ability to rectify the erroneous convictions that are, unfortunately, bound to happen.


Jim Peron is the executive director of the Institute for Liberal Values.

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