CruelArthur W. Machen's article (Opinion * Commentary...


August 26, 1994


Arthur W. Machen's article (Opinion * Commentary, Aug. 9) essentially is a plea for abolition of the death penalty, citing John Grisham's novel "The Chamber" as one of his authorities. He also regards "cruel and unusual punishment" in keeping convicted murderers on death row.

The cruel and unusual punishment suffered by the victim's survivors, such as parents of a murdered child, is not protected by our Constitution. Murder victims are bodies under ground for families and friends to mourn, gone out of sight, almost irrelevant.

We have a live flesh and blood person, the murderer, to think about. Let's not get distracted.

Mr. Machen may find the convicted felon's living a life sentence with a tortured conscience is also cruel and unusual punishment.

All this is great in the realm of mythology. In my 48 years of experience in the practice of law, a good part of it involving criminal cases, I have never heard of a murderer suffering contrition for his crimes. The regret, of course, is having been caught.

There is no such thing as a life sentence, or even 10 life sentences without the possibility of release. There are always parole boards with injunction or otherwise to make more room for other criminals and, as a last resort, a humane governor.

An example is a case I was involved in, in which a capital sentence passed by two juries in separate cases was changed to life imprisonment by the then Gov. Theodore McKeldin.

One hoary argument Mr. Machen advances is the possible execution of an innocent party. In our society it is extremely remote, with all the safeguards we have and the energy and talents of defense, private or appointed attorneys, for such mistakes to occur.

How does that contrast with the "mistake" our government made in Vietnam resulting in the slaughter of 56,000 innocent Americans and millions of Vietnamese?

True, capital punishment as a penalty is full of flaws. Unevenly applied sentences give advantage to the well-heeled criminal to buy the most expensive legal talents and the most prolonged and intricate tactics of defense, etc.

But this is like abolishing democracy because it is full of defects. Of course, we must correct the faults and aberrations of capital ++ punishment, but to abolish it is to eliminate a tool that is made to protect our society and give it a sense that it is better protected than otherwise.

Seventy percent of crimes are committed by second offenders. An executed murder can hardly become a recidivist.

Maurice M. Bassan


Tobacco Harms

Your Aug. 2 editorial on divesting tobacco stocks from the state pension fund contrasts the positions of proponents, with whom you take issue, and opponents, with whom you side. The Tobacco Divestment Project agrees with the sentiments of both sides as its basis for supporting tobacco divestment.

The TDP and other pro-health advocates agree with Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. that profiting from tobacco addiction is just plain wrong. Maryland's investments in tobacco companies are an affront to the educators who strive to prevent tobacco addiction, to the families of the 1,100 tobacco victims who die each day in America and to the health practitioners who treat tobacco-induced illnesses.

We also agree with Joseph Adler, the state's personnel secretary, that the trustees' "job is to see that workers' retirement money is invested in safe, secure stocks."

The tobacco industry is under siege, facing class actions and criminal cases against its executives and even the possibility of bankruptcy. Food and Drug Administration regulation is likely; further restrictions on tobacco sales and use are a certainty. In this climate, how can a prudent fiduciary regard tobacco as a safe investment? In fact, tobacco will be a profitable investment only if Maryland's tobacco prevention and education programs fail.

Brad S. Krevor


The writer is executive director, Tobacco Control Resource Center.

Derry Report

The Sun really needs to be more discriminating when picking up wire reports. Witness the Aug. 14 Associated Press report which The Sun headlined, "Northern Ireland Protestants march in peace."

The AP reports that the annual Apprentice Boys Parade "triggered no reaction from Roman Catholics, 25 years after the same parade provoked riots." The parade itself in 1969 did not provoke riots.

The fact that it was allowed to pass through Nationalist neighborhoods while the "Apprentice Boys" hurled insults, bricks and petrol bombs, all under the supervision of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is what provoked riots.

AP also reports that "Today, Catholics control Londonderry's council, which renamed the city Derry." The AP is correct in this, so don't Catholics control Derry's council?

The AP continues to use Londonderry in its dateline as well; would it continue to use Peking rather than Beijing or Leningrad as opposed to St. Petersburg?

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