Death penalty

September 21, 1994|By Ray Recchi

WHO WAS surprised when Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti announced he would not seek the death penalty for O.J. Simpson?

If you're over 15 and you raised your hand, maybe you'd be interested in some swamp land I've got for sale. Anyone who thought O.J. might face the death penalty is in urgent need of a reality check.

Rich people don't get the death penalty. Nor do famous people, except for those who become famous only because of their crimes. And that is only one problem many Americans have with capital punishment.

The way I see it, the death penalty separates us into three groups. There are those who have no qualms at all about putting people to death, those who have moral objections but see it as a necessary evil, and those who are against it under any circumstances.

As usual, I'm in the squeamish middle. But I have a lot of company, in large part because of how we decide which people we will kill and which ones we will incarcerate for life at great expense.

According to a study released last week, the United States spends $26.8 billion per year to keep 1.3 million people in prison. Is it fair to pay for food, shelter, security and medical care -- not to mention education and recreation -- for convicted murderers while so many law-abiding citizens go without? It is not only unfair but nonsensical. Of course, given our legal system, there are those who say it is cheaper to keep killers in jail than to kill them, but that's another column.

And that is only one of the arguments that caused me to switch from the anti-death penalty position of my youth. When I was very young, it seemed simple. Two wrongs don't make a right. If it is wrong for an individual to kill, I reasoned, then it is wrong for a civilized society to kill.

Eventually, however, I came to believe that some crimes are so heinous and some criminals so far beyond rehabilitation that there is no point in keeping them alive, particularly if that's all we're doing. In that way, it's almost akin to euthanasia.

So I became a reluctant supporter of capital punishment.

Like any other law, it should be administered fairly, without regard to race, gender or economic status. All that should be considered is the severity of the crime.

That doesn't mean O.J. Simpson should face the death penalty, however, or that he should not. Only that the decision should be based upon what he did, not who he is.

Indeed, the prosecutors were right in saying they faced a no-win situation. Because he decided not to go for the death penalty, Mr. Garcetti is accused of sparing Mr. Simpson because he is rich and famous. Had he decided to go for the death penalty, there were those ready to accuse Mr. Garcetti of doing so only because Mr. Simpson is black.

Hearing such arguments makes me want to scream. They are not worthy of us. Mr. Simpson shouldn't be given the death penalty because he is a celebrity any more than he should be spared for that reason. Nor should race have anything to do with it, one way or the other. Nor should the color of his eyes or the fact that he played football instead of baseball.

If premeditated murder is a capital offense and a jury decides he committed premeditated murder, then O.J. Simpson should be executed. Absent either of those "ifs," he should not.

Case closed.

Ray Recchi is a columnist for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

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