November 29, 2008

Fallible government must end executions

As a Goldwater conservative, there is very little that I agree with Gov. Martin O'Malley about. However, I commend him for his avid opposition to capital punishment ("Behind the debate," Nov. 16).

There is an unavoidable paradox at the core of capital punishment. The government is supposed to act on behalf of the citizens of the state. Therefore, if the state executes even one innocent person, then all of the citizens of the state become murderers who deserve to be prosecuted.

But the government is not, and cannot possibly be, perfect in its criminal justice judgments because it is composed of fallible human beings.

And in the United States, since 2000, 46 people have been released after being wrongfully convicted and placed on death row. Three have been released this year alone.

A great example is Earl Washington, a mentally retarded man who was sentenced to death in Virginia based solely on a confession that the police forced him to make.

DNA evidence eventually exonerated Mr. Washington. But it is impossible to know how many innocent people our state and federal governments may have killed before technology or new evidence could save them.

Many people clam that the death penalty is a cost-effective alternative to life imprisonment. However, the facts show that, in Maryland, prosecuting capital punishment-eligible cases in which the death sentence is not sought costs taxpayers on average $1.1 million (including prison costs).

Capital-eligible cases in which the death penalty is unsuccessfully sought cost taxpayers $1.8 million. Those in which the death penalty is successfully sought cost taxpayers $3 million.

Execution thus costs state taxpayers more than life imprisonment does.

And the claim that capital punishment deters other violence is unfounded.

The death penalty is immoral, illogical and fiscally irresponsible.

The General Assembly should act on Mr. O'Malley's recommendation and abolish the death penalty in our state.

Joey Crawford, Nottingham

The writer is a sophomore at Towson High School.

Teach youths how to deal with conflict

Had Timothy Oxendine been able to deal with his frustration under the professional counseling offered by his school, he might not have felt the need to create justice for himself by allegedly killing the person who bullied him ("School officials say help was offered to two teens in fatal stabbing," Nov. 25).

After many teens have had to deal with sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies, most schools have recognized the importance of sex education.

U.S. schools have also dealt with plenty of violent incidents among students. What has to happen before they decide to implement a school curriculum that addresses bullying and anger control for youths?

Anca Bilegan, Arlington, Va.

Let citizens exercise right to self-defense

A recent letter claims that "misinterpreted Second Amendment rights" are responsible for preventing "youths from realizing their potential" ("Tougher gun laws can save kids' lives," Nov. 26).

While the author rightly concedes that there is a greater social context at the root of the violence in the city, she wrongly states that it is "lax gun laws" that need to be addressed to reduce the rate of violent crime in Baltimore.

Maryland has among the most stringent laws regarding the sale, purchase, possession, transportation, storage and use of firearms in the country. But it is apparent that it is not those who take the time to navigate Maryland's extraordinarily burdensome firearms laws who are committing most of the crimes in the city.

Perhaps it is time to look instead at enforcing the laws already in place and at making them result in meaningful sentences for those who violate these laws.

The only misinterpretation of the Constitution that occurs in Maryland on the Second Amendment is the abridgment of our gun rights by the state government.

When the state realizes that it should allow its citizens to fully exercise their right to self-defense, perhaps the criminals of Baltimore and Maryland will think twice before victimizing others.

Paul Dembowski, Annapolis

The writer is president of Maryland Shall Issue, a nonprofit group that advocates expanding the right to carry concealed firearms in Maryland.

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