Some crimes require final punishment

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:56 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the death penalty as an appropriate punishment for aggravated murder or other grievous assaults upon humanity, we should applaud the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Missouri’s lethal injection procedure is neither cruel nor unusual punishment. The halting of executions by U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. was but a blatant subterfuge in tailoring the law by the imposition of his own personal beliefs in pandering to the anti-death penalty crowd.

His ruling that a physician specializing in anesthesia be involved in these injections could be described as either an exercise in ignorance of pain control or, more likely, a sop to those who would circumvent the overwhelming choice of the public. According to those in the medical professions, anyone competent to administer an IV is more than qualified to perform such injections. Moreover, anyone who has been exposed to the combat-related medical expertise of U.S. Navy corpsmen or Army medics understands the absolute absurdity of Gaitan’s ruling.

Is there one person out there who actually believes the insertion of an IV, the administering of a tetanus or flu shot or even the injection of the medication to deaden the gums and roof of the mouth by one’s dentist to be cruel and unusual? And, how many are so naive as to consider the relatively minor discomfort sustained in the administering of said pain-relieving medications not appropriate for those who have senselessly murdered, raped and/or beaten their victims?

I do not denigrate the individual/collective right nor the sincerity of those opposing the death penalty; nevertheless, they continue to be at odds with upwards of two-thirds of the population. The opposition to capital punishment predictably adheres to the following rationalizations: It is a barbaric taking of human life; it serves as no deterrent to violent crime; and the risk of executing innocents and the excess of minorities receiving the death sentence are unacceptable.

The first aspect in consideration of capital punishment’s application is that it is neither capricious nor does it absent due process. By any reasonable definition, the death penalty is not awarded but is, in fact, earned by the egregious conduct of the one so sentenced. That sentence must pass also the muster of aggravated circumstances, a unanimous jury finding and an appellate process averaging 12 years.

To the majority of Missourians as well as the population nationwide, the notion that the death penalty is an act of barbarism that disregards human life is rejected as an anomaly. Compared to the wanton brutality in commission of an aggravated murder, the execution of the perpetrator in the highly controlled and supervised manner required by law is far more humane than that suffered by his/her victim(s).

As to the deterrent effect of the death penalty, it is answerable in two equations. First, the seemingly unending appellate process poses an unreasonable and unnecessary barrier to that effectiveness. Secondly, no person who has been executed for murder has ever repeated the crime but, of some 52,000 inmates serving time for murder in 1984, 810 of those had been previously convicted of murder and subsequently killed an additional 821 victims. Additionally, prisoners in states having no death penalty are 250 percent more likely to commit murder while in prison or following an escape.

Finally, since 1973, the extraordinary legal protections required have caused 37 percent of all death penalty sentences to be overturned; accordingly, appropriate safeguards preclude execution of innocents. The taking of human life is unpleasant and not relished by anyone; however, the public, with the approval of the courts, has determined there are crimes so heinous that justice can be served only by capital punishment.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident who can be reached via e-mail at

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