Vote No on Proposition 34: Deterrence and the Death Penalty

There are numerous ways to demonstrate the deterrent effect of the death penalty. Here are a few of them.

Death penalty abolitionists advocate the death penalty is indefensible, beneath the dignity of a civilized society and fails to serve as deterrence to murder and other violent crimes. Instead, they advocate an across-the-board moratorium or elimination of the death penalty, asserting a guaranteed sentence of life without the possibility of parole will serve as a fair and humane punishment for even the worst serial killers, sexually sadistic psychopaths and mass murderers. This benevolent social concession is fraught with red flags and merely serves up the American people as guinea pigs in yet another social experiment of dubious merit. 

One huge gap in the logic of replacing the death sentence with a punishment of life without the possibility of parole is that in America there are 51 separate criminal justice systems.

States account for about 95 percent of all crimes committed and federal statutes only apply when crimes are committed on federal property, against federal employees or are interstate in nature. Therefore, to replace the death sentence 33 states (the number of states that currently allows execution), the federal government and the military court would have to change their laws not only to eliminate the death penalty, but also to substitute life without the possibility of parole and offer up some kind of guarantees that these laws would not be subject to the capricious whims of pandering politicians. 

Should the political climate change and attitudes toward crime and punishment undergo a fundamental shift I guarantee, as surely as there will be individuals pleading for the life of Richard Ramirez (Nightstalker) or Richard Allen Davis as they are strapped into the gurney, legislation will be introduced and court rulings will alter, tweak and create loopholes in the law.

Before we declare an across the board moratorium on the death penalty, we should also consider the repercussions of unilateral disarmament. At best, there will be no positive impact on crime statistics and at worst we send the message to killers that they can continue to kill with impunity with full knowledge that they have achieved victory without concessions. 

Criminals would know that regardless of the crimes that they commit, they will not have to pay for their crime in kind, even in its mildest form. That in fact, if caught, the worst they can expect is guaranteed room, board and health care in perpetuity. This is a social concession that despite the mindset or nature of the criminal, we are affording them a power that society is unwilling to assign itself.  The message is obvious and fraught with ominous implications such as, “You win.”

However, the most straightforward argument for deterrence is that it saves innocent lives by preventing convicted murderers from killing again.

On January 7, 1965, 23-year-old Robert Lee Massie was sentenced to death for murdering Mildred Weiss during a botched robbery near her home. The sentence was commuted to life in 1972. Massie was paroled in 1978. Eight months later, Massie killed Boris Naumoff in another botched robbery. Pleading guilty, Massie was again sentenced to death. Finally, in 2001, Massie was executed.

In 1966, Kenneth Allen McDuff forced a teenage girl and two teenage boys into the trunk of a car. He raped the girl then murdered all three. During his trial, McDuff said that killing a woman was like killing a chicken, ”They both squawk.” The jury recommended the death penalty. When the death penalty was suspended in the U.S., McDuff was released from prison. In the early 1990s, McDuff murdered at least nine more women. He was again arrested, convicted and sentenced to death for those crimes. He was ultimately executed in 1998.

With no death penalty and only life without parole there isn't any deterrent for inmates serving a maximum sentences from killing others while in prison or after escape. In fact, there is positive incentive for individuals with a predisposition to kill, knowing that eliminating evidence, thrill killing and other horrors have been voided of external controls. There are many killers imprisoned in states that do not have the death penalty who have killed again and again, knowing their penalty cannot be increased. 

In 1980 Clarence Ray Allen was serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, yet he masterminded the murder of three of the witnesses who had testified against him from his prison cell. He was ultimately executed for the subsequent crimes.

Approximately 810 of the 52,000 inmates serving time in state prisons for murder in 1984 had been convicted of murdering 821 persons following their previous murder conviction. Executing each of these inmates would have saved 821 lives. 

In 1981 there were 701 murders in Houston, Texas.  Since 1982, when Texas resumed executions, Houston has executed more murderers than any other city or state (except Texas) and has seen the greatest reduction in murder, 701 in 1981 down to 261 in 1996 - a 63% reduction.

And, never forget. Bundy, Gacy, Massie, McDuff and Allen will never kill again for they have been deterred.

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Leni Park July 24, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Mr. Klaas, I've been unable to find any organized effort or campaign to defeat Prop. 34--or SAFE CA. A simple Google search led me to your article but I still can't find any active campaign where I can devote my time. I'm assuming you know where to I can go?..Please let me know!
Thomas nelson July 24, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Mr. Klass, First thing, my deepest sympathy to you for the loss of your daughter. As a family member of a murder victim, by The Nightstalker, I applaud your effort to get the otherside out on this proposition. It is disgusting that those who have caused our appeal system to be backed up, are now saying we should get rid of the death penalty now, because it takes so long to execute people. My grandmother's murder was sentenced in 1989 to death, first time we heard any news on his appeals came around 1998 or 99. If people truly want to change the wait time of this state's death penalty they should look at changing the constent delays in filing appeals these people use to get advantage. Hopefully this state population will not be fooled into voting for this. Tom. PS: like a poster above I found this article through a search looking for a site for, no on prop 34. Didn't see any site that appears to be around but if you know where the No on 34 can be found I would appreciate it.
Marc Klaas July 24, 2012 at 05:33 PM
The website for No on Prop. 34 can be found here - http://waitingforjustice.net/
Albert Rubio July 25, 2012 at 05:46 AM
Mark, >Approximately 810 of the 52,000 inmates serving time in state prisons for murder in 1984 had been convicted of murdering 821 persons following their previous murder conviction. Executing each of these inmates would have saved 821 lives. I still don't see how this is a valid argument. I am still interested in understanding how you can save 821 lives without executing all 52,000 inmates. Or is it your open position that we should execute all inmates convicted of murder? Or is there another explanation?
Chris Bernstien September 06, 2012 at 09:03 AM
The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. Proposition 34 is being funded primarily by a wealthy company out of Chicago, the ACLU, and similarly-oriented trust funds. It includes provisions that would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials and significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those grounds. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com and http://waiting4justice.org/.


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