Barron: The Death Penalty Benefits Victims and Protects Communities

Ted Bundy in court. Bundy confessed to 30 murders prior to his execution. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Ted Bundy in court. Bundy confessed to 30 murders prior to his execution. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Morgan Barron, Opinion Writer

Six people currently sit on Utah’s death row. One was convicted of torturing, raping and murdering a student. Their home is currently a 14×7 foot cell with a toilet, sink, mirror, hard bunk and futon. They are permitted to leave the cell for only three hours each day. Still, the punishments of death versus remaining alive — even under the most miserable conditions — are not the same, and “consequently there is no [justice].” Indeed, the implementation of the death penalty in our society is necessary, as it provides justice to victims and protects communities from further harm.

On Jan. 6, 2004, Rebecca Petty sat in an Arkansas prison awaiting the execution of her daughter’s killer, Karl D. Roberts. Roberts had been convicted in the spring of 2000 of killing 12-year-old Andi Brewer. Roberts insisted for years that he would not appeal his sentence, but as he was strapped into the gurney and prepared to receive a lethal injection, he changed his mind and was granted a stay of execution. His victim never got a second chance. Though Andi likely begged Roberts for her life, he still raped and strangled her. Victims’ families who push for the execution of their loved one’s murder are often accused of “being out for revenge,” but they are only advocating for justice — for their loved one’s life to be valued equally to the life of their killer.

Belinda Crites supports the death penalty after what Eric Randall Nance did to her cousin and family. Nance was convicted of raping and killing Julie Heath based on DNA evidence found on her inside-out underwear. After struggling with the murder of her daughter for 15 months, Nancy Heath committed suicide on Christmas morning. Sadly, Nancy’s anguish is not unique. A 2007 study suggests that for every homicide victim, six to 10 of their close friends and family are “indirectly victimized” by their murder. Other studies suggest an increased mortality rate for those who have lost a family member. While nothing can provide closure to those who have lost loved ones to intentional violence, Crites says that she felt relief when Nance was executed.

Ted Bundy was a University of Utah law student when he was arrested and convicted of aggravated kidnapping in Utah. Also a suspect in open murder cases in Washington and Colorado, Bundy was extradited to Aspen to stand trial. Bundy initially escaped from the Colorado jail in the Spring of 1997, but he was found seven days later still in Aspen. He must have learned from the errors of his earlier escape because when Bundy escaped again he wasn’t recaptured until he was found 47 days later in Pensacola, Florida. During his 47 days of freedom, Bundy assaulted six women, and only three of them survived his attacks. Famously, a Florida sheriff told Bundy, “Washington missed you, Utah gave you away, Colorado lost you, but I’m going to fry you.” While this comment may appear to be the posturing of an aggressive cop, I believe it stemmed from a desire to make sure this sadistic killer, who had already proven to be a risk, could never harm another community again. Bundy confessed to 30 murders, including six in Utah, prior to his execution.

Casey Pigge has been serving a life without parole sentence in Ohio since 2009 for killing his ex-girlfriend’s mother and setting her home on fire. Being in jail has not prevented Pigge from killing, as he beat his cellmate to death and strangled another inmate. After Pigge viciously attempted to beat a guard to death with another inmate, County Prosecutor David Fornshell said, “If [Pigge and his accomplice are] not executed, they will kill other inmates or corrections officers … They’re known killers.”

A similar situation occurred in Utah when Troy Kell, a convicted murderer from Nevada, came to the Central Utah Correctional Facility (CUCF) as part of interstate prisoner trade. While housed at CUCF, Kell earned himself a spot on Utah’s death row for stabbing Lonnie Blackmon, who was serving a sentence for robbery, 67 times while yelling “white power.” While the homicide rate in prisons is relatively low, four to six inmates are killed per 100,000 state prisoners. Housing killers who have a flagrant disregard for human life for their lifetime is dangerous to the general prison population.

A concern many raise when questioning the role of the death penalty in the American justice system is the risk of killing innocent people. However, researchers have concluded the rate of innocent defendants serving life in prison is much higher than those on death row. The legal resources poured into capital punishment cases often lead to the exoneration of innocent parties, making justice more accessible to those who have been wrongly convicted.

Justice requires that the gravest crimes receive the most severe punishment allowed, and in the United States, that is currently the death penalty. To satisfy justice and protect our communities, our state and country should continue to smartly engage the death penalty when faced with convicted murders who have perpetrated intentional and unnecessary violence against others.


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