When this country was founded, one of the main concerns of the writers of the Constitution was to establish justice. It’s a basic human right, which our country tries to uphold by presuming innocence until proven guilty and providing a trial by a jury of peers to all accused of a crime. Many argue that the death penalty is cruel and unusual, but justice requires that the consequence be proprotionate to the offense. For a man like Ted Bundy, who killed over thirty people, the appropriate consequence is to take his life. Capital punishment has been practiced since ancient times, usually in the form of stoning, hanging, burning, or drowning. The Bible prescribes death for murder and many other crimes including kidnapping and witchcraft. Nowadays, not only do we have a better trial system and more humane ways of executing capital offenders, we have fewer crimes labeled as warranting the death penalty. Capital punishment should be practiced in the case of psychopathic serial killers in order to establish justice and carry out a consequence equal to the crime, and because of the inability of such killers to be rehabilitated into productive members of society.
There is no such thing as a profile on serial killers-no single description that covers in all cases who they are and why they kill. The behavioral scientists who study them define them narrowly as killers who, over a period of time, slay three or more victims, compelled by some inner drive that finds release only in killing. However, they normally fall into two categories: psychotics and psychopaths. Psychotics fail to perceive reality correctly and their murders are merely a symptom of their mental illness. Psychopaths do not suffer from a mental illness. They are in touch with reality and know that killing is wrong. Either they have no conscience, or their conscience is too weak to inhibit the violence they commit. Psychopaths kill without guilt or remorse. Unfortunately the majority of serial killers fall under this latter category.
One example of a psychopathic serial killer is Ted Bundy. Ted Bundy officially confessed to thirty murders. There were eleven in Washington, eight in Utah, three in Colorado, three in Florida, two in Oregon, two in Idaho, and one in California. Most of his victims were college age women, except for two which were twelve year old girls. For most of his killing career he took his time and lured victims from crowded areas, but after his second jail break he went on a killing spree in Florida, killing two women from the Chi Omega sorority house and seriously wounding two others before fleeing the scene. That same night he attacked another young woman and fractured her skull in five places. Not too long after that he abducted and murdered his second twelve year old girl and left her body in a deserted pigsty. He stalked them, and abducted them, raped them, tortured them, strangled them, even tore their flesh with his teeth like a wild beast. He desecrated their bodies, often dismembered them, sometimes discarding them for other animals, four-legged ones, to finish off. After killing, he said, he beheaded at least a dozen of the corpses with hacksaws. He carried the heads around with him for days.
Another viscious serial killer was John Gacy. At the age of twenty-six, he was first accused of molesting teenage boys in March 1968. He was convicted of sodomy and served eighteen months in jail. The killing started in 1972, about seven months before his wedding to his second wife, Carole Hoff. It wasn’t long before his new wife noticed the odd stench coming from the crawlspace. However, it wasn’t until years later that the police discovered the bodies during their second search of John Gacy’s home. After weeks of work, authorities discovered all that was left of twenty-seven young men murdered by Gacy and hidden away in his crawlspace. Another body was found covered in concrete in his garage, one lay under his driveway, and four others were recovered from the river. That makes thirty-three boys that were sodomized, raped, tortured, and then dumped in the river or in the crude earthen trenches in the crawlspace.
Life is valued beyond priceless. Justice requires a punishment equal to the offense. Capital punishment is a humane way to acheive a minute amount of the justice that the victims, their families, and our society demands from serial killers like these two.
It is sometimes said that the death penalty is only about revenge. Finding justice in the middle of evil can be difficult. Revenge is a much easier emotion to manage. However the people who were victimized and their families did not experience joy when the murderers were killed. Instead there were feelings of relief and finally being able to start the healing process. To start to let go of all the negative feelings. It gave them a sense of closure that a life sentence wouldn’t have. For Bob Iseli, whose four year old son was tortured and killed, even capital punishment was not enough. “In some ways, I really don’t see the death penalty as punishment. It was too good for him.” Not that he enjoyed wanting a human being to die. In fact, he also said, “I hated the feeling of wanting someone dead. . . but i am glad he’s gone.” Capital punishment is not for revenge, but to prevent revenge. Our society contracted with the government that if someone committed a crime against us then it was the government’s job to punish the criminal. This keeps order and provides justice. It also prevents revenge because if we know that the government will find the person or people responsible and punish them according to their crimes then we can let them do it and are not forced to take matters into our own hands.
Those against the death penalty maintain that capital punishment really isn’t a deterrent. But there are people that have refrained from murder, or risking a murder, because there is a death penalty. For instance, Justice McComb of the California Supreme Court, collected from the files of the Los Angeles Police Department fourteen examples within a four year period of defendants who, in explaining their refusal to take a life or carry a weapon, pointed to the presence of the death penalty. Now the death penalty doesn’t deter all murders obviously, but each crime prevented is at least one precious life saved, which is a reward in itself. And even if it didn’t prevent a murderer from killing, it will prevent them from killing again. Ted Bundy escaped from jail twice, the first time getting hopelessly lost and causing no harm, and the second time going on a veritable killing spree in Florida. Countless lives were damaged that didn’t have to be. In a study of 11,404 persons originally convicted of willful homicide and released during 1965 and 1974, 34 were returned to prison for commission of a subsequent criminal homicide during the first year alone. If the statistics are such for all persons convicted of homicide, then think how high they would be for serial killers who don’t stop killing until they are made unable to do so.
Another argument against the death penalty is that it is permanent and there is always a chance that innocent people could be killed. Firstly, this is not a reason to do away with the death penalty, since it is not a problem with the death penalty but with our justice system. Secondly, with the amount of appeals that any person on death row is capable of making the likelihood that an innocent person will actually get killed is extremely low.
Capital punishment has been practiced for thousands of years, not always as humanely as it is now. It is no longer cruel or unusual. If it is not a deterrent, at least it will cut down on repeat offenders. It can give peace to victims and their families. And maybe the most important of all, it serves justice by punishing those who deserve it.