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In Defense of Capital Punishment

The editorial "Revenge Isn't a Victim's Right," April 30, claims: "The only morally defensible rationale for capital punishment is the (wholly unproven) assertion that it deters violent crime." There is another morally defensible rationale. Capital punishment prevents the criminal from committing the crime again. Capital punishment is self-defense for society.

I wish we were able to rehabilitate, but at present we aren't - so let's do the nearest right under the circumstances and protect society. This is a "morally defensible rationale."

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Nita J. Qualtrough, Las Cruces, N.M.

While I strongly disagree with the Monitor's long-held position on the death penalty, and indeed believe it should be applied in some or most cases of rape and in certain other particularly heinous offenses, I concur wholeheartedly in your opposition to victims' participation in the sentencing process.

Agreed; in crimes where the loss to the victim is only financial or economic the cost inflicted by the convicted offender should be weighed in determining the sentence. But in a crime of violence the virtue of the victim, or lack of it, is immaterial. The murder or rape of a hardened prostitute is just as grave an offense as is a similar assault on a virgin of tender years. It is the nature of the crime and not the identity of the victim that must determine the penalty.

Earl Eigabroadt, Port Orchard, Wash.

Your editorial is ludicrous. Perpetrators of heinous crime are coddled and excused by a corrupt criminal justice system which admits psychiatric evidence to explain evil acts and curry sympathy from juries for criminals.

If criminals are entitled to psychiatric evidence and defense, why shouldn't prosecutors be allowed to submit victim-impact evidence? What's the difference?

Bruce Barrow, East Falmouth, Mass.

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The editorial supports the view that in death-penalty cases "victim-impact" evidence should be inadmissible before the jury.

The point fails on three counts.

First, it ignores that "defendant-impact" evidence is allowed. Mama testifies to how devastated she'd be if a jury does to her son - who is really a "good boy what he did to an innocent victim without benefit of a trial or jury. The "value" of the murderer is admissible in mitigation of sentence. You say "our society does not value some lives more highly than others." This is an inspired statement of ideal, but a fatuously false statement of fact. The irrelevancy of the victim which you advocate is not

the result of some ethical imperative, but is the consequence of a legal fiction arising out of the technicality that the victim is not a party to the pleadings but merely a party-at-interest.

Second, you assert without proof that "the only morally defensible rationale for capital punishment is the (wholly unproven) assertion that it deters violent crime." But to begin with it is not "unproven" that capital punishment is a deterrent. The death penalty is a direct deterrent: The sociopath who is put to death cannot kill again. Your argument sets up a "straw man" by focusing on indirect deterrence, a specious diversion which we can for this purpose morally and practically ignore.

Third, there is your bald averment that "revenge is no rationale at all." Revenge is indeed a meaningful rationale. It is the irrepressible manifestation of legitimate societal values and outrage, of collective judgment. It will not be denied; it can only be controlled. We control it by an elaborate system of due process.

Spencer Lawton Jr., Savannah, Ga.

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