Finley: Death penalty a barbaric practice lacking any meaningful purpose

There is no doubt about Nikolas Cruz’s culpability for the mass murder of 17 people and the injury of 17 others at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018.

His horrific actions affected many more than those who were injured or killed and will leave a lifetime scar on far too many people. He absolutely must be held accountable for this tragedy.

The death penalty, however, is the wrong way to do so, for several reasons.

Cruz pleaded guilty. Thus, his sentencing could have moved on quickly, assuring he was never released from prison.

Instead, prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty, resulting in months of delays and deep trauma to the victims’ families. This is always the case when the death penalty is on the table, and in this situation, like so many, the families were split on their preferred outcome.

My experience as a criminology professor persuades me the trauma of this kind of sentencing hearing far outweighs any benefit.

I have never endured it in person, but my daughter did in the Cruz case, through her role as an intern in the Broward County Defense Attorney’s Office. She said it was horrific to sit through, and expressed special empathy for the family members, many of whom were visibly breaking down in the courtroom.

So, why? If Cruz could be held accountable for the rest of his life without this additional trauma, why seek the death penalty at all?

The prosecutors made that perfectly clear — so that execution would remain an option in Florida. If they didn’t seek capital charges in a case like this one, they reasoned, they’d have a hard time ever doing so in future.

That justification is troubling on so many levels.

First, the idea that the death penalty “must” remain on the table is antiquated. Twenty-three states have abolished the death penalty and three more are under gubernatorial moratoriums.

Surveys in Florida have found that more than 60 percent of people favor life in prison without parole over the death penalty for convicted murderers. The more recent cost study found that seeking the death penalty instead of natural life costs more than $51 million a year in Florida — nearly $1 million per week.

In the Cruz case, there were no trial costs because he pleaded guilty. That means all costs the state is incurring by seeking the death penalty are entirely unnecessary.

It is far past time that the death penalty be eliminated entirely in the US. Even in cases as horrific as this one, it is simply an antiquated and barbaric practice that does nothing to keep us safe, deter crime or heal those who have lost loved ones.

Laura Finley, syndicated by PeaceVoice, serves as a professor of sociology and criminology at Barry University. She is the author of several academic texts in her discipline.


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