Right of Reply: Another view of the death penalty

Innocents are better protected with capital punishment.

gallows 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
gallows 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There are some clear problems with "Fabulously Observant: Jews and the death penalty," by David Benkof (March 12). Rabbi Avi Shafran gave a common answer as to why a great many Jewish faith groups oppose the death penalty: "Jews have all too often found themselves on the wrong side of the administration of capital punishment - often for the sole 'crime' of being Jewish." Sadly, true. However, the fact that Jews have been wrongly executed doesn't mean that Jews cannot morally and rightly execute wrongdoers. An obvious example: Jews have been wrongly incarcerated, in just the same shameful manner, yet, Jews are not opposed to justly incarcerating those who violate the law. Jewish talk show host Dennis Prager is correct, "capital punishment for murder is the only law that exists in all five books of the Torah." In other words, to God, implementing the death penalty for murder is a very big deal. If that is the case, why do so many Jewish faith groups oppose it? Rabbi Shafran ended, "That many a convicted criminal in the United States has later been exonerated by evidence or testimony only adds to the reluctance." Reconsider. In the US, of those sentenced to death since 1973 or later, possibly 25 actual innocents have been identified and released from death row. That is 0.3 percent of those so sentenced. There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900. Of all the government programs in the world that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty? Unlikely. In fact, innocents are better protected with the death penalty. BENKOF ADDS, "... two individuals had to witness the capital crime, and there had to be a 'kosher' warning before the act took place." That was only for Jews, For all others, one witness would suffice and no warning was necessary. Benkof continues, "The Talmud says that any court that imposed death on a convict once in seven years - or even once in 70 - was considered a 'bloody' court." This is a common and unfortunate recitation since it excludes the response of a later Talmudic sage, Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel: "Such an attitude would increase bloodshed in Israel." In other words, by letting murderers live, you only embolden more murderers - an important omission by Benkof. Benkof continues: "Finally, there is the issue of the humaneness of the death penalty. Under Jewish law, capital convicts would be given alcohol until they were intoxicated, so they would suffer less." Suffer less? There were four methods of execution. If Jewish law were concerned with less suffering, why not pick only the least painful method? Why four, when three will always be worse than the fourth? In fact, all four were horrendous. Benkof continues: "In the American system, convicts are first given a paralytic, so if they do suffer under the consequent two lethal drugs, they cannot express their pain. And there is significant evidence that they do suffer." Benkof is factually in error. The paralytic is given second. The first drug given is a massive dose of barbiturate or other anesthesia, leaving the inmate in a coma state. Almost exclusively, the "evidence" of suffering with lethal injection is of the "maybe," "might," "could be" variety. Benkof concludes: "But ultimately, it seems to me that life in prison without parole is a better option than the death penalty - in Israel, North America and throughout the world." It would be helpful if you would give a good reason why. The writer, a Houston-based former opponent of capital punishment, is the head of Justice Matters and has written and testified extensively on the death penalty.