The prosecution in the O.J. Simpson trial is in a quandary.
So are proponents of capital punishment in general.
Government prosecutors are having genuine difficulty deciding whether they should seek the death penalty for Mr. Simpson. And debate on the subject is raging throughout America.
Under normal conditions, prosecutors seeking the death penalty are assured of widespread support from law enforcement officials and conservatives. As long as the suspect is a faceless lowlife with a long criminal record prosecutors know the clamor for capital punishment will be deafening, especially if the suspect is a minority person with no powerful friends, no financial resources.
But, in truth, few Americans really favor capital punishment; what they do favor is the execution of those faceless lowlifes they’ll never see, never know, never come face-to-face with.
But, put a face on the person to be executed, the face of a friend, a relative, a fellow worker — even your friendly banker, the local baker, or possibly even the family lawyer — and capital punishment becomes unthinkable.
This came home to O.J.’s prosecutors even before they got the case: When Americans by the thousands waved and cheered for O.J. while police pursued him in a “slow-speed chase.”
Of course, any time a human being is murdered or raped, or is the victim of any capital crime, ordinary citizens are justly outraged — especially when circumstances are particularly heinous.
Upon the arrest of a suspect, too few people react by presuming innocence; too few are content to await the results of a trial.
How often have you heard an allegedly sane and Jaylewis otherwise respectable person say: “Don’t even bother with a trial; hang the guilty S.O.B.”?
Most people feel that capital punishment is only a remote possibility in the O.J. case, prompting some to say that this is prima-facie evidence that capital punishment cannot be fairly carried out, that the case should provide legislators with the ammunition they need to change the law so that capital punishment is banned entirely.
It is sad, indeed, that the controversy in capital cases always revolves around the suspect rather than the victim. But, alas, it shall always be thus. Unfortunately, there is little we can do for the victims, for they are gone; the movement, however, to force convicted killers to forfeit profits from the tell-all books and for other ill-gotten gains is a step in the right direction.
For the record, this writer opposes capital punishment, primarily because it is inhumane and barbaric; but I also adhere to all the other, more academic, arguments, including:
* Capital punishment is not a deterrent, but rather creates the opposite effect by teaching that taking a life is justifiable if you have a good reason (violence begets violence.)
* Capital punishment rarely is imposed on people with power, influence system to have executions approved and administered.
* For those with pocketbook mentalities, it actually is cheaper to keep convicted murderers in jail for life (without parole) than to wind through our unwieldy criminal justice system to have executions approved and administered.