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COLUMN: Let's put the death penalty to rest


By Anne Anderson



A man named Marcellus Williams was convicted in Missouri in 2001 for the murder of Lisha Gayle. 

Williams pleaded innocent, but he was imprisoned on one count of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The case recently went viral because his execution date was scheduled for Aug. 22.

About a week before the scheduled execution, new DNA evidence was recovered that proved Williams’ innocence. Despite this, the state of Missouri seemed reluctant to stay the execution.

Due to media pushback and the tireless efforts of his attorney, Williams’ execution date was postponed by Gov. Eric Greitens until a hearing to consider the new evidence could be held.

Another innocent man was almost put to death – an antiquated form of punishment. With the advent of DNA evidence, one study found that as many as one in 25 people sentenced to death were actually innocent.

The death penalty is hypocritical and in conflict with the idea that prison is a system of reform. Prison's main goal should be rehabilitating criminals so that they can act as functioning members of society. 

Cases carrying the death penalty cost the United States millions more than cases of petty crime and lighter sentences, according to the American Civil Liberties Union’s recent census of prison statistics. 

While some might imagine that execution cuts the cost of prisons because fewer people are incarcerated, this is not true. 

In California, a death-penalty case costs approximately $1.26 million per person – including court fees, lawyers, prosecution and prison time. An average case without the death penalty costs about $740,000.

In addition to these fruitless extra expenses, the death penalty moves too slowly to actually increase room in prisons. Since 1976, 1,392 people have been put to death

Williams’ case is another in a long line showing us that some of those people may have been innocent. 

Our criminal justice system clearly moves too inefficiently to make sure that those on death row are actually deserving of death. 

Currently, 31 states in the United States use the death penalty, and that’s 31 too many. 

anneande@indiana.edu

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