Editorial: Death penalty is not the best answer to crime

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 7, 2003

A knee-jerk reaction to highly publicized heinous crimes always seems to be a cry for the death penalty.

But as with any complicated topic, knee-jerk reactions are seldom the answer.

The federal case against Richard Oslund, who killed an armored car driver in a 1998 robbery near the Twin Cities, and more recently, the killing spree in Minneapolis and Long Prairie, sure make good cases for reinstating death as a penalty. But the fact remains that the death penalty hasn’t prevented bad people from doing bad things to other people. There are still way too many murders.

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Minnesota has not had a death penalty on its books since 1911 and hasn’t executed an offender since 1906. We have come a long way toward civility since then. A state recognized for being innovative and a leader in so many areas, should not consider something so barbaric as death for its worst criminals.

Killing a murderer doesn’t do any more than a life prison term does, though the cost of housing said criminal is removed from the shoulders of law-abiding tax payers. Should that be an argument for seeking the death penalty? We think not. And exploring creative ways to to make criminals accountable financially for their own incarceration certainly sounds more like the Minnesota leaders we know.

Often, the only reason states like to pass such a death penalty law is it seems to give families of victims closure. While those families deserve all our sympathy, putting someone to death doesn’t atone for the death of their loved one. Couldn’t life without parole offer the same closure?

Killing is wrong for criminals and it continues to be wrong for Minnesota, even when it’s in the name of justice.