The Evansville Courier & Press has an interesting editorial about capital punishment that wonders, as I have, whether relatives of the victims really get "closure" when someone is executed after two decades on death row. The editorial focus on Nicholas Harbison, accused of killing three people in a corn field, who has agreed to plead guilty in return for not facing the death penalty:
If the plea agreement is structured in such a way to permanently foreclose any possibility of appealing the conviction or sentence, Harbison would be locked away forever, permanently separated from society. The families of Harbison's victims would be able to move on, knowing he could never harm them or anyone else outside prison again. It would not be closure, but it would be finality.
Something else I've thought about lately: Given that it's taking about 20 years from the time of the crime to the time of execution, it seems likely the state is frequently executing people who have fundamentally changed while on death row. So many of these people say, in interviews, that they have found God or achieved peace; some of them aren't just acting for their clemency hearings. Consider David Leon Woods, just executed. He was 19 when he killed his neighbor, 42 when the state killed him. We can't know if he is one of the ones who changed, but he had a lifetime to do so. If he had changed -- if the man the state killed is not the same man who committed the crime -- what are the moral dimensions of such capital punishment?