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Opening Arguments

The killing fee


CROWN POINT, Indiana — Lake County officials are awaiting the final bills from the death penalty trial of a Gary man sentenced to death last week for killing his wife and two teenage stepchildren.

County officials capped the costs of Kevin Isom's five-week trial at $750,000. Lake County Public Defender David Schneider tells The Times of Munster (http://bit.ly/WfGxul ) that defense-related costs are still being assessed.

There are few crimes deemed heinous enough to qualify for the death penalty in Indiana. When you combine that fact with the sheer cost of a capital punishment trial, it means counties are very careful and selective about undertaking such a trial. The extreme unlikelihood of being put on death row means it's ludicrous to cite the death penalty as a deterrent (except in the obvious sense that the one being put to death will be deterred).

So we are forced to defend the death penalty not in concrete, practical terms but in symbolic ones. Are some crimes so awful that exacting anything less than the ultimate punishment would be a moral outrage? Is the message we send with the death penalty in such cases more important than the harm we're causing by adding to the randomness and arbitrariness of capital punishment?

And the case for the death penalty is even harder to make now that states have shown they can enforce a "life with no parole" sentence without breaking down and letting the killer out later. I think the case can be made -- the idea of a serial killer or child murderer enjoying a long, healthy life is just too repugnant -- but we shouldn't pretend it's a moral slam-dunk.