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HomeIllinois NewsRhoads: Thanks to Dylann Roof, the death penalty argument returns

Rhoads: Thanks to Dylann Roof, the death penalty argument returns



By Mark Rhoads –Dylann Roof

Yesterday, only a few hours after he told a crowded courtroom “I still feel like I had to do it,” Dylann Roof was sentenced to death by a federal jury for carrying out a cold and calculated massacre inside the Charleston, South Carolina Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015 in what he said was his goal to spark a race war.

The fact that the murders took place inside of a house of worship made many Americans sick. The 12-member panel of three white jurors and nine black jurors deliberated for a little less than three hours before unanimously deciding that the 22-year-old white supremacist should die for his crimes rather than spend his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Illinois has debated the pros and cons of the death penalty many times before and after former Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates only two days before he left office in 2003. Ryan said the process was so flawed that it was immoral and many people claim the death penalty is not a deterrent and if a defendant is wrongly convicted it is the only penalty that cannot be reversed. All this is partly true, but advocates for the death penalty argue that no death penalty goes too far in removing any deterrent at all for the worst of murders.

In 1977, the Illinois General Assembly passed and Gov. Jim Thompson signed a mandatory death penalty law for anyone who killed a police officer, a prison guard, or a fire fighter on duty or anyone who took a contract to murder. At the time, this law had wide support and still seems reasonable to me. The point of the death penalty is not to authorize the state to take a life for no reason but to end the life of someone who has deliberately taken the lives of others and who might still be a danger to society.

Some people worry that because the jury system cannot guarantee a perfect process therefore we should abolish the death penalty because there could be a risk that an innocent person might be put to death whereas a life sentence can be corrected eventually.

So the balancing act is do we scrap a deterrent for horrible murders because we cannot be certain no innocent person will ever be executed?  The South Carolina case is the result of a federal jury and not a state jury and courts have not yet completely ruled out the death penalty as "cruel and unusual," which it certainly was not at the time the Founders wrote the Constitution.

People will always argue that someone who murders so many is by definition insane but people can be mentally disturbed and still know right from wrong. It might sound harsh to some people but the facts of the case are that Dylann Roof deserves to die for his murder spree if anyone does. Even if there is a risk and even if the process is not perfect, the death penalty deterrent should still stay on the books in both state and federal capital cases.     


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