With this state's first execution since 1967 likely to be carried out this year, Californians should carefully rethink the logical and ethical premises on which capital punishment is based.
In this context, I would like to reiterate the argument against capital punishment set forth by former New Mexico Gov. Tony Anaya in The Times Opinion section on Dec. 14, 1986: 1. If the state executes an innocent person--a very real possibility--there is no redress. 2. Capital punishment is uneconomical because the mandatory appeal procedure costs more than life imprisonment. 3. Capital punishment is morally wrong.
The morality of capital punishment is, from my point of view, a straightforward matter: If one holds life as a supreme value, then one must conclude that the taking of life, for whatever reason, undermines the very basis of the human ethical system, particularly when there is a clear alternative to killing--life imprisonment rather than execution. Supporters of capital punishment participate actively in dismantling the moral basis of our society.
I would like to point out a singular irrationality of those who support the death penalty. If capital punishment is a deterrent, then surely painful methods of execution would have more effect than painless ones. Yet Texas, Utah, and other states have adopted lethal injection as the method of execution--ameliorating the severity of the death penalty, supposedly for "humanitarian" reason.
On the other hand, California and other states that use lethal gas as the means of execution do not make the agony of death by asphyxiation a matter of public knowledge. I do not believe that the threat of capital punishment is a deterrent--did not and would not, for instance, have any effect on Robert Alton Harris, now almost certainly facing execution, when he murdered two boys in 1978--but if it \o7 is \f7 a deterrent, then the agonies of execution should not be ameliorated (as in Texas) or kept hidden from the public (as in California).
W. ROSS WINTEROWD