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Why the death penalty? Here's why

November 09, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • Andres Ordonez, his wife, Ana, and their son in a family photo.
Andres Ordonez, his wife, Ana, and their son in a family photo.

Andres Ordonez was shot and killed Sunday in Los Angeles over … nothing.

Well, that’s not exactly right.  As The Times reported, the 25-year-old church deacon was “shot Sunday with another parishioner after interrupting a woman vandalizing the wall of the Iglesia Principe de Pas, a small evangelical church on Beverly Boulevard.”

That's right: Someone took Ordonez’s life because he had the temerity to try to stop a tagger.

A restaurant cook, Ordonez, who came to the U.S. as a young boy from Guatemala, leaves behind a 1-year-old son and a wife, Ana, who is three months pregnant.

Here’s how The Times described what happened:

Ordonez’s wife said she was helping to prepare food after the Sunday evening service when her husband stepped outside from the singing and praying in the church to check on her.

“I wasn’t feeling really well that day, so he just went outside and asked me how I was,” she said. “Then he heard some noises.”

Just around the corner, on Reno Street, another parishioner was asking the female tagger to stop scrawling her gang’s name on the church wall. She shoved the parishioner, causing him to stumble. Ordonez and another parishioner were shot when they went to help.

In my business, we often describe this as a “senseless killing.” The kind we see far too many of in our inner cities. And then we move on to other news.

Now, probably the killer will be caught. Probably the tagger will be caught. Probably they come from broken homes, hard-scrabble backgrounds, tough circumstances. Probably they’ll be convicted of something -- something short of murder, even though Ordonez is dead -- and will be sent to prison. Probably they’ll be paroled at some point, perhaps having turned themselves around but more likely just free to commit more crimes.

And Ordonez will still be dead, and his young son and his unborn child will be without a father and his wife without her husband.

On Tuesday, Californians voted to keep the death penalty. They did so even though California doesn’t really execute anyone; even though the state is strapped for cash and capital punishment is a costly sham here.

And even though most experts will tell you that the death penalty really isn’t a deterrent.

And intellectually, I agree.

But there’s another part of me -- and it’s a part of a lot of people, like the ones who voted to keep the death penalty.  And that part makes me wonder if the death penalty -- a real death penalty -- could have saved Andres Ordonez.

We reserve capital punishment for the worst killers in our society. It wasn’t always this way. Once, you could be hanged for stealing a man’s horse. But now we’re more civilized.

But maybe, just maybe, the fact that we’re more civilized is what keeps the death penalty from being a deterrent.

Ordonez’s killer will probably never face a charge that could result in the death penalty. But what if that weren’t true? What if the person who took Odonez’s life had known that doing so would result in forfeiting his own? That pulling the trigger wouldn’t mean just a few years in prison but the end of his life?

Would that be a deterrent?

Yes, I know, this is a cruel, uncivilized way of thinking. It’s not Christian (well, OK, perhaps it’s Old Testament Christian). It’s not liberal, or Democratic.

But there’s something about the death penalty that seems to be hard-wired in humans. It’s been around a long time: It’s “an eye for an eye.”

And if it would have saved Andres Ordonez -- or any future Andres Ordonezes -- then maybe we do need it.

That’s not reason talking. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense.


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