At the Washington Times: If you want to deter murders, bring back the death penalty

Nov 16, 2022 | op-ed

Nikki Goeser and John Lott have a new op-ed at the Washington Times about why we need to bring back the death penalty.

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Amidst the high murder rate of the last couple of years, it is little wonder that Americans support the death penalty by at least a 3-to-2 margin. And their support would rise to more than 2-to-1 if death sentences were carried out on a more timely basis. 
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Thirty-two states have inmates on death row, but only eight states and the federal government have held executions since 2020. Even in the states where executions occur, the average time between sentencing and execution is 19.8 years.
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But that is only part of the story behind delays. Several years of delay from murder to sentencing is common. It took four years and nine months before Nicolas Cruz was finally sentenced earlier this month for the mass murder of seventeen people in the horrific Parkland massacre. Still, because of one juror, he didn’t get the death penalty.
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The strongest support for the death penalty comes from those with the lowest incomes and education — those who are most likely to be victims of crime. Conversely, the strongest opposition comes from those who make over $200,000 per year and have graduate school educations.
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Many opponents point to the costs of the death penalty, noting the costly trials and appeals. But the threat of the death penalty can also save taxpayers money by getting murderers to agree to plea bargains. 
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Take Dylann Roof, the Charleston, South Carolina church shooter who murdered nine people. Roof agreed to plead guilty on all nine counts and accept a life sentence. Without a possible death penalty, there would have been no reason to do that.
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Nikki Goeser, the co-author here, helplessly witnessed her husband, Ben, be murdered in front of her by her stalker on April 2nd, 2009. Fifty people witnessed the murder, and the restaurant’s security video filmed it. The death penalty was available in Tennessee, but the District Attorney in Davidson County opposed ever using it. 

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Without the threat of the death penalty, there was no reason for the murderer to agree to a plea bargain. With so many witnesses and so much other evidence, the prosecutor couldn’t offer anything less than first degree murder. The murderer risked no additional penalty from going to trial. Nikki had to endure the additional trauma of facing her stalker at trial and testifying against him.

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The death penalty also has a deterrence effect. Most peer-reviewed academic research shows a large deterrence effect, ranging from eight to eighteen fewer murders for each additional execution.

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We can see this deterrence effect in the efforts of many murderers to avoid the death penalty. Dylann Roof willingly accepted a plea bargain for life in prison and Nicolas Cruz fought against the death penalty in his trial. That’s remarkable given that mass shooters are often a suicidal bunch. 

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Others argue that the death penalty is applied in a racist way. But, in fact, whites are executed more frequently for murder than blacks are. from 1977 to 2011, the last year for which the FBI has compiled data, 64.7% of people executed were white, even though whites committed only 47% of the murders. In 2020, 64% of those executed were still white.

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It’s very rare for DNA evidence to show that an innocent person was wrongly sentenced to death. And there’s never been DNA evidence of someone being wrongly executed. The Innocence Project claims that, between 1989 and 2014, 34 people convicted of any murder were later exonerated by DNA evidence. Of these, 18 were sentenced to death, but had not been executed. In that same time, about 260,000 Americans have been convicted of murder, with DNA evidence being used in about 12,000 cases. 

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The death penalty saves lives and can also be used to save tax dollars. When guilt is beyond a reasonable doubt, use of the death penalty can help fight back against murderers and protect the innocent.

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Nikki Goeser and John R. Lott, Jr., “At the Washington Times: If you want to deter murders, bring back the death penalty,” Washington Times, November 16, 2022.

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