Those of us who believe in the death penalty for some murders are told by opponents of the death penalty that if the state executes an innocent man, we have blood on our hands.
They are right. I, for one, readily acknowledge that as a proponent of the death penalty, my advocacy could result in the killing of an innocent person.
I have never, however, encountered any opponents of the death penalty who acknowledge that they have the blood of innocent men and women on their hands.
Yet they certainly do. Whereas the shedding of innocent blood that proponents of capital punishment are responsible for is thus far, thankfully, only theoretical, the shedding of innocent blood for which opponents of capital punishment are responsible is not theoretical at all. Thanks to their opposition to the death penalty, innocent men and women have been murdered by killers who would otherwise have been put to death.
Opponents of capital punishment give us names of innocents who would have been killed by the state had their convictions stood and they been actually executed, and a few executed convicts whom they believe might have been innocent. But proponents can name men and women who really were -- not might have been -- murdered by convicted murderers while in prison. The murdered include prison guards, fellow inmates, and innocent men and women outside of prison.
In 1974, Clarence Ray Allen ordered a 17-year-old young woman, Mary Sue Kitts, murdered because she knew of Allen's involvement in a Fresno, Calif., store burglary.
After his 1977 trial and conviction, Allen was sentenced to life without parole.
According to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders, "In Folsom State Prison, Allen cooked up a scheme to kill the witnesses who testified against him so that he could appeal his conviction and then be freed because any witnesses were dead -- or scared into silence." As a result, three more innocent people were murdered -- Bryon Schletewitz, 27, Josephine Rocha, 17, and Douglas White, 18.
This time, a jury sentenced Allen to death, the only death sentence ever handed down by a Glenn County (California) jury. That was in 1982.
For 23 years, opponents of the death penalty have played with the legal system -- not to mention played with the lives of the murdered individuals' loved ones -- to keep Allen alive.
Had Clarence Allen been executed for the 1974 murder of Mary Sue Kitts, three innocent people under the age of 30 would not have been killed. But because moral clarity among anti-death penalty activists is as rare as their self-righteousness is ubiquitous, finding an abolitionist who will acknowledge moral responsibility for innocents murdered by convicted murderers is an exercise in futility.
Perhaps the most infamous case of a death penalty opponent directly causing the murder of an innocent is that of novelist Norman Mailer. In 1981, Mailer utilized his influence to obtain parole for a bank robber and murderer named Jack Abbott on the grounds that Abbott was a talented writer. Six weeks after being paroled, Abbott murdered Richard Adan, a 22-year-old newlywed, aspiring actor and playwright who was waiting tables at his father's restaurant.
Mailer's reaction? "Culture is worth a little risk," he told the press. "I'm willing to gamble with a portion of society to save this man's talent."
That in a nutshell is the attitude of the abolitionists. They are "willing to gamble with a portion of society" -- such as the lives of additional innocent victims -- in order to save the life of every murderer.
Abolitionists are certain that they are morally superior to the rest of us. In their view, we who recoil at the thought that every murderer be allowed to keep his life are moral inferiors, barbarians essentially. But just as pacifists' views ensure that far more innocents will be killed, so do abolitionists' views ensure that more innocents will die.
There may be moral reasons to oppose taking the life of any murderer (though I cannot think of one), but saving the lives of innocents cannot be regarded as one of them.
Nevertheless, abolitionists will be happy to learn that Amnesty International has taken up the cause of ensuring that Clarence Ray Allen be spared execution. That is what the international community now regards as fighting for human rights.