Every man in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, which no reparation can compensate, by the example of the punishment that attends it from every body, and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure, God hath given to mankind, hath by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or a tiger, one of those wild savage beasts, with whom men can have no society nor security: and upon this, is grounded the great law of nature, who so sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.

—John Locke. Two Treatises of Government, 1689.

The foundation requirement of natural justice is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The heinous criminal who has completely disregarded the rights of another is, in receiving the death penalty, simply being treated reciprocally. Moreover, any decent human would want to be executed if he turned into a monster.

For murder

To my mind, the serious difficulty in the issue … is the possibility of the conviction and execution of an innocent man—which has certainly happened in a small number of cases. Against these tragic cases, however, must be set the victims of convicted murderers who have been released after their sentence was served only to be convicted of murder a second time—who have certainly numbered many more. Despite all the uncertainties and complexities, for example of forensic evidence, I believe that the potential victim of the murderer deserves that highest protection which only the existence of the death penalty gives.

—Margaret Thatcher. The Path to Power, 1995.

Given the low intellect of most murderers, it is unsurprising that many people question whether the death penalty acts as an effective deterrent. However, even a simpleton will truly believe he will be caught and executed for murder if he has been caught and sentenced to the prescribed punishment on every previous occasion he committed a crime. This is borne out by Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s success in reducing New York City’s murder rates in the 1990s from the highest among large U.S. cities to the lowest. His zero-tolerance policy for those who had no respect for the law, whether they were hoodlums travelling on trains without tickets, jay walkers, or inmates stabbing each other, made criminals respect the law. Thus rather than becoming lawless murderers, they were turned back during the misdemeanor phase of their careers. This was good for their victims and good for them—whereas leniency would have been false compassion.

Some say the death penalty for murder is unacceptable because “all life is sacred.” However, this claim does not hold up when considered in the light of real life situations:

A man already serving two life sentences for murder has been charged with committing what prosecutors say is Washington state’s oldest unsolved crime, the 1968 fatal stabbing of a pregnant teenager. John Dwight Canaday, 59, admitted recently during questioning by Seattle police detectives that he killed Sandra Bowman. When told he had left DNA at the scene Canaday sighed, held up his hands and declared, “Yes, I killed her.” Earlier this year, a state forensic scientist matched Canaday’s DNA to sperm found on Bowman’s body. His genetic profile was in the database because of two 1969 murder convictions. Bowman, who was in her second trimester of pregnancy, was stabbed at least 57 times. The 16-year-old was found by her husband when he came home from work—face down on their bed, her hands tied behind her back. In a June interview, according to the documents, Canaday told the detectives that he “randomly knocked on her door” and “attacked her … I stabbed her.” The charging papers said Canaday blamed the December attack on a bitter divorce, “a lot of anger at myself and immaturity.” In January 1969, Canaday kidnapped and strangled 21-year-old Mary Bjornson. Three weeks later, he raped and killed Lynne Tuski, 20. Canaday was sentenced to die for those murders but won a reprieve in 1972 when the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in more than 30 states, including Washington. (Associated Press, September 3, 2004.)

Those who adhere to the dogma that all human life is sacred are insisting that the life of a murderer who stabbed a 16-year-old girl in her second trimester of pregnancy fifty-seven times, then three weeks later raped and murdered another young girl, is sacred and that lives of potential victims are not sacred.

In fact, when measuring the relative value of the life of an evil murderer, we find that his life has an extreme negative value. Like smallpox, he is a danger to what is really sacred and should be eradicated. By contrast, the young women who were murdered would have grown to become loving, gentle, caring mothers to several children, who would then have gone on to live their own lives and have even more children, and so on to infinity, always multiplying. Thus the blood of those unborn generations is on the murderer’s hands as well.

As well as fulfilling a retributive and deterrent role, the death penalty also offers a measure of closure for the victims’ loved ones. The following are the thoughts of relatives of murder victims after witnessing the execution of their murderers:

“Finally justice has been served and I know that our sister, Robin Dawn Stavinsky, is looking down upon us at this moment, and I know that she will rest easier knowing that the person who ended her life no longer has the privilege of having his own.”—Sister of a victim of the murderer Michael Bruce Ross after witnessing his execution on May 13, 2005. Ross admitted raping and killing eight women, including two 14-year-old girls. (“Connecticut serial killer put to death,” CNN, May 13, 2005.)

“Today justice was done. For a long time anger consumed my life. [But his death was] much too peaceful, unlike that of my sister and nieces.”—Brother of victim of murderer David Lawrie after witnessing his execution on April 23, 1999. Lawrie murdered four people, including three children. (CNN, April 23, 1999.)

“I witnessed his execution and it was nothing compared to what he put his victims through. At least I can get up knowing he’s not breathing the air that our children should still be breathing.”—Mother of victim of murderer Daniel Rolling after witnessing his execution on October 25, 2006. (“Executed Serial Killer Admits Three More Slays,” CBS News, February 11, 2009.)

For heinous crimes other than murder

To some reasonable minds the death penalty is never appropriate where the victim has survived, the argument being that such a penalty would be disproportionate, as the victim is still alive. However, this is the wrong test. The correct formula is to what degree did the criminal evidence willful disregard for the rights of his victim. The following article describes an attack on a 24-year-old Columbia University student:

“I asked him, ‘How does this end?’ and he said, ‘You know how this ends’,” she testified. “I took that to mean he was going to kill me.” During the ordeal, the attacker also forced her to ingest massive doses of painkillers that caused liver failure, and ordered her to gouge out her own eyes with a butcher’s knife. When she refused, she said he twice threw bleach in her face in an attempt to blind her.

“I was burning all over,” the woman said. “He threw the rest of the bleach into my face, but I was able to close my eyes in time. I was breathing it in. My lungs were burning. I was trying to pretend that I couldn’t see so he wouldn’t pour more bleach in my face. I was nearly hysterical. I was shaking and crying.”

She said that when Williams started to gather up her things, as if preparing to leave, that was the first time she thought, “I might get out alive,” and she started to memorize his features and scars. Williams later twice poured boiling water over her and sliced her eyelids with the knife, the woman said. Prosecutors showed photographs of her scarred eyelids to the jury.

It was after the second scalding that she asked her attacker to kill her. “I was screaming and crying and in so much pain and agony,” she testified. “I said, ‘Just kill me. You know you’re going to kill me anyway. Just kill me.’” But the torturer refused, telling her, “No, you’re not good enough for that,” the witness said.

The assailant again ordered the woman to stab out her own eyes. This time she nodded her head to indicate she would do it. “I was in so much pain I decided to aim for my neck, and if I died it would be so much quicker than how he was going to do it,” the woman testified. She said she fell toward the knife he had propped up in a pile of clothes, but she missed.

She said this enraged the attacker, and “he hit me with something really heavy.” She said she believed it was her TV set or record turntable. The woman said that after slashing her eyelids her attacker began “beating my face, my eye sockets, with the blunt end of the knife,” and she screamed until she blacked out.

When she woke, she was alone in her fifth-floor apartment and tied to the frame of her futon sofa bed. Her attacker had started a fire, and soon she smelled smoke. She moved the futon and saw flames behind it. The woman said she tried but failed to undo her bonds, so she tried to burn them off. The fire “was spreading really fast,” but she was able to break free of the futon frame and run out the front door. (Associated Press article, dated June 11, 2008.)

Although in this case the victim survived, the degree of disregard shown for her rights was absolute. The offender in this case received a jail sentence of 422 years—probably proportionate to his crime. The only problem is that he will not live for 422 years. Hence the appropriate sentence for such a crime is death.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove