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June 13: Death Penalty in Utah

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In this Sunday Edition, condemned killer Ronnie Lee Gardner is facing execution this week and a community is calling for the same fate for Nathan and Stephanie Sloop. KSL's Bruce Lindsay discusses the death penalty with Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton; Ralph Dellapiana, director of Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty; The Most Reverend John C. Wester, Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and Melvin Wilson, director of the Utah State Office of Crime Victim Reparations.


Segment 1:The debate over capital punishment stirs deep passions. It is, after all, a matter of life or death. Reasonable people arrive at differing conclusions about the merits of capital punishment. The discussion begins with Rep. Paul Ray and public defense attorney Ralph Dellapiana.

Many studies have shown that in the U.S. it costs more to execute someone than to keep them in prison. Ray believes that cost should not be a factor.

"I think that you have to look at what's the penalty. We as a society have said that certain crimes, heinous crimes such as the murder of somebody, [are punished by death]," he says. "I would like to actually increase the death penalty to apply to aggravated sexual assault of a child.... There are certain things that I think you are not going to rehabilitate somebody, you're going to stick them in a correctional facility for the rest of their lives. You are going to put guards in danger sometimes trying to deal with these people. I think that the proper thing to do is to permanently terminate this person, remove them from society permanently."

Our choice as a society, our choice as Utahns, as to whether to put someone to death is a moral choice.

–Ralph Dellapiana

Dellapiana, however, believes death is not a correct form of punishment.

"We believe that it is an inappropriate punishment. We believe that public safety concerns can be adequately addressed by a penalty that has a maximum of life without the possibility of parole," Dellapiana says. "If you don't have the death penalty, states can use the money they save can be used to hire additional police officers and reduce the amount of violent crime on the streets."

He sees the death penalty as a moral issue.

"I believe that at a very important level, our choice as a society, our choice as Utahns, as to whether to put someone to death is a moral choice. And is it right to kill people who kill people, to show that killing people is wrong? I don't think so," says Dellapiana.

"I think that the proper thing to do is to permanently terminate this person, remove them from society permanently." Rep. Paul Ray

Segment 2:Sunday Edition continues with perspectives on the death penalty from The Most Reverend John C. Wester and former Davis County Attorney Melvin Wilson.

The Most Reverend John C. Wester says many people of faith believe it is not society's right to take another's life.

"For many persons of faith, we would see that only God has the right to take a life," he says. "That it is really not a prerogative that we have to take another life. That all of human life is sacred from conception to natural death and that we do have to protect people, the state has a right and an obligation to protect its citizens, but that only God can take a life."

Families of victims differ in their support of the capital punishment. "In my experience with victims, they cover a broad spectrum when it comes to the death penalty. Some are strong advocates for the death penalty in their particular cases, others are not," says Wilson.

For many persons of faith, we would see that only God has the right to take a life.

–The Most Reverend John C. Wester

Wilson personally believes that capital punishment can be appropriate.

"The death penalty is merited in very rare cases. That revolves around my feeling that there are some situations that exist where the crime is so atrocious and the ability to rehabilitate is nonexistent that the system of justice demands the death penalty," he explains.

Segment 3:

Ad hominem is a term from Latin that refers to personal attacks in a debate. Ad hominem is not about weighing ideas based on reason, it is about name calling.

On the Sunday Edition page at, there is a comment board. KSL asks you not to use Sunday Edition's comment board for ad hominem attacks. The best critique of an argument is a better argument, not name calling, especially toward our guests.

Let us hear your best reasoned case for your position on capital punishment. Let us even hear how your position may have changed, based on new arguments you have weighed.

Better than just a few lines on the comment board, we invite you to craft a signed essay on capital punishment and submit it to be featured on our online page.

We welcome your voice in the civil exchange of ideas.

Join us next week for a conversation with candidates for Utah's 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Jim Matheson and Claudia Wright.

Viewer opinions

"I just finished watching the debate about capital punishment. If I may remain anonymous, I'd like to offer a comment: I spent three and a half years in prison in Utah and during that time had the opportunity to become acquainted with several other inmates who were serving life without parole. In almost every case, these men seemed to have come to terms not only with what they had done, but their bleak futures. As they faced that future, they had decided to try to do as much good for others as their circumstances might allow. They worked hard to serve as positive mentors to other, particularly younger, inmates. They tried to help some who might still have a chance for futures outside prison to become better people. They taught in the prison's literacy programs or served as informal counselors. Their messages and actions were consistent as they urged the younger men toward better ways. They inspired some to seek all the educational opportunities they could while in prison. I have no way of knowing how often they succeeded, but I did find myself actually respecting some of these "lifers." Yet on the other hand, my own feelings on the death penalty remain very ambivalent. I do think there may be some extreme cases -- such as the murder of little Ethan -- that merit removing some particularly awful people from the face of the earth. I can only be thankful that I will probably never be faced with that kind of decision." -Anonymous

"The death penalty in Utah is a cumbersome beast. Sentences take upwards of twenty five years to be carried out. Once guilt is determined, appeals continue to be filed as the execution date nears. In cases like Mr, Gardner and Mr. Kell, where guilt settled, it baffles me that the process is so drawn out. I see little that will change it. It is six times more expensive to execute an inmate than to house them for the remainder of their lives. Even with the appeals innocent individuals are still put to death. In this light, I think the death penalty should only be used for individuals who have proven that they cannot be housed safely. Life without the possibility of parole is far less expensive, and reversible. If new evidence is obtained, a life can be salvaged. I have spent the better part of five years working on Death Row. In that time I got to know each of these individuals and the only one that would fit my criteria for execution is Troy Kell. The rest could easily be held for the rest of their lives without any major incidents." -Thad

"Capital Punishment - My Personal View The choice to support or oppose is a personal decision and should be made after careful consideration, and not just because someone else made the choice. I do support the death penalty and it to be a measure of justice for the most heinous crimes that are committed. Some crimes are so heinous that the only punishment that is just is the death penalty. Many are opposed to it, saying it is not a deterrent. There are studies that show it is a deterrent, and studies that say it is not. And I can see both sides on that. I see in Texas, where the death penalty is given out quite a bit, there is still a high murder rate. However, then in other States, like Utah, our murder rate is low compared to other States. What might be a deterrent in one State may not be in another State. New York does not have the death penalty, but they still have a lot of murders. For a person to commit murder, they must not always look at or care about the consequences. It is for those very people that do not care about the consequences of taking another human being's life that the death penalty is appropriate. While the death penalty may not be a general deterrent, it is a specific deterrent, meaning that the person executed will never again commit another murder, hurt another person, or commits any other crime again. Ever. What about those that say that many of this "killers" can be rehabilitated, let back into society? To them, I say why should we take the chance? Yes, some people who kill will only do it once and never again. They can be rehabilitated. But many cannot. There are so many examples of those who have murdered, gone to prison, and let out, only to kill again. Sometimes the next is more heinous than the first time. After all, prison is not full of law-abiding citizens. They are breeding grounds for crime. Many learn to be better criminals while in prison. Here is a short list of those who went to prison for murder, were released and murdered again: Kenneth McDuff [TX - probably the most well known; was on death row, his sentenced was overturned due to Furman; he was released and went on to become a serial killer, killing as many as 19 women] Timothy Buss [IL - He raped and murdered 5-year-old Tara Sue Huffman; went to prison for 12 years; after his release he kidnapped, sexually mutilated and stabbed to death 9-year-old Christopher Meyer] John McRae [MI/FL - killed an 8-year-old boy; paroled in 1971; killed another boy and now there are multiple charges in 2 other cases pending against him] Jessie Dotson [TN - Jessie shot and killed Halle Cox in 1994, went to prison, paroled in 2007; then in March 2008, he committed the largest mass murder in Memphis' history, in which he gunned down 6 people, which included children and his brother] There are many more examples of these, which is just astonishing. There should not even be one example. So it is debatable about the deterrence issue, however, capital punishment should be just that - a punishment. Some people can never, no matter how hard you try, be rehabilitated. Sexual and violent predators cannot be rehabilitated and are not fit to be in society. And usually their crimes are so heinous that they do not deserve to be even given life in prison. Personally I am in agreement that predator violent sexual criminals should also be given the death penalty. Survivors of these crimes have their lives turned upside forever. Especially when there is no justice for what is done to them. Some are never able to get their lives back on track. For them, severe depression, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, exploitation, etc. become commonplace with them. Many become victims for the rest of their lives and cannot gain control of their lives. Many relive the experience everyday of the rest of their lives. Imagine being afraid of everyone who comes into your life, thinking they are only there to hurt you or take advantage of you. Some never want to leave home and live their lives as isolated as possible, shunning much human contact or having close relationships. Those who commit these crimes need to suffer the ultimate consequence for doing this to another human being. One valid reason for opposing capital punishment is the issue of executing the innocent. And this can happen and probably has. However, I am not personally aware of any case that has been proven that an innocent person was executed, yet. I know of two that have evidence of possible innocence, in my opinion (Joe Hill and Jesse Tafero). People point to those who have been cleared by DNA and say what if that happened again. But remember, those convictions are usually from 15+ years ago, when DNA was not a factor in our Criminal Justice system. Now, it is routine that if there is evidence to test for DNA, it is done. I know that some of the older cases are still under going DNA testing, as it should be. But if someone commits a murder today, then the DNA testing should be done as a matter of routine. Some people may feel that capital punishment is just, but don't support it due to how long it takes to carry out the sentence. This is a good point. There are people on death row 20+ years (like Ronnie Lee Gardner (Utah), Richard Ramirez (The Night Stalker) (California), and Gary Alvord (FL - 36 years!). This should not happen. These prisoners are taking advantage of the system and playing it year after year with fruitless and frivolous appeals. I am a firm believer in each person getting a fair trial. And I do agree that anyone who is sentenced to death should get an appeal, just to review the conviction and verify that it is valid. But the appeals should be limited. No one should be on death row for even one decade, let alone two or three decades. My believe is that there should be a maximum of 3 possible appeals, with a five year limit. Appeal to the court where the conviction happened, then the State Supreme Court and then, the US Supreme Court. If the US Supreme Court reviews it and decides not to take any further steps, that should be it. This would cut down costs and justice would be served much swifter than it is now. Capital punishment is not intended as a form of vengeance, but rather, punishment and justice. It is punishment for behavior that violates the laws of our Country. While many view it as "an eye for an eye", I view it is a punishment for breaking the laws that every person should know, even as a child. Every person, whether a child, teenager or adult, should know that to take another person's life is wrong. It is wrong morally and legally. Yes, there are some instances where taking another person's life is considered justified. War and self-defense are the two occasions that come to mind. But to rape and murder someone, to mutilate, etc. are not justified. There is no reason to commit these kinds of crimes. People want to understand what makes a person do these things (so-called mitigating circumstances like bad childhood, addictions, etc.); however, these factors should not be used to sway from the death penalty. Many people experience these things but grow up to be law-abiding citizens. A person needs to make a choice in their behaviors. Choosing to point a gun at someone and shoot them, during a robbery or for no reason at all, is a choice. Raping another person or dismembering a person has no justifiable excuse. If you choose to do this, then you should pay the consequences. Sometimes the ultimate consequence is the appropriate choice for those behaviors." -Bonnie Kernene-Prisbrey

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