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Killing the Killers

By Tom Collins
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 23, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

It's kind of funny.

If you happen to have tuned into a local news program or picked up an edition of our daily newspaper brethren recently, you'd notice considerable time and space dedicated to a story full of international intrigue and worldwide political overtones. The funny thing is that the continuing denouement of the murderous lives of Karl Hinze LaGrand and Walter Burnhart LaGrand really seems somewhat off. Despite the German government's protests that the two ought not die for the brutal murder of Kenneth Hartsock, Sr. and attempted slaying of Dawn Marie Lopez, chances are Karl will die tomorrow and Walter will join him in the gas chamber days later. And the reality is that this probably doesn't matter to most Arizonans. Because in the United States the death penalty debate is over.

The consensus among conservatives, liberals, and even civil libertarians who want to sustain viable political careers, is that criminals must occasionally die for their sins and that the state must do the killing. It's called being tough on crime. And it would take a very stupid would-be leader to oppose a punishment that, in the case of murder, was supported by 77 percent of Americans in 1995, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1997. Only 13 percent were against the death penalty in murder cases while 10 percent, somehow, held no opinion. Perhaps the reference is dated and parochial, but this ain't Mario Cuomo's America.


Actually, it's Ken Peasley's.

Peasley is the Pima County deputy attorney in charge of criminal prosecutions. He's a defender of the state and its people against evil in all its forms. You could read about him in The Arizona Daily Star. Here's what he told Heather Urquides for a Sunday Metro/Region feature on the victims of the LaGrand brothers crimes: "It does seem the system is just designed to give people like the LaGrands any kind of possibility to avoid what they deserve."

Grease the wheels, Peasley said, it's time for the state to do its duty. Peasley should know, he recently won a battle over his alleged intimidation of witnesses in a shooting trial. Some simply got to be got.

This ain't 1965's America, when a mere 45 percent of Americans supported state-sponsored extermination of murderers, again according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1997. So radical is the notion that the death penalty is wrong that Urquides saw no need to balance Peasley's quotes with something a little less brown. After all, your Daily Star is nothing if not the mainstream press.

The only people who still care about the state killing off criminals are few diehard Catholic priests and we know about Catholic priests.

The Constitution, at least the one I've read, guarantees due process. Part of that process ought to be, at least one might think ought to be, that the government better make damn certain it's right before it goes killing its prisoners. I think Ken Peasley may have a different edition of the Constitution.

I guess that's why the German government wants these murderers sentences commuted. The brothers, though evil ( I mean, they stabbed Hartsock 24 times), are being threatened with what the Germans might call "cruel and unusual punishment." Our government might do the same thing if one of our own was threatened by a caning in Singapore for example. That's cruel. Certainly unusual.

In a country where a federal court recently decided agents no longer needed to issue Miranda warnings to criminals, we're slowly but surely letting our consensus and the ghost of Willie Horton get the best of us. What I'm saying is, yes, let's remember the consequences of crime, but lets not give in to the political agents of fear so easily. Let's not have made up our minds about this issue. Let's not live in Ken Peasley's America. To paraphrase Chuck D: Fuck the police state.