Editorial: The rarity of the death penalty
Monday, January 09, 2017 8:24 AM
It is alleged that Marcus Dansby, on Sept. 11, 2016, shot to death Consuela Arrington, 38, and two of her three children – Traeven Harris and Dajahiona Arrington, both 18, and attempted to murder the third, Trinity Hairston, 14. Dansby had been the boyfriend of Dajahiona, who was 81/2 months pregnant with a son. When it was determined that the baby would have lived if his mother had not died, a fourth murder charge was added.
And now, Dansby is going to pay a price — perhaps the ultimate one. The Allen County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has requested to add the death penalty to his charges. Capital punishment is so rarely turned to that it is worth reflecting on how the state of Indiana handles it.
Dansby is only the fourth man in 20 years to face the death penalty here. Two of the other three plea-bargained their charges down to life without parole. Joseph Corcoran, convicted of murdering his brother, James Corcoran, and three other men in 1988, is currently the only person sitting on death row courtesy of Allen County.
There are two main reasons for the rarity.
One is that just plain old murder isn’t enough to merit the death penalty in Indiana. It must be murder with one or more “aggravating circumstances,” such as a murder committed during the commission of arson, a burglary, kidnapping or rape. Murder for hire would count, as would murder of a law enforcement officer. So would a murder if the victim were dismembered, burned or mutilated — or under the age of 12.
The other is the cost. A fiscal impact report by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency for the 2010 General Assembly found that the average cost of a death-penalty trial and direct appeal was more than $450,000, compared to $42,658 for a life-without-parole case.
We can take pride in the fact that Indiana is not promiscuous in its use of capital punishment. This state only executes real monsters, the worst of the worst.
Or we can ask ourselves if there is really any point to keeping a penalty so rarely used that it can’t possibly be a deterrent. Are we really seeking justice or just exacting revenge because we can?
That’s a worthy subject for discussion. Legislators looking for a topic for a summer study sessions could do a lot worse.