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2/13/2018 5:46:00 PM
COMMENTARY: Why Indiana should abolish the death penalty

Jon Webb, Evansville Courier & Press Columnist

The 11 men are just sitting there, waiting to die.

Frederick Baer, Alton Coleman, Joseph Corcoran, William Gibson, Kevin Isom, Wayne Kubsch, Michael Overstreet, Benjamin Ritchie, John Stephenson, Jeffrey Weisheit and Roy Lee Ward make up the sordid roster of Indiana’s death row.  

Cumulatively, they’re responsible for 24 deaths. All the cases are heinous, but some are just unspeakably awful.

Weisheit duct-taped two Vanderburgh County children to chairs and set their house on fire, burning them alive. Ritchie killed a policeman, and during his trial, when Officer William Toney’s wife spoke in court, he laughed and called her a bitch.

Then there’s Roy Lee Ward: a horrific monster who raped and murdered Dale teenager Stacy Payne while her little sister hid upstairs.

These men have exhausted any reasonable expectation for human empathy. I would have no problem seeing Weisheit and Ward killed by the state. They’re monsters and deserve to be treated as such.

But that’s not going to happen. The Indiana Supreme Court is still weighing a Court of Appeals decision to ban the use of Brevital in lethal injections. And after Brevital, there aren’t many options left. Several pharmaceutical companies have refused to allow their drugs to be used in executions.

Right now, there doesn’t seem to be any legal way for Indiana to continue on this path. It may be time for the state to do what 18 other states have already done: abolish the death penalty.

It’s an unwieldy, expensive, morally dubious albatross that’s fading in favor and may soon have to be hurled out altogether. 

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, executions peaked in 1999, when nationwide 98 prisoners were put to death. That number shriveled to 23 last year and dropped to 20 in 2016, which marked the fewest executions since 1991.

There have been three executions already this year. All of them, unsurprisingly, took place in Texas.

But Indiana hasn’t put anyone to death since Eric Wrinkles in 2009. Aside from the drug shortage, there are several other reasons for that.

For one, death penalty cases are ridiculously expensive. In 2015, the Legislative Services Agency did a study for the Indiana legislature. It found that the average cost for a death penalty trial and its subsequent appeals was $385,458 — almost 10 times the bill for a life-without-parole trial ($39,414). 

Life without parole is basically what Indiana’s death row prisoners are enduring right now. Hell, Ward was supposed to die 10 years ago.

Plus, the death penalty process exposes deeply racist tendencies in juries. 

The majority of death row inmates are white. But a study out of Louisiana found that juries were 97 percent more likely to recommend a death sentence if a victim was white than if a victim was black.

And in Washington, California and North Carolina, jurors were three times as likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant.

None of this addresses the biggest concern – some death row prisoners are innocent. The Death Penalty Information Center counts 161 exonerations since 1973.

But some aren’t. And people such as Weisheit and Ward, who commit the worst crimes imaginable, deserve something more than sitting in a jail cell for the rest of their lives.

At your basest instinct, it makes you root for people such as Randall Margraves, the aggrieved father who begged Judge Janice Cunningham for five minutes alone with Larry Nassar – the monster who abused countless women, including Margraves’ daughters, during his years as team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

But we’re stuck with the system we have. The death penalty isn’t working, and we’ll likely never find a constitutional way to carry out executions.

We may as well drop all pretense. End the parades of appeals that keep people like Ward alive, and turn death sentences into life without parole.

Those 11 men are waiting to die. We may as well admit they're going to be waiting for awhile.

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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