September 3, 1998

Justice Demands the Death Penalty

By David Trumbull


Six Cambridge Democrats facing contested State Representative primary elections--six candidates and not one, presented with the horror of Jeffrey Curley's murder, could say "yes, I support the death penalty for so heinous a crime." (See the Cambridge Chronicle Candidates' forum, August 27). Is there not one candidate to defy political correctness and endorse the view--the view of the majority of Massachusetts voters--that some crimes cry out for the ultimate punishment? Well, actually, there is one, the Republican candidate for State Representative in the 28th Middlesex district, and he is just one of many Republican candidates endorsing the death penalty for killers.

Republicans understand that citizens worry they will be victims of crime, and are frustrated that justice comes slowly, if at all. Ron Potvin, in Cambridgeport, and other Republican candidates demand Justice for Jeffrey Curley. At our State Convention this spring Massachusetts Republicans reiterated, in our party platform, support for the death penalty. The people of Massachusetts want the death penalty restored, and Republican candidates for governor and other offices speak for them in supporting it wholeheartedly.

Justice demands capital punishment. In the motion picture "The Maltese Falcon" Humphrey Bogart as detective Sam Spade observes that threats, to be effective, must, finally, be backed up by threat of death. The threat of forfeiture of life is society's ultimate line of self-defense against those who have no respect for life. Nearly all human societies, in all ages and all parts of the globe, have understood the imperative for a penalty equal to the most appalling crimes. Cultures impose the death penalty not to satisfy the vengeance of the victim's family or friends, but to satisfy the requirement of Justice.

The U.S. Catholic Conference, the Bible book of Proverbs, even the (historically Methodist) school of theology at Boston University--all these appear in the comments of one candidate in last week's forum. In the face of so much liberal theology directed toward a political question, I hesitate to quote Scripture. Nevertheless, I must remark that the ancient Hebrews knew more of human nature and society than do many modern thinkers. The book of Numbers in the Hebrew Bible mandates the death penalty for murderers and explicitly forbids accepting any lesser penalty, saying: "ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are; for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it."

The death penalty may not always deter murderers. It may, when appeals are factored in, actually cost more in dollars than does life in prison. It may, on extremely rare occasions, be misapplied with tragic and irreversible consequences. But it is the only way for civilization to say that some crimes-first-degree murder, mass murder, and vicious rape--are so destructive of the foundations of human society that they cannot be tolerated. Only by permanently removing the offender from all human society can civilization defend itself against barbarism.

Great suffering is sometimes the prerequisite for great redemption. Jeffrey Curley's killers will not sit in the electric chair, for we have no death penalty in Massachusetts. Nevertheless, if the Curley case moves Bay State voters to restore capital punishment, then justice will have triumphed over tragedy.


Lee Street resident David Trumbull is Chairman of the Cambridge Republican City Committee