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Dennis Prager Consoles a Friend Wrongly Condemned to Death for Murder
(It's barely a satire)
But, nowhere in the chapter Capital Punishment: a Rorschach Test, does Prager address the obvious question: does "most people" include the person wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death? Toward getting a handle on this intriguing question, let us imagine that a good friend of Prager's (professional man "Bob Michaels", let's say), has been accused, tried, and convicted of the murder of his wife, Janice. We will posit that Bob is in fact innocent of the crime, and also that Prager himself is certain that Bob is innocent. In our scenario, Prager visits Bob the day before the scheduled execution. If Prager's published paeans to capital punishment, and other moral instruction he dispenses in Think a Second Time are any guide, we might well expect to hear something like the discussion below.
[Note: For information about people who have been wrongly convicted of capital crimes, see In Spite of Innocence — Erroneous Convictions in Capital Cases; Radelet, Bedau, and Putnam, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1992.
In the following, some of Prager's speech is taken verbatim from the chapter Capital Punishment: a Rorschach Test. Some is from the chapter Should a Single Woman Have a Child? Some of the italics are from his original, some are mine. "(It's barely a satire)" was taken directly from Prager's home page, www.dennisprager.com. There, he included this jibe in a link to a National Review article MOVEMENT TO BAN BATHTUBS, itself a parodic "response" to Democrats Kennedy and Daschle on their response to the drowning of her children by Andrea Yates.
See also David Chandler's The Death Penalty]
Scene: Bob Michaels sits dejectedly on his cot, contemplating his pending execution. Dennis Prager sits opposite him on another cot.
Prager: Bob, I just want you to know that I'll be praying for you tomorrow night. I've never seen such a travesty of justice.
Bob: Thanks, Dennis. I'm so grateful for the support you gave me during the trial, and for agreeing to be the children's guardian after I'm gone. I can't thank you enough . You know I loved Jan beyond description, and I can't imagine how anyone could believe that I killed her. The insurance policy was her idea, for God's sake. I argued with her all the time over it: it was too expensive; I had provided for the family through the business and investments. We just didn't need it. But no, she had to have it, so I went along. I just wish that I had been more open with all our friends about the fights we had over it, so they could confirm what I said at the trial.
Prager: I know, Bob. I was sure that my testimony would sway the jury. I feel that I've failed you.
Bob: There was no real evidence, Dennis. It was mostly Mrs. Murphy's testimony that she saw me going into the house about the time Jan was killed. Everyone knows she's blind as a bat, and doesn't hear so well, either. When she said "Hi, Mr. Michaels, nice day isn't it," whoever killed Jan was smart enough to respond "Sure is." She couldn't be sure it was me at that distance. And the prosecutor desperately needed a conviction, so he pulled every trick he could out of his hat. So what if Jan and I smoked a joint now and then. That doesn't make me a murderer.
Prager: Yes, Bob. I've long believed that we should be erecting judicial and technological safeguards to make wrongful conviction all but impossible. Your case clearly shows that current safeguards might not be strong enough. But, they're the best we have so far.
Bob: Well, I wish Rose Bird was still California's Chief Justice. At least I wouldn't be facing execution.
Prager: I wish I could agree with you, Bob. It's not something we've ever talked about, but I'm pretty much committed to the death penalty. I think the only moral thing to do with murderers is to execute them. I hate to say it, but now that the trial is over, I think it would be immoral not to execute you, too.
Bob: WHAT!!!!!! Immoral NOT to execute me?? Are you crazy??? You try to help prove me innocent during the trial, and now you say that I SHOULD be executed? You just said that you had never seen such a travesty of justice.
Prager: It's not the same thing, Bob. We have a judicial process in this country. Everyone accused of a crime is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Once they're convicted, it's settled. And in the case of capital crimes, the penalty is execution —so far, knock on wood. I'm a passionate believer in capital punishment for murderers, and you can't expect me to change my mind just because you're my friend. That's the kind of thing a liberal would do.
Bob: But I'm not a murderer, Dennis, and you know it!! Don't lump me in with real murderers!!
Prager: I'm sorry, Bob ... force of habit. Nothing personal.
Bob: At least don't use the term "murderers" in this context as if everyone who is convicted really is a murderer. What you really should say is "anyone convicted of murder should be executed, even if they're really innocent."
Prager: I'd like to, Bob, but that just wouldn't work for me. If I were to say "anyone convicted of murder should be executed, even if they're really innocent" whenever I promote capital punishment, my sentences would be really unwieldy. Besides, even though most people don't think a second time, putting it that way would remind alert readers that not all people who are convicted are actually guilty. They might then doubt that the death penalty is a good thing. Do I want that? You bet your life I don't. ...Oops!... Sorry about that, Bob.
Bob: So what it boils down to is that I'm just "collateral damage," right? Like Timothy McVeigh called the kids in the day care center who died when he blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Just an unlucky bystander who got caught up in your righteous death penalty machine.
Prager: Well, I wouldn't use the term "collateral damage," Bob. Let's just say it's a horror that you're going to be executed. I assure you I feel terrible about it, and if it will make you feel better, I promise that on my radio show I'll work hard for better safeguards against wrongful conviction. I'd hate to lose another friend like you.
Bob: Well, I think it's a cosmic injustice that I'm going to die for a crime I didn't commit!
Prager: Sorry, Bob, but I can't agree with you there either. Now, when a murderer is allowed to keep his life instead of being executed – that's cosmic injustice. You obviously missed my L.A. Times op-ed piece There's a Moral Reason McVeigh Must Die. Here's a copy for you to read after I leave.
Bob: Thanks a lot. But, I don't get it, Dennis. Why is capital punishment so important to you? Why not just accept life in prison without possibility of parole. At least that would give a wrongly convicted person a possibility of exoneration. Why the passion for capital punishment?
Prager: There are several reasons, Bob. First, it might deter murder. There's no real evidence that it does, but then there's no real evidence that it doesn't. Even though you're innocent, maybe some young gang member who reads about your execution will say "Whoa!! I don't want that to happen to me. I'm getting out of gang life and going straight." Second, and more important, is the moral statement it makes: it's the only way for society to show that it considers murder to be evil. Even if capital punishment didn't prevent a single murder, we still want to make that moral statement — at least I do. Think about it. Most people who know about your case probably believe you're guilty. Do we want them to become soft on evil just because you're innocent? You can see that letting you keep your life would send the wrong message. Most importantly, it's the compassionate response. It satisfies the need for justice felt by the loved ones of the murderer's victim. Family and friends of a murder victim almost always want the killer to be executed to ease the very real pain they feel at knowing he is still alive.
Bob: But I have loved ones, too, and they are in pain right now because I'm innocent and will be executed anyway.
Prager: Of course, Bob. But, all relatives of those convicted of murder say that they are innocent. And they all feel pain, too. We can't allow murderers ...oops!... I mean everyone convicted of murder — to keep their lives just because their loved ones are in pain. Even if they're innocent, nobody knows it but them and the real murderer, so executing them still eases the pain of the victim's loved ones. That's important, Bob.
Bob: But, Jan's loved ones think I'm innocent, too. They know I wouldn't kill her. There isn't anyone who will be upset if I'm not executed, Dennis.
Prager: That's not quite true, Bob — I'll be upset, because allowing you to keep your life would put us on a slippery slope toward eliminating the death penalty. I get angry just thinking about it. Just imagine: what if I were murdered, and we didn't have the death penalty? My murderer would be able to see his children, be with his wife, see a sunrise, read a book, and talk with his friends — and I wouldn't be able to do any of those things. I'm just not willing to risk it.
Bob: So it's better to execute me so that you and other victims' loved ones will feel better?
Prager: No, it's better to understand that you can't have everything. You're being selfish here, Bob. It's understandable, and I cry for you. But it's selfish. After I leave, the guard will give you a copy of my book, Think a Second Time. Read the chapter Capital Punishment: a Rorschach Test. There I make an articulate appeal to logic, morality, and our highest emotions. I assert that with the death penalty, there is only a remote possibility that innocent people will be executed; whereas without it, it is a certainty that far more innocent people will be murdered. Murderers who are allowed to keep their lives will murder other prisoners, or they'll murder prison guards, or they'll get out on parole and murder again, or they'll escape and murder innocent people outside of prison. After all, Bob, we can't know for sure that if you're allowed to live, you won't become hardened by your experience behind bars, and murder someone while you're in prison. I'm sure that after you read the chapter, you'll agree that you should be executed, in spite of being innocent.
Bob: Guard!! I want to call my lawyer. I need to change my will!
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Page last updated February 4, 2006