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Kim Goldman: We have degraded the death penalty

  • Kim Goldman is the sister of Ron Goldman, a murder victim
  • She is a strong proponent of the death penalty
  • She says 'the concept of punishment for your actions is lost' in our justice system
Kim Goldman: We have degraded the death penalty
Kim Goldman

Editor’s note: Kim Goldman is the sister of Ron Goldman, who was brutally murdered in 1994. She was in the courtroom during the trial of O.J. Simpson, who was accused and acquitted of the murder. Goldman is the executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Project and contributing author of “His Name is Ron: Our Search for Justice.”

I am not surprised that the jury in the Jodi Arias murder trial locked horns during the penalty phase. I cannot comprehend the emotional turmoil those jurors must have been feeling as they deliberated the fate of someone's life.

I know they were all asked about their opinions surrounding the death penalty during voir dire, but saying you could impose it is different from being responsible for imposing death on another person.

"Everyone deserves a second chance. Everyone can be rehabilitated. How does killing someone for killing another make it better?"

These are excuses I used when thinking about the death penalty back in the day -- until my brother Ron Goldman was slaughtered on June 12, 1994, at the age of 25. I immediately changed my mind and am now a firm believer in an eye for an eye. There are no second chances for killers.

I know that's a hard pill to swallow for some, but when your life is shattered because of the actions of another person who violently, intentionally, viciously killed your loved one, it's not hard to wish upon them the same brutal death.

I just wish it worked that way.

Presently, 32 states support capital punishment, resulting in 3,125 inmates on death row as of Jan. 1, 2013. We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for them, and we are not even executing those criminals. In 2012, only 43 executions were carried out and so far in 2013, only 12 executions have taken place and 20 or so are scheduled for the rest of the year.

While on death row, those inmates are exercising their full legal right to the appeals process, which takes an average of about 178 months. At least 15 years passes from the time they receive their due process in our trusted justice system -- during which they are found guilty by a jury of their peers and sentenced to death -- to the time they are actually killed. In many cases, it's more like 20-30 years.

In the meantime, convicted criminals are entitled to endless appeals on both the state and federal levels, which continue to be a financial drain on taxpayers and an emotional hardship, to say the least, for the families left to pick up the pieces of their devastated lives. But our courts are obligated to provide those criminals with attorneys, experts, technology and endless legal resources -- all on our dime -- while we wait for justice to prevail.

I am not sure where actual punishment enters the realm of consequences in this scenario.

If I understand it correctly, the system that we are compelled to use to obtain justice is the same system that affords every opportunity for the convicted criminal to be exonerated -- all at our expense. They commit crimes -- we pay for their defense (unless they have buckets of money on their own), house, feed, insure, educate/train and protect them while they spend their days behind bars. While they watch TV and visit with their families, we the people volunteer (or get paid peanuts) to be jurors, giving up our lives to focus solely on the criminal. We convict them based on facts in evidence and then… we let them start the whole process all over again until they die in jail or become one of the 0.13% of convicts who actually get the lethal dose to end all of our misery.

The way I interpret this is that our own legal system doesn't trust itself to get it right the first time.

Despite my utter disgust for how the current process is or is not working, let me be clear: I am still a huge proponent of the death penalty. I just want it to be what it was designed to be -- a punishment for heinous acts against society.

I want it to work the way we all assume it should. I was always under the impression that if you get convicted and sentenced to death, you receive a handful of appeals, which the courts are required to hear and rule upon within a reasonable time period (not decades), and that's it. You're done. Lights out. The system worked.

I don't want discussions pertaining to justice to be about cost per inmate or worrying about whether too much isolation is damaging to the mental health of the death row inmate. Those issues are only relevant if we belabor the execution process. It should be about following through with the law that 32 states have passed as an acceptable and just form of punishment.

It seems the concept of "punishment for your actions" is lost in the one place where we expect our rights and safety to be protected; where the utmost importance is placed on honor, integrity and equity; where good triumphs over evil; where we can trust that if you "do the crime, you do the time." I am not so sure that place exists anymore.

I know, I know: What about the innocent people who get wrongly convicted? I get it -- statistics show that for every nine executions, there is one innocent person who remains incarcerated. But does that mean that we should let it go on and on in case one person could be saved? How is that equitable?

I am not saying mistakes don't happen. I am not saying we do away with the appeals process. I am just suggesting that we limit the witch-hunt looking for mistakes, which only delays the inevitable. We all know the system is flawed, and it's going to take a lot of manpower to fix it, but wasting more money to chase our tails within it is hopeless. We have to start somewhere to make major changes to restore our faith in Lady Justice.

In my opinion, we have diminished the significance and the severity of the death penalty sentence. It's now just a more expensive version of life in prison. If we're not ready to pull the trigger, so to speak, then let's take it off the table and stop taunting the victim's families with diluted justice.

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