Kent noted that it's next to impossible to change someone's mind about the death penalty, because the most basic and controlling views are dug deeper than the place argument can reach.
I've had much that same experience. In all the time I've been thinking about this issue, I have changed only two minds. One belonged to my mother-in-law, a pretty much down the line liberal, but with an independent streak (she ran away from home as a teenager to join the Israeli army in its earliest days. She was an ambulance driver on the battlefield).
She held the conventional wisdom in Upper East Side Manhattan, where she lived. We got to talking one day about capital punishment, and I brought up the question what we're supposed to do with a previously convicted, angry and unrepentant multiple killer serving LWOP, who then does it again in prison, and vows this won't be his last.
That stumped her. (She's not the only one, of course). So she came around.
She was very into Jewish causes (the Holocaust Museum among them). I'm sure she knew that Israel had kidnapped and executed Adolph Eichmann, and thought that was the right thing to do. I believe that set the stage for her having the sort of open mind that, while rare, is the essential precondition for coming around.
In any event, I am set to do a couple of death penalty debates next month at law schools in Pennsylvania and Florida. One of the event organizers asked me to jot down an outline of what I would say.
I provide it below, but not for the purpose of making any arguments readers of this forum have not heard before. I provide it hoping for criticism. That is, if some of my points have become stale, or (contrariwise) others deserve more emphasis, I hope readers will let me know -- or if there's something I'm just flat-out missing.
Thanks in advance.
I favor the death penalty for several reasons. There are some crimes so grotesque that nothing else is even arguably justice; it's the only certain means of incapacitating a killer; the majority of studies show that it deters (although some show otherwise); what else do you do when a previously convicted killer serving life kills again in prison; the majority of our people favor it and have (by 60% or more for forty years); and it's a symbol that society has the moral confidence to declare, and enforce, that there are some deeds so far beyond the bounds of civilized life that those who do them have forfeited any place among us.I will be using two or three examples of cases where I think reasonable people would view merely a jail sentence, no matter what its length, as not proportionate to the gravity of the crime. I will also offer academic studies, and statistical and anecdotal evidence supporting the view that the DP has deterrent value. I will point out that if the DP is moral (as a big majority of our people believe), legal (as SCOTUS has held), and popular (see just today's Gallup poll), the jury -- the voice of the community -- should not be deprived, in advance, in all cases, of the choice whether to implement it. I will point out that our three greatest Presidents not only supported but used the death penalty (Washington, Lincoln and FDR). Thus I think the view that it is supported only by "barbarians" is incorrect.
There are of course some counter arguments. One is that it's too costly and takes to long. But exactly this argument was made to and rejected by the taxpayers and voters in a very blue and liberal state, California, only two years ago. (In addition, I think the argument is more than a little cynical, the cost and length having been exacerbated by abolitionist arguments). Another is that the US is all but alone in the world in having the DP. That too is incorrect. In fact, most of the world has it: the Orient, the Subcontinent, the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean and (of course) by far the largest country in North America. Death penalty opponents will sometimes say "the world" when what they should be saying is "Europe."