Preserving the Legitimacy of Capital Punishment

As a supporter of capital punishment, I find no fault with Gov. Mark R. Warner’s decision yesterday to commute the death sentence of Robin Lovett, who stabbed a man to death with scissors during a 1998 pool hall robbery. The odds are overwhelming that Lovett was guilty of the crime he was convicted of and, thus, deserves to die. But Warner rightly notes that there is a higher principle at stake: The destruction of evidence in Lovett’s case by a court official rendered it impossible for Lovett to exonerate himself by a testing of DNA evidence. (See Frank Green’s story in the Times-Dispatch.)

To my mind, there is only one legitimate argument against the death penalty: The possibility that an innocent man (or woman) might be put to death. The criminal justice system is imperfect; people have been wrongfully convicted. Who knows how many innocents have been unjustly executed? It is incumbent upon death penalty supporters to go the extra mile to ensure that such horrors never occur.

While I object to the endless, often frivolous appeals that death penalty foes use to delay the administration of justice, I don’t object to testing DNA samples in instances where such tests had not been conducted before. The delay caused by testing is trivial. In Lovett’s situation, however, a circuit court employee violated a state law that had just gone into effect when he (or she) destroyed the evidence. I agree with Gov. Warner that Virginia’s criminal justice system must adhere rigidly to the protections granted all defendants. Failure to do so would undermine the legitimacy of capital punishment.

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4 responses to “Preserving the Legitimacy of Capital Punishment”

  1. Will Vehrs Avatar

    Jim, as another supporter of the death penalty, I agree with you and have no quarrel with Gov. Warner’s decision.

    As you indicate, the death penalty is the ultimate sanction and every effort should be made at the outset to insure that the accused has adequate representation and that all evidence is tested to the maximum extent of existing technology. What happened to the evidence in this case is both inexplicable and inexcusable.

    My problem with the death penalty is the unfortunate and perhaps unavoidable arbitrary use of it. So often we see the death penalty not even considered for the most heinous and proveable crimes, but applied in the Lovitt case, a more marginal capital case as far as the available evidence, even before it was destroyed.

  2. republitarian Avatar


    When it comes to the death penalty we should always err on the side of caution.

  3. I prefer to avoid the issues of whether killing is right or wrong.

    I was raised to believe that if you kill something, then you are morally and ethically obligated to eat it.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    I oppose the Death Penalty as a morally vaccuous, but I actually agree with Will here. Given that our society uses the DP as a means of extracting revenge, it’s bizarre that it is so rarely and arbitrarily applied. It generally falls upon the poor and poorly defended, while the rich and well defended escape, and even then it’s still used so rarely that it seems more like a roll of the dice whether a murderer gets it or not. As bad as I find the DP, equality and justice demand that it not be applied in a manner that has it only applying to certain classes of people when those classifications rarely have anything to do with the severity or even anything about the crime.

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