Conservative preacher calls for abolishing the death penalty after jury spares Parkland shooter's life
A jury on Thursday sentenced 24-year-old Nikolas Cruz to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of 17 people and injury of 17 others in the 2018 Valentine's Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer read the unanimous decision by the seven men and five women to forgo the death penalty for Cruz. Their justification – that Cruz's underlying mental health conditions meant that capital punishment was inappropriate – triggered emotional responses and shock from families of the victims who were seated silently in the courtroom.
“What it says to me, what it says to my family, what it says to the other families, is that his life meant more than the 17 that were murdered,” Debra Hixon, whose 49-year-old husband Christopher was among those killed by Cruz, told The New York Times. "He should give thanks to God that someone had grace and mercy on him that he did not show other people."
The case, the paper noted, "was a rare legal proceeding against a gunman in a mass shooting; most either kill themselves or die in a confrontation with the police during their attacks." It is also significant because "the Parkland verdict comes at a time when people are growing more wary of the death penalty. A slight majority of Americans still support capital punishment, but that proportion has dropped significantly since the 1990s; so has the number of state executions."
On Thursday evening, that sentiment was expressed in a Kansas City Star editorial authored by Demetrius Minor, a conservative activist and preacher who runs a non-profit that seeks to abolish capital punishment in the United States, which is one of only 55 countries that maintain the practice.
"The futility of the death penalty is once again on display for all of America," he wrote, expanding on why he believes that Cruz's sentencing trial was an expensive, painful, and pointless charade.
"The facts are clear; the threat of the death penalty failed to accomplish anything in this case. It did not help those harmed by this horrific crime and it did not do anything to prevent future harm from being committed," he said. "Moreover, this outcome-Cruz spending the rest of his life behind bars-could have been decided four years ago, without the millions of dollars spent, or the added trauma to the victims' family members and to the Parkland community at large. The state insisted on pursuing a death sentence, knowing full well that even if they succeeded, it would have prolonged that trauma for decades."
Minor argued that as a "common sense conservative," he sees the issue "as another costly, big government program that serves no purpose in the pursuit of justice. We are wasting tax dollars on a broken system and taking resources away from proven violence-prevention solutions."
He noted that "criminologists across the world report that death sentences have never been proven to decrease crime and violence. In fact, violent crime rates are higher, and more police officers are killed, in states with the death penalty than in those without it."
Minor called the death penalty "arbitrary," due to the inconsistently broad swath of crimes for which it is imposed.
"A violent act in one county could result in years behind bars while a few blocks away in another county, under the discretion of a different prosecutor, the same act brings a death sentence," he opined. "There are also gross disparities based on race-both of the perpetrator and the victim-when it comes to prosecutors pursuing capital punishment."
Minor further recalled instances where death row inmates are later found to be innocent and wondered how many more end up getting unjustly executed. Jail, he continued, is a sufficient means of carrying out justice and keeping the public safe.
"We have prison systems that can keep people separated from society when they commit horrific violence, so executing someone when other options are available is itself a crime against human life," Minor said.
Channeling his conservative ideals, Minor added that "there is nothing 'limited' about the government being able to kill its citizens, including innocent ones, along with all of the other fiscal and human impacts caused by the death penalty system."
He concluded that "the death penalty does nothing good and should be ended once and for all."
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