With regard to my recent advocacy of keeping the death-penalty option on the table when considering punishments for George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin, I was asked to clarify my views on the death penalty, about which I had previously expressed ambivalence in my video “Life Extension, Crime, and Criminal Justice”.
I am indeed wary of most applications of the death penalty, where the commission of the act of killing by the individual being sentenced is in doubt. But I can see legitimate uses for it in cases where the identity of that individual is clear, and the crime was particularly egregious. (Serial killings, rape-murders, killings of children where the murderer is known would qualify, for instance, as would executions of brutal dictators whose human-rights abuses are extensively documented.)
There is a cost aspect to the death penalty, in that it actually costs a lot more to execute a person today than it would to maintain that person in prison for life. Thus, it should be reserved for only the most egregious crimes.
In George Zimmerman’s case, I think a clear message needs to be sent that vigilante killing of unarmed, peaceful individuals who have given no provocation is completely unacceptable and needs to be dealt with harshly. Setting that example could be worth the cost – but ultimately, this is for the court to decide. I do think this case warrants at least considering the option.