Sharing the responsibility for death

(U-WIRE) LINCOLN, Neb. – It would have been one day until someone – one man or woman – would have been physically responsible for the death of Randy Reeves.

Only one anonymous correctional worker would have flipped the switch that would have sent the electricity through Reeves’ body to execute him for the murders he committed.

The anonymity of administering the death penalty is fitting, really. No one – and everyone – would be responsible for the death of Reeves.

In simplest terms, the Daily Nebraskan does not support the death penalty. We don’t support the use of the electric chair, which has in the past inflicted torture upon its victim. But the death penalty is more than just the execution itself.

Few will take culpability in Nebraska – from Gov. Mike Johanns to the common household – for the death of Reeves. It sometimes seems as if Reeves were flipping the switch himself.

Finally, someone listened – the Nebraska Supreme Court. It will at least hear arguments concerning a motion that contends the death penalty is culturally biased. But there is still a problem with the lack of responsibility taken in the execution of a human being.

Look at the system. At every turn, there are safeguards against claiming responsibility in a state that supports the death penalty.

Governors often pass the final decision of pardon to the two other members of the board or the state’s supreme court. The other board members pass the responsibility back to the governor. It plays out as a morbid, unfortunate game of hot potato.

What about the state senators who turn down bills to stop the death penalty each year? Their common response: They are simply the voice of the people they represent. Common citizens, on the other hand, say the decision is better left to elected officials.

But at no level does anyone claim true responsibility for ending a prisoner’s life. We all play a role, but no one wants to admit as much. Even if there were such a thing as vigilante justice, which is a notion that appeals to some of us, it has a person or a motive behind it.

The result is an unfortunate end to a problem we think could be solved with life in prison. It’s cheaper, it’s punishing the criminals just for the rest of his or her life, and it doesn’t attach the moral responsibility of a death.

The death penalty may never be overturned in Nebraska, but all of us need to take responsibility. Reeves’ life was deemed unworthy of living long before he would have been executed. He has been granted a stay. For now. But it’s time we recognize ourselves as the judge and jury rather than just recognizing the executioner.

-Staff editorial by the University of Nebraska Daily Nebraskan.

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