An Argument for the Death Penalty

For another perspective on capital punishment, host Ed Gordon speaks with Dudley Sharp, a self-described pro-death penalty advocate and resource director for Justice for All, a criminal justice reform organization.

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

On today's roundtable, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to let Stanley "Tookie" Williams die may have political repercussions in his state. We'll discuss this and other issues related to this morning's execution. But first, we'll hear from Dudley Sharp, a self-described pro-death penalty advocate. Mr. Sharp has appeared on numerous programs to discuss this issue.

Mr. Sharp, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

Mr. DUDLEY SHARP (Justice for All): Thank you for having me.

GORDON: So many people debating this issue on a moral side one way or the other. I understand at one point in your life you actually flip-flopped on what you believed.

Mr. SHARP: Yes, I was opposed to the death penalty and switched positions, number one, because most of the anti-death penalty material I found to be inaccurate and more importantly, as you suggested, was the moral and ethical reasons that under a certain set of circumstances depending on the crime, I believe the jury should have the option to select the death penalty option just as they did in the Stanley Williams case.

GORDON: What do you say to those, Mr. Sharp, who suggest that this is nothing but revenge? It serves no real purpose other than that?

Mr. SHARP: Well, there's a big difference between revenge and retribution. And the way that we use the criminal justice system for punishment in this country is based on retribution--in other words, that the sentence is a just and appropriate punishment for the crime committed. It would be revenge, for example, if we allowed the family of the murder victims to kill Mr. Williams with no trial, no appeals, no pretrial motions. There's a significant difference between revenge and retribution in this country, and virtually every country in the world has decided that retributive justice is appropriate.

GORDON: Mr. Sharp, as you know in this particular case, part of the issue has been the debate with the criminal justice system which has also been seen in this country with the idea of rehabilitation, if you will, and that's the question here. Is there any room to believe that we missed the boat on that?

Mr. SHARP: We didn't miss the boat here. I think that someone like Stanley Williams, who was guilty of the four murders at least that we know of, would not admit his guilt, would not show remorse for his guilt. Without that, there is no reformation.

GORDON: But, Mr. Sharp, here's the rub in this case, and you know it well. Stanley "Tookie" Williams to the day he died suggested that he did not commit these murders, and we have seen historically that the judicial system hasn't always gotten it right. People want to leave room for the possibility of that mistake when you're talking about ending someone's life.

Mr. SHARP: There's no doubt about that. I mean, anybody who supports the death penalty, anybody opposed to it, anybody that's considered criminal justice sanctions in general knows that innocent people are sentenced to death and knows that innocent people are sent to prison. But with Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the evidence suggests that he's just lying about that. And the criminal justice system takes credible claims of actual innocence very seriously. When you look at the death penalty in the United States, although death penalty opponents are claiming 122 innocent people sentenced to death in the past 30 years, the real number is actually about 20, which indicates that on death row at least we're 99.7 percent accurate in convicting the actually guilty. The rest of those people were released on appeal. It's an incredibly accurate system, and I think using Stanley "Tookie" Williams to claim racism in the system or that he was an innocent executed will only backfire on the anti-death penalty movement, and I think they're going to quickly go past...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. SHARP: ...Mr. Williams and go on to another case because he is the worst example they could have put forward.

GORDON: Well, here's what we know for sure, Mr. Sharp, and we thank you for your time. There are those who would dispute the idea of whether or not there was overwhelming evidence. There are those who suggest that there was evidence to say otherwise. But the one thing that we can say for sure as of today, that it is too late for Mr. Williams, but we thank you for your time and greatly appreciate your opinion.

Mr. SHARP: And don't forget it's too late for his victims.

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