Letter to the Editor: Using execution as public suicide

David L. Rickard,
Little Rock:
Published Sunday, March 14, 1999

Gov. Mike Huckabee has set April 12 as the date for two more executions. One involves Robert Robbins who has refused to cooperate in any of the mandatory appeals from his conviction and demanded that the state kill him.

We in the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are concerned that he may have killed his girlfriend with the idea that the state would then kill him. This is an insidious twist of the supposedly deterrent power of the death penalty. Inmates who consent to their own execution are "volunteers" in name only and only within the context of a legal system which treats them as unworthy of life. Inmates often drop their appeals only to pick them up again, indicating just how tenuous their true volition is under the conditions that exist on death row.

At the same time, the state's indulgence of a prisoner's death wish creates a disturbing incentive for others to commit capital murder for the purpose of receiving a death sentence. Such situations give the lie to claims for the deterrent value of the death penalty. Sadly, a death row inmate's use of the machinery of capital punishment for an act of public suicide is viewed by many people as worthy of celebration and not at all disturbing. Just the contrary should be true. A "voluntary" execution such as Robert Robbins' does not resolve any of the many troubling issues surrounding capital punishment -- it raises more.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: David L. Rickard is chairman of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.)

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