THE DEATH PENALTY….USA Today reports on a loose group of law professors and likeminded academics who are pro death penalty. As near as I can tell, their argument is that it’s not true that 100 innocent people have been put on death row and later released. In fact, they say, most of them were released on technicalities, and only about 30 or so were truly innocent.

Let me be the first to say that this is not exactly a strong argument. That’s still a big enough number that any fairminded person should be worried about it, especially since it’s a lower limit. If that many people have been wrongly convicted, it’s a dead certainty that there are additional innocents currently awaiting execution.

The death penalty has always been a curiosity to me. I don’t really have a philosophical objection to it, but let’s face it: the risk of killing innocent people is a really big practical objection. If you imprison someone and later find he’s innocent, at least you can free him and make restitution. You can’t do that after you’ve executed someone.

But the real curiosity is this: why are there so many people who are passionate about keeping the death penalty? What’s the emotional appeal? A life sentence without possibility of parole keeps murderers off the street just as effectively, but death penalty advocates are dead set against accepting this as a substitute. Even the risk of killing the occasional innocent person doesn’t keep them from demanding an eye for an eye.

Why is this?

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