Update: According to the Associated Press, a judge has postponed the execution of Kimberly McCarthy until April.
At 6 p.m. local time this evening, the state of Texas will execute Kimberly McCarthy by lethal injection. She will be the first woman in two years to be put to death in America. There is no social issue more contested than the death penalty, save perhaps for abortion. Whatever position you may take on the subject, it is impossible to deny its inherent moral complexity.
No one wants to live in fear of violent tyranny, and to that end we should always strive to limit our government’s ability to execute citizens. We’ve come a long way from the bounty hunters of the wild west, enforcing federal "wanted" posters which sanctioned the "dead or alive" capture of cattle thieves and bank robbers. The Eighth Amendment concerns of "cruel and unusual punishment" have also certainly been addressed, as we transitioned from hanging and electrocution to the more humane method of lethal injection. Yet the fervor and outrage surrounding the death penalty politics has not diminished over the years.
Recent advancements in criminal science and DNA testing have helped reduce the number of innocent people who are mistakenly convicted, but they do still occasionally fall through the cracks. On those grounds alone we should be hesitant to utilize the death penalty. To that end, however, our legal system maintains a lengthy appeals process. Moreover, many would prefer to exclude the most violent offenders from the financial burden of lifetime imprisonment. There is certainly much to be learned by psychoanalyzing sociopaths and criminals, but there must also exist a consideration for the well being of a community and their sense of justice.
Although the federal government itself has a death penalty, it should be left to the states to decide. Perhaps this is one of those rare issues that cannot be resolved on the federal level. It is for each state to choose a position that satisfies its citizens. Had he not killed himself, many people would probably have demanded Adam Lanza's execution. Had he shot school children in Texas he most certainly would have been. As it happens, he committed his atrocity in Connecticut — a state that repealed the death penalty last year.
Kimberly McCarthy was convicted of entering her 71-year-old neighbor’s home in 1997 (under the pretense of borrowing sugar) and then stabbing her to death. She cut off her neighbor’s finger, so that she could pawn her diamond ring. This would be a horrific enough offense by itself, but McCarthy is also believed to be responsible for the deaths of two other elderly women (using a meat tenderizer on one and claw hammer on the other). The lack of humanity in her actions may derive from any number of social or psychological causes, but they were born of her will, and should be punished accordingly.