Crime and punishment: After 32 years, has Powell's execution lost its meaning?

is the title of a piece in the Austin American-Statesman on the scheduled June 15 execution of David Lee Powell for the 1978 murder of police officer Ralph Ablanedo. The case is clear: Powell shot Ablanedo after a traffic stop. Powell ran, and only a dud grenade prevented him from killing several more officers at a standoff when the meth dealer was finally cornered.Powell's life in prison has been a model of rehabilitation: he's not only behaved himself, but he's helped other inmates along the way. Within the strictures of life "inside," he's lived up to the promise he once showed as an honor student. And of course Ablanedo's family still mourns their terrible loss.What the essay brings home is how the intended purpose(s) of capital punishment changes as time elapses after conviction. If there WERE a deterrent effect of the death penalty, certainly its punch is lost when 32 years elapses between crime and punishment. Societal self-defense seems not to require death in this case, at least not any more. Killing a clearly reformed 59 year-old man seems merely retributive at this point.HT: Campaign to End the Death Penalty

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

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