Twenty-year-old Cory Maye of Prentiss, Miss., was falling asleep in his apartment after he put his 18-month-old daughter to bed when he heard someone breaking into his home. According to Maye, he was awoken by armed men at his door and reached for his gun. When they entered his home, Maye fired three bullets and shot the first person to walk through the door, with the desire to protect his daughter from harm. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the men weren’t burglars, but rather several police officers raiding his home on the suspicion that he had been dealing drugs. After realizing he had just shot an officer, he immediately dropped the gun and surrendered to law enforcement. Later, the police admitted to raiding the wrong apartment in the duplex where Maye lived. Maye and his live-in girlfriend had no prior arrests at the time.
When Maye went to trial in 2001, his attorney made a number of crucial mistakes that led to a conviction of capital murder and sentenced to capital punishment. Last Friday, however, on appeal, his murder conviction was reduced to manslaughter and he was released from prison with time served.
While this is a story of both the failure and success of the justice system, it makes the case for the abolition of the death penalty, which the U.S. Supreme court voted 7-2 to reinstate 35 years ago — July 2, 1976, to be exact. Had the appeal process also been a failure, a man innocent yet convicted of an intentional killing would have become a victim of murder himself — instated by those who apparently believed that one heinous crime justifies another.
The reasons for the death penalty, some advocates argue, is justice for the victims and their families; others say that those convicted of heinous crimes against humanity, such as first degree murder or rape and murder offenses, should inherently be erased from society altogether. But what happens when a person is wrongly convicted of a crime? Should the murders of those wrongly convicted be justified as long as those who have been rightly convicted also die? The idea is absurd and unforgivable in its intention — in a civilized society, we should act with compassion, not vengeance or by upholding ruthless laws. Furthermore, testimony after testimony of the families of murder victims reveal that either watching the execution of those who wronged them only made the emotional pain worse or, once a certain amount of time had passed, the families had forgiven those who had committed such crimes and wanted the death penalty sentences changed. Sadly, most people who are advocating for the death penalty aren’t ones who have been affected by it personally, yet many who have been affected want the death penalty abolished.
Now that the subject is being broached again — State Sen. Lori Hancock (D-Berkeley) has introduced a bill, SB490, that, if passed, would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole — it is time to take a stand. (Surprisingly, Hancock isn’t pushing the bill through for the rights of prisoners, but as a cost saving mechanism: California spent $184 million last year in the pursuit and appeals of death penalty cases while it costs millions of dollars, even tens of millions, less for cases seeking sentences of life in prison.) Let’s not keep the message alive that somehow murder is justified in the right situations, as the death penalty clearly does just that.
Contact your local lawmakers in support of SB490 and let’s kill the death penalty before it takes one more life, innocent or otherwise.
Contact info: Gov. Jerry Brown website: governor.ca.gov; Assemblymember Das Williams (D-Ventura, Santa Barbara) at firstname.lastname@example.org; State Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Simi Valley) at 306-8886.