Debra Milke can finally take a breath of fresh air without guards watching her every move. After being on death row for 22 years in Arizona, a judge declared her innocent of all charges. Her crime: conspiracy to murder her son for a $5,000 life insurance policy — her roommate and his friend remain on death row after being convicted of taking her son to a secluded ravine and shooting him three times in the head. Her conviction was based on the testimony of a shady detective who said she had confessed to the conspiracy. The detective, Armando Saldate, had a history of lying under oath.
Now, at the age of 51, Milke is a free woman. It’s not fair to say justice has been served (now she is free!), as not only did she lose her son, but she lost 22 years of her life. Further, had she been denied her appeals, she may never have be exonerated. Perhaps that’s the one good thing about the death penalty — the appeal process is practically indefinite (and extremely costly). On the other hand, though, being only the second woman to be exonerated and freed from death row, the odds were not in her favor and she may have been more likely to have ended up dead rather than free.
Adjacent to Arizona, however, Utah is not only firm on the apparent justice that death penalty convictions carry out, but the governor has brought back death by firing squad. But it’s not as if Gov. Gary Herbert did so just for the spirit of blood sport. Lethal injection drugs are merely hard to come by these days. So instead of reforming the death penalty by opting for a more humane solution — such as life in prison — Herbert apparently thought that pummeling the convicted with bullets is a much better approach. We wonder what Milke has to say about that.
In a world where we still witness the most despicable treatment, where a man was set on fire and left to burn in a cage, where a woman was stoned to death for accusations of adultery by a mob of men, including her own father, where a child was shot in the face for her commitment to getting an education — most of which was caught on video and put up on the internet as some sort of trophy — one would think the U.S., a land full of the heirs of immigrants who made arduous journeys to escape such deprivation, would boast of our tolerant and actually humane treatment of the criminally minded. Instead, if we can’t kill them with gentle ease through injection, then — shoot ’em! Have we gone mad?
We are relieved for Milke’s exoneration but we can’t mask our disgust regarding the barbaric practice of an-eye-for-an-eye treatment. We are supposed to be more civilized than those we convict and imprison. In what way is the death penalty any better than those who commit murder? Even worse, how many like Milke must waste away in prison with death as the ultimate punishment on the horizon due to corruption in the ranks of those paid to serve and protect us? The death penalty is archaic, barbaric, inhumane in every way. It’s time to move forward with actual humane ways to treat the worst offenders. It’s time to stop justifying murder as justice.