Letters to the Editor: The death penalty should be banned, except for these crimes

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FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2019, file photo the guard tower flanks the sign at the entrance to the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. The Justice Department plans to resume federal executions next week for the first time in more than 15 years, despite the coronavirus pandemic raging both inside and outside prisons and stagnating national support for the death penalty. Three people are slated to die by lethal injection in one week beginning Monday. The executions will take place at USP Terre Haute. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)
The entrance to the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., where federal executions are carried out. (Associated Press)

To the editor: UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky believes the Department of Justice should not be seeking the reinstatement of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's death sentence when the Biden administration has put a moratorium on federal executions.

The Justice Department may well be acting on the belief that even with perfect jury instructions, the sentence would have been the same. This goes to the issue of the egregiousness of the crime. In such a case, where the public has been so viscerally engaged, it is important that the outcome be broadly seen as just.

Given the sharp societal divide on the death penalty, would it not be better to recognize that a range of egregiousness exists in the crime of murder that should inform the penalty phase? One can readily carve out a category for which the death penalty should remain an option — say, for serial killers or mass murderers, and for those who kill government officials or police officers — even as it is ruled out more generally.

Such a move would have more public support than a categorical elimination of the death penalty.

Siegfried Othmer, Woodland Hills

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To the editor: Chemerinsky's argument is well taken.

Although his point is difficult for some Americans to heed, I continue to believe that the U.S. is better on criminal justice than countries such as China, Iran, Iraq and North Korea, which retain capital punishment. And I do not think that it is too much to ask for the Biden administration to rise above the depths of the former president's administration, which carried out more federal executions than in the previous seven decades.

The right call is often not the politically expedient one. However, I believe that if this president wants to continue to regain the "soul of America," then he must not fall victim to political expediency.

Frederick Glasser, Orange

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To the editor: Chemerinsky contends that President Biden is hypocritical in simultaneously imposing a moratorium on the federal death penalty while urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate a death sentence.

Well beyond that is the hypocrisy of the government committing mass murder from the air when it indiscriminately — or discriminately — drops bombs on human beings below from jet aircraft or drones.

You have to go back more than 40 years to find a president, Jimmy Carter, who did not order the military to drop bombs that would kill innocents.

Kevin H. Park, North Hills

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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