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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 13, 2001

Capital punishment: Is it fatally flawed?

That capital punishment can't seem to operate without a hitch even in the case of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh may indicate that the process of putting criminals to death in modern civil society is inherently flawed.

It's hard to imagine a better candidate for the ultimate penalty than McVeigh. He was the subject of a massive investigation and a painstaking trial. He has admitted his role — to journalists, importantly, rather than in a courtroom — and pronounced himself remorseless, calling the tiniest victims "collateral damage."

Although prosecutors voiced confidence that the FBI's latest embarrassment ultimately will have no effect, it's easy to imagine that 30 days will be give way to a series of appeals.

This sudden uncertainty is sheer torture to the many relatives of McVeigh's victims. It's not even fair to McVeigh. It's yet another aspect of capital cases in the United States that to many seems "cruel and unusual."

The constitutional imperatives, our collective conscience and the stark realities of the death penalty dictate that rarely, if ever, can a capital case move smoothly to its conclusion. Procedural hurdles are installed in the hope of compensating for incompetence, lies and prejudice.

With good reason. The numbers of prisoners exonerated just short of execution grows steadily. Several states are looking at moratoriums on capital punishment.

Is there such a thing as an "open-and-shut" death penalty case? If we can't execute McVeigh on schedule, we surely must wonder.