Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

High cost of the death penalty doesn't seem worth it

I went to court Thursday to see the hearing that ended with a jury voting that John Kalisz should die for his crimes — and to see if this bothered me even a little bit.

It didn't.

I'm not especially religious and don't think every human soul is sacred. There's 7 billion of us. This is a crowded old ship, and I don't see any reason to save a seat for this guy.

You don't want to take that line of thinking too far, of course. Just restrict it to people such as Kalisz. He shot five people, killed three of them and caused one of the injured survivors, his pregnant 18-year-old niece, to lose her fetus. If anybody deserves the death penalty, he does.

But the real issue here is not whether we're personally okay with the death penalty. It's whether the state needs to sentence people to death — whether it's worth its while.

I don't think so, partly because of how these sentences usually play out.

One other person whose guilt is not in question, who fully deserved his death sentence, is Freddie Lee Hall. Along with another man, Hall kidnapped a 21-year-old woman from a grocery in Leesburg, raped her, killed her and then drove to Hernando County, where he murdered a young sheriff's deputy named Lonnie Coburn.

That was 34 years ago, and Hall is still on death row, leading some people to say that we need to hurry the entire process along, to cut out all the ridiculous appeals.

The problem is, some appeals aren't ridiculous, and there's a local example of that, too. The 1986 first-degree murder conviction of Paul Hildwin is looking shakier all the time, with the most recent revelation being that DNA at the crime scene did not belong to Hildwin, but to another potential suspect, the victim's boyfriend.

And what is the public benefit when a murderer is eventually put to death?

If we want to make sure murderers don't murder again, we can lock them up for life. This is just as effective as execution for deterring other would-be killers. That, at least, is the majority opinion of criminologists.

So this isn't really about public safety. It's about emotional satisfaction — good old-fashioned revenge.

And, in a way, our pursuit of this elevates criminals, gives them more attention, time and money than they deserve.

A 2008 study by the nonpartisan Urban Institute put the long-term cost of a life sentence at $1.1 million, compared to $3 million for death. Though the study was conducted in another state, experts have told me previously that the costs in Florida are probably comparable — an extra $2 million or so for every death sentence.

I know it's a pittance spread over the general population. But wouldn't you rather this money be spent on education or health care?

Prosecutor Pete Magrino seemed to do a fine job of convicting Kalisz. Then we could have let the judge take over and sentence him to life in prison. We could have dispensed with the penalty phase, which is needed only for death cases, and the inevitable appeals which, in Kalisz's case, seem sure to waste the time of a lot of smart, well-educated people.

Because this is what I thought when I saw the judge, lawyers, jurors, bailiff and court reporter gathered on Thursday to decide the fate of the contemptible man in the defendant's chair:

We're going to spend an extra $2 million on this guy?

High cost of the death penalty doesn't seem worth it 01/26/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 26, 2012 6:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs' Vernon Hargreaves: 'I'm not making any plays'


    TAMPA — Eli Manning gathered his receivers together on the sideline during the Giants' Week 4 game against the Bucs and told them he planned to target the weakest link of the secondary all afternoon.

    Patriots receiver Chris Hogan gets position in front of Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves for a 5-yard touchdown pass in New England’s win on Oct. 5.
  2. Suspect in Maryland office park shooting is apprehended


    EDGEWOOD, Md. — A man with a lengthy criminal past who was fired from a job earlier this year for punching a colleague showed up for work at a countertop company on Wednesday and shot five of his co-workers has been arrested, authorities said. Three of them were killed and two critically wounded.

    Harford County, Md., Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler shows a picture of Radee Labeeb Prince, the suspect in the workplace shootings.
  3. Lightning's J.T. Brown to stop anthem protest, focus on community involvement

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lightning wing J.T. Brown will no longer raise his first as a protest during the national anthem before games.

    J.T. Brown says he will work more with the Tampa police and groups that serve at-risk young people.
  4. The two Ricks tangle at what may be final debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — In what was likely the last mayoral forum before the Nov. 7 election, Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker started out small, discussing neighborhood issues like recycling and neighborhood funding. They ended tangling over familiar subjects: the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, sewage …

    Ex-Mayor Rick Baker, left, and Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, debated familiar topics. The Times’ Adam Smith moderated.
  5. Tampa Chamber of Commerce announces small business winners


    TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce selected the winners of the 2017 Small Business of the Year Awards at a ceremony Wednesday night at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. More than 600 attendees celebrated the accomplishments of Tampa Bay's small business community.

    Vincent Cassidy, president and CEO of Majesty Title Services, was named Outstanding Small Business Leader of the Year by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.