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. Largest Powerball jackpot won by single ticket in Massachusetts


    DES MOINES, Iowa - Powerball Product Group Chair Charlie McIntyre says the $758.7 million jackpot claimed by a ticket sold in Massachusetts is the largest grand prize won by a single lottery ticket in U.S. history.

    A Powerball lottery sign displays the lottery prizes at a convenience store Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, in Northbrook, Ill. Lottery officials said the grand prize for Wednesday night's drawing has reached $700 million, the second -largest on record for any U.S. lottery game.
  2. Florida education news: Computer coding, guidance counseling, career planning and more


    SESSION STARTERS: State Sen. Jeff Brandes refiles legislation to allow Florida high school students to swap computer coding for foreign language credits.

  3. Rays morning after: Offense showing some life



  4. Protectors of Confederate statue readied for a battle that never materialized

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Big Dixie flags were waving. County employees had erected a barrier around the Confederate soldier statue at Main and Broad streets. Roads and parking areas were blocked off. Uniformed local officers and federal law enforcement patrolled.

    Police tape and barricades surround the Confederate statue in Brooksville.
  5. Manhattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman


    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]