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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Senator Abdallah Stinks up Airwaves with Death Penalty Nonsense

I'm listening to State Senator Gene Abdallah tie himself in rhetorical knots on this noon's South Dakota Public Radio's Dakota Midday. In a discussion of the South Dakota Supreme Court's overturning of Briley Piper's death penalty, Senator Abdallah makes the following "arguments" (I use the term with extreme generosity) in favor of the death penalty:
  1. The death penalty is a deterrent: a dead criminal can't commit more crimes.
  2. Two legislators who advocated repealing the death penalty were also pro-choice on abortion.
  3. Lengthy appeals are a waste of resources; we should set a time limit and speed up these trials.
  4. Life in prison for convicted killers puts other inmates at risk; do we want to have to explain to the parents or spouse of a DUI convict serving his month how he was killed by a convicted killer we could have just executed?
  5. So many people read in the papers that so many killers have escaped. And they kill again!
I respect Mr. Abdallah's work in law enforcement and government. However, statements like the above make me want to get out the "What the heck are you thinking?!" blog-stick. Going down the flow:
  1. The debate about deterrence usually refers to persuading other potential criminals not to commit crimes. Incapacitation and deterrence are two different things.
  2. Rather than scream red herring, Bruce Gray, a death penalty opponent also appearing on the program, politely registers his displeasure at being lumped in with the pro-choice political camp. Gotta argue the issues before you, Gene, not the straw men you want to keep resurrecting when the argument gets tough.
  3. Funny: at the end of the show, I think I heard Abdallah say we should never question the amount of resources we dedicate toward law enforcement. Yet he thinks we spend too much on capital trials and appeals. Kangaroo courts, anyone?
  4. Funny: sounds like prison's a pretty awful place... bad enough to maybe deter folks from driving drunk and committing other lesser crimes that would get them locked up with those dangerous convicted murderers.
  5. Evidence? Evidence? Not one specific example. Not one name. Not one article. For Pete's sakes, you're a state senator going on the radio. Even if they called you just ten minutes ago, bring your notes! Google something! Here, I'll help: link link link!
I do appreciate Abdallah's willingness to join the public discussion on a controversial issue. Now if he could just make sense.


  1. Cory, I thought Abdallah made good sense (in a strange way). I sympathize with anyone who feels that brutal murderers should themselves be murdered. Such would be justice.

    However, if I were the governor, I could never, ever sign a death warrant. I was tempted to call into "Dakota Midday" and say so, and then say why: I would fear the wrath of Almighty God!

  2. Sen. Abdallah may have good intentions, and I don't have a beef with him personally, but the words he broadcast this noon were textbook examples of how not to argue a case: internally inconsistent, red herring, and unsubstantiated claims.

    I can sympathize with the feeling—I feel some of it myself—but Bruce Gray rightly identified that feeling as a visceral impulse for revenge, something we should not allow to govern the justice system.


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