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Does the death penalty reinforce our humanity or sink us further into barbarism?

8:00 AM EST, February 5, 2013

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Thank you for printing the pros and cons of the death penalty debate ("Time to abolish the death penalty in Md.?" Jan. 18).

Like many Maryland citizens, I continue to grapple with this contentious issue in an effort to reach an informed position, and I have re-read the positions of Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, Sister Helen Prejean and Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County for their clarity and insight.

As often happens in highly charged debates, emotional responses generate much heat but a more factual perspective sheds greater light on the issue. Mr. Shellenberger apprised readers of the little-known reality that Maryland's stringent requirements for ascertaining guilt, combined with improved forensic techniques, have resulted in just five inmates having been executed over the past 40 years.

This is highly compelling information. Marylanders deserve to know that not only is the ultimate punishment reserved for the most heinous crimes, but that specific criteria involving the nature of the crime and the conclusiveness of guilt must be met before the death penalty is invoked.

So the essential question is this: Does capital punishment truly diminish us as a society, or is it the case that capital punishment has an unfortunate but necessary place in maintaining the civilized nature of society?

Citizens on rare occasions commit acts that by nature are so inhumane, unspeakable or despicable that the criminal willfully removes himself from civilized society by engaging in them. Doesn't a civilization that has respect for human life at its core have an obligation in these extremely rare instances to exercise its moral authority to impose the ultimate punishment?

If a civilization fails to designate certain acts as transgressing the borders of humanity, isn't that civilization itself at risk of diminishing into barbarism?

Shirley Theimer, Annapolis

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