Georgia Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Marc Hyden R Street Institute

An influx of conservatives from across the country have been speaking out against the death penalty, and right-leaning groups have formed in more than a half dozen states with the purpose of ending capital punishment. Earlier this year, the Georgia Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty group launched at a press conference held at the State Capitol, and it was attended by a host of notable Georgia leaders, including a conservative state representative, a former Republican Party official, a free market think tank leader, and activists from across the state.

There were a wide variety of concerns discussed at the press conference, but they all tied into one central theme: the death penalty is inconsistent with conservative principles. In fact, Republican State Representative Brett Harrell declared, “I like to make sure that government is as efficient, effective, and small as possible,” but when speaking about capital punishment, “the government has failed to provide an efficient, effective, accurate system.”

Representative Harrell is correct on many counts, but most concerning is that our government has instituted a death penalty system that constantly risks innocent lives. Over 156 individuals have been wrongly convicted, sentenced to die, and later released from death rows across America. Meanwhile, this has occurred six times in Georgia, but others have been executed even though there were serious questions regarding their verdicts. Press conference participant and America’s Future Foundation chapter leader, Jennifer Maffessanti, pointed out our judicial system’s fallibility and firmly stated that “You had better be sure [individuals are guilty], but more importantly, you had better be right” because “there is no taking [an execution] back.”

While issues related to life and innocence are often central to conservatives’ opposition to the death penalty, cost also plays an undeniable role. During the press event, former Georgia Republican Party official, David Burge, explained that he was confronted by capital punishment’s costly and cumbersome process when he worked as a law clerk for the 11th judicial circuit. He recounted how researching a single appeal from a life without parole case required about an afternoon’s worth of work, whereas a capital appeal could easily consume a month and a half of his time. That’s when he realized how expensive and complex the death penalty really was, and he has since concluded that capital punishment is a “waste of time, money, and effort.”

He’s right. Every step of the capital process is more expensive than life without parole. Close to two-dozen studies have exposed the death penalty’s staggering price, and it appears that it easily costs millions more than life without the chance of release. It has even led to tax increases within the State of Georgia.

While concerns over the death penalty’s relation to death and taxes weighed heavily on the participants, other troubling issues were raised. Press conference speaker and past Co-Chairman of the Mercer University College Republicans, Austin Paul, noted, “science and evidence shows that the death penalty is ineffective.” It’s simply “not a deterrent for crime,” and according to FBI statistics and academic studies, Paul’s point is valid. However, capital punishment’s shortcomings don’t end there. As I pointed out, it “even harms murder victims’ families because of the long, drawn out, unsure process that they are forced to endure.”

There are also faith-based reasons to oppose the death penalty, according to the participants. The former President of the Athens, Georgia, Right to Life chapter, Charles Jones, discussed how he learned of a Georgia man on death row who became a Christian and was baptized, which prompted Jones to reconsider capital punishment. He said, “The person who is executed is not usually the same person who committed the crime.” Jones ultimately concluded, “It’s not the business of man to extinguish a life that God has created and God still loves.” Clearly, nobody is beyond redemption, and we are always God’s children.

Perhaps more than anything else, the death penalty boils down to a matter of limited government and trust, as Richard Lorenc, COO of the Foundation for Economic Education stated at the press conference. He asked, “If we as conservatives and libertarians cannot trust the government to plan the economy, to choose our health care, to run our schools well, censor our media, and many other vital things in life – why should we trust it to have a policy to end life, even for the most heinous of crimes?” His point was met with nods of agreement from many of those in the room.

This press conference occurred at an appropriate time when Georgia seems to be at a crossroad. The Peach State led the nation in executions last year, but many of these death sentences were a result of convictions from the 1980s and 1990s. Yet, nobody has been sentenced to die in Georgia in nearly 3 years. Because of this, it seems that the Georgia death penalty is slowly withering away, but supporters of the Georgia Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty hope to hasten capital punishment’s demise.

Marc Hyden is the National Advocacy Coordinator of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, a Project of EJUSA. He previously worked for the National Rifle Association in Florida. Marc has also served as the Legislative Liaison/Public Affairs Specialist with the State of Georgia and as the Legislative Aide to the Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore.