Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Think you are far removed from the Robert Leroy Anderson trial?

Think again.

The cost to defend Anderson in his double murder trial is approaching $700,000, officials told the Associated Press recently.

That's in addition to approximately $320,000 spent on his kidnapping trial.

"I figured between the two cases we'd hit $1 million," said McCook County Auditor Geralyn Sherman.

McCook County is looking to add to the budget again to cover the bills.

County commissioners in Salem already approved a $400,000 supplement earlier this month to handle the trial expenses.

McCook County is part of a 53-county legal expense pool that covers most trial expenses, but the county has to pay the bills as they arrive. McCook County had received $247,940 from the pool as of March 17.

On Tuesday, Clay County commissioners briefly discussed the fact that the county has already been billed $9,000 for Anderson's trial.

When all is said and done, Commission Chairman Jerry Sommervold believes Clay County's payments into the legal expense pool may total $25,000.

Ever since Anderson was given the death penalty by a Minnehaha County jury recently for the grisly torture and murder of two women, South Dakotans suddenly find themselves wondering if, as a society, it has done the right thing by pursuing capital punishment as the penalty for this serial killer rather than life in prison.

The arguments that have been expressed against the death penalty in the past week or two are nothing new.

They have been expressed by capital punishment opponents for years.

They argue that it is less expensive to house a murderer in prison for life than to execute him (which seems ironic; we seem to like to put a dollar figure on the value of a convicted murderer's life while never mentioning the price being born by the friends and loved ones of the person he killed).

Another common argument heard against capital punishment sounds much like advice my mother would give my brothers and me during our childhood when we would get into a silly scrap over something.

She'd break us up, and hear one us say that the other deserved to be clobbered because "he deserved it."

She always would calmly respond (bless her) that, "Two wrongs don't make a right."

So, why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong? If two wrongs do not make a right, an execution must be the equivalent to murder.

Or is it?

The term murder is specifically defined in any dictionary as the unlawful killing of a person with malice and aforethought. So logically, the word murder cannot be used to describe executions since the death penalty is the law. To do so is an obvious abuse of semantics.

Comparing executions to murders is like comparing incarcerating people to kidnapping or charging taxes and fines to extortion.

There is a difference between violent crime and punishment. Is there a contradiction in a policeman speeding after a speeder to enforce speeding laws? One displays a serious lack of moral judgment to believe that just because two practices share a physical similarity means that they are morally identical. Law enforcement officials act well within the law when they punish criminals whether it be by charging fines, incarcerating them, or conducting executions to defend public safety.

Nineteenth-century English philosopher and reformer John Stuart Mill said, "Does fining a criminal show want of respect for property, or imprisoning him, for personal freedom? Just as unreasonable it is to think that to take the life of a man who has taken that of another is to show want of regard for human life.

"We show, on the contrary ? our regard for it," Mill added, "by the adoption of a rule that he who violates that right in another forfeits it for himself and that while no other crime that he can commit deprives him of his right to live, this shall."

I think what Mill was trying to say is this: Morally, there is a greater offense than executing a murderer, especially one whose crimes are as heinous as Anderson's.

That greater offense is to let a murderer live.

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