This article appears today in four Treasure Coast newspapers (TC Palm) from Vero Beach to the Palm Beaches

Marshall Frank: Too many negatives to preserve death penalty

Marshall Frank is an author and retired South Florida police detective who lives in Melbourne. Online:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Many folks are pleased that Brevard County cop killer Brandon Bradley was sentenced to death for the deliberate and horrible murder of Deputy Barbara Pill. If anything would justify capital punishment, this would be at the top of the list.

About the same time Bradley was being sentenced, another ruling came down from the Florida Supreme Court. It ordered a new trial for death row denizen Paul Hildwin, after DNA tests showed that the real killer of Vronzetti Cox in Hernando County was the victim’s boyfriend, not him. Hildwin, who claimed innocence since his arrest, has spent nearly 30 years in a 6- by 9-foot cell, 24 hours a day, ostensibly an innocent man.

Having served most of my 30-year police career in Miami-Dade County Homicide, I am usually (not always) more conservative than liberal. However, these kinds of cases, plus other factors, have swayed my thinking.

Capital punishment must be abolished. Here are five reasons why:

1) Cost. Death penalty cases cost the taxpayer far more for defenses and appeals over a period of years. One study showed the state would save $51 million a year by imposing life without parole sentences to killers, rather than death. Since 1976, 44 executions have cost Florida taxpayers an average of $24 million each.

2) No deterrent. Every study conducted across the nation has revealed that the death penalty has no significant impact on the thinking and motivations of potential murderers. Bradley thought nothing about the death penalty when he pumped those bullets into Deputy Pill.

3) Economic inequities. Poor defendants who rely on court-appointed attorneys simply cannot afford independent investigators or costly extended evidence testing to work on their behalf. ompare the O.J. Simpson case, where evidence abounded pointing toward his guilt, yet he was able to afford a dream team.

4) Violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The average time inmates spend on death row before execution is nearly 16 years. Many remain on death row for decades. Gary Alvord spent 40 years on death row until he passed away of natural causes in May. This is tantamount to life, plus death, in other words, cruel and unusual punishment.

5) Executing the innocent. Punishing a vicious killer is important. But protecting innocent people is equally, if not more, important. Sadly, the criminal justice system makes mistakes. Since 1976, 144 Death Row inmates have been exonerated in America, some because of faulty testimony, others through DNA testing, and more. With the count at 24, Florida ranks No. 1 in exonerations from death row, followed by Illinois and Texas. The Death Penalty Information Center has published a list of 10 inmates, already executed, whose innocence was likely. Death ends the appeal process.

It’s not worth the life of any innocent person to gain retribution by executing the guilty. We cannot trust a system that has proven itself so fragile.

Consider, also, death is an escape from punishment for those who are guilty. Life in a 6- by 9-foot cell is far more terrifying.

Time to say goodbye to capital punishment.