I tend to think the death penalty is pretty bad ideally fiscally, because it costs far more to try to execute someone than simply to lock him (or her) up for life; and in these times of budget crunches, I'd think that states are better off spending that money on more schools or whatever. (It's especially bad here in Oregon, since we spend the money to put people on death row, but then we never execute them unless they volunteer for it.) And then on top of the fiscal reasons, I suppose I have unresolved and conflicted feelings about the morality of the death penalty, coupled with awareness of the non-zero incidence of wrongly convicted defendants.
Still, when you read about the execution of someone like Lawrence Russell Brewer, the white supremacist convicted of murdering James Byrd (an African-American) by dragging him to death from a pickup truck, it's hard to get worked up in the particular case. I mean, this is pretty sick stuff:
Six hours later, the bloody mess found after daybreak was thought at first to be animal road kill. Rowles, a former Texas state trooper who had taken office as sheriff the previous year, believed it was a hit-and-run fatality but evidence didn't match up with someone caught beneath a vehicle. Body parts were scattered and the blood trail began with footprints at what appeared to be the scene of a scuffle.
"I didn't go down that road too far before I knew this was going to be a bad deal," he said at Brewer's trial.
Fingerprints taken from the headless torso identified the victim as Byrd.
Testimony showed the three men and Byrd drove out into the county and stopped along an isolated logging road. A fight broke out and the outnumbered Byrd was tied to the truck bumper with a 24-foot (7-meter) logging chain. Three miles (5 kilometers) later, what was left of his shredded remains was dumped between a black church and cemetery where the pavement ended on the remote road.
Of course, I know that the policy question of whether we should have the death penalty has to stand or fall on its own, not based on individual cases, but in principle. At the same time, people like Brewer probably ease acceptance of the death penalty on an emotional level.
On a related note, I'll admit to a degree of inconsistency here. Repairman Jack, the protagonist of F. Paul Wilson's creepy horror/sci-fi/thriller series, once killed a bad guy by securing him to the back of a truck, leaving the guy to be dragged to his death. Jack intentionally killed the guy this way to make him suffer. For some reason, that didn't really bother me too much. It is fiction, and the guy was a really bad dude, I suppose.