CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nearly every modern democracy -- except one -- has abandoned the barbaric death penalty, a relic from crude medieval times. It's sad that America has a lot of vengeful "pro-death" people, sustaining the custom in this country.
Even so, several states like West Virginia have stopped killing prisoners, and the practice survives mostly in Deep Dixie.
Pennsylvania is going through torment over executions, specifically over a prisoner named Terrance Williams.
Back in 1986, while Williams was a teenager, he was convicted of killing a church deacon and another man. Both had sexually molested him for years -- but this fact was hidden from the jury. Williams was sentenced to death, and he has been appealing for a quarter-century.
He was scheduled for execution last week, but Philadelphia newspapers and compassionate groups clamored to prevent it. The Inquirer said his case is "a prime example of why the state should scrap the death penalty. ... It's a system long prone to error, and known to put poor and minority defendants at greater risk."
The paper printed an appeal by historian Jonathan Zimmerman, who said "capital punishment is inherently wrong, no matter the circumstances." When society deliberately kills a murderer, it lowers itself to the level of killer.
Finally, a Philadelphia judge halted the execution, on grounds that prosecutors had concealed evidence about the child-molesting. Thank heaven.
We feel quietly proud that West Virginia banned the death penalty in 1965, and has resisted many attempts to revive it. The Mountain State has many "pro-death" residents, and the state Republican platform sometimes calls for a return of executions.
The fact that West Virginia has a low rate of murder shows that executions aren't necessary to deter people from killing.
During one of many legislative debates on the issue, the late Roger Tompkins of Kanawha County -- whose uncle had been brutally murdered -- summed up the morality of the matter well when he told fellow lawmakers:
"There is something in each of us that loves a killing. But we are not animals, and we know it is wrong to take another's life."