Today is the 40th anniversary of the last judicial execution in Australia.
Ronald Ryan was hanged on 2nd February 1967 for the murder of a prison officer as he tried to escape from Pentridge Prison.
His execution sparked a social and political uproar resulting in the abolition of capital punishment in Australia. I see this as a supremely positive step in our history. I have always been anti-capital punishment. I see it as nothing more than a revenge killing, an eye for an eye. Whilst I have no problem with revenge in general, I think that death is a little too final and unforgiving, even for a murderer. I would rather know that my tax dollars are keeping Martin Bryant, for example, safely locked away and properly looked after, than thinking that they had funded his death purely because he was mentally unstable enough to shoot a lot of people.
When you get into the nuts and bolts of it, you have to wonder who is really guilty, anyway? Man A kills Man B - why? Was Man A broke and needing Man B's wallet? Perhaps Man A was acting in self-defence? Was Man A suffering a mental illness causing him to kill? Social conditions, health factors, third parties, all play their parts in causing a murder. If Man A was so poor that he had to kill Man B to obtain money, why don't we execute the government agency who should have been responsible for Man A's welfare? If Man A killed Man B because he was ill, we should execute the psychiatrist who never bothered with him, and then put Man A into an appropriate care facility.
Nobody kills somebody "just because". They may think that's what they've done (eg, Brenda Spencer, who shot up her school yard just because she didn't like Mondays), but there is always a reason. In Brenda's case, her social situation and her schoolmates just drove her until she snapped. We all have a breaking point, and that was hers. Should we execute her school principal for not seeing her needs?
In short, despite my frequent daydreams to the contrary, nobody deserves to be killed.