JUST REVENGE by Mark Costanzo


Costs and Consequences of the Death Penalty
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 A polemic maintaining that the death penalty is cruel and unfair, that it doesn't prevent crime, and that it can be replaced by a sentence of life without parole (LWOP). Although in his introduction Costanzo (Social Psychology/Claremont McKenna Coll.) says he is attempting ``a critical analysis of the costs, benefits, and consequences of the death penalty,'' he evokes emotion as readily as he does reason. For those who prefer the sensational, he describes death-row existence, executions gone awry, and the grief of having a family member sentenced to death. For those preferring to build arguments, he suggests some useful points: Death-penalty trials and appeals are so long, complicated, and expensive that we can save money by abolishing execution; having a court-appointed lawyer and being black (especially if the victim is white) increase a defendant's chances of being sentenced to death; the death penalty is ineffective as a deterrent, because most murders are not premeditated acts but crimes of passion. In its better moments, the book gathers from other sources glimpses of the legal system that will give a reader pause, e.g., the judge who instructed a jury to weigh ``mitigating'' and ``aggravating'' factors when determining a sentence but refused to tell jurors what the words meant. Less impressive are times one suspects gaps in the presentation, most problematically in the endorsement of LWOP to replace the death penalty. Costanzo notes some people's fear that those who have, in his words, committed ``murders so vile that they defy understanding'' can someday walk free and adds that ``most judges'' won't assure jurors that the LWOP sentence precludes eventual release. However, rather than exploring this judicial reluctance, he blithely insists that LWOP constitutes an ``ironclad guarantee'' that such murderers will stay in prison. For some, Costanzo's guarantee may not suffice. This volume is as likely to annoy as to persuade those who support the death penalty, but its opponents will find a disappointingly modest handful of ammunition. (For another look at the death penalty, see John D. Bessler, Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America, p. 1424.)

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15559-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997


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