Drawing from Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, why Dick and Perry deserve the death penalty? I have two reasons: they are a threat to society, and they obviously killed The Clutter family.  I need...

Drawing from Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, why Dick and Perry deserve the death penalty? 
I have two reasons: they are a threat to society, and they obviously killed The Clutter family.  I need help thinking of one more reason.

Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way to approach the issue of rationalizing or justifying the imposition of capital punishment in the specific case of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock is to cite the comments made by County Attorney Duane West in Part IV of Truman Capote’s account of the real-life 1959 murder of the Clutter family, In Cold Blood.   Addressing reporters, West was quoted as saying:

“I feel that due to the violence of the crime and the apparent utter lack of mercy shown the victims, the only way the public can be absolutely protected is to have the death penalty set against these defendants. This is especially true since in Kansas there is no such thing as life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Persons sentenced to life imprisonment actually serve, on the average, less then fifteen years."

Utilizing this quote, which includes the two reasons specified in the question – punishment for the crime and protection of society – one can note the extension of that second reason: the fact that, under the laws of the State of Kansas, judges did not have the option of imposing life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, which means, conceivably, that the two defendants could eventually be paroled and, consequently, would be free to commit more crimes.  This could be considered a third reason, or it could, as suggested, be considered an extension of the second reason.  If the latter, then one has to contemplate the justifications for capital punishment in general.  The primary justification for executing convicted offenders is the notion of “punishment fitting the crime.”  In other words, if they killed, then they should be killed in turn.  This is the classic “eye for an eye” rationalization that opponents of capital punishment argue is beneath the dignity and the moral right of any government to adopt as the basis for policy.  Another element of this discussion is the concept of justice in terms of the victims or families of victims of violent crimes, generally, murder.  If one’s relative is murdered, especially in cold blood, then the only true path to justice for those surviving relatives is the imposition of the death penalty.  “Why should this cretin go free when my father/mother/son/daughter/husband/wife are no longer living because of the actions of this criminal?”  “How can I get beyond the murder of my relative if I go to bed every night knowing my relative’s murderer is still alive, enjoying three meals a day and bed at taxpayer expense?”  The concept of retributive justice is extremely important to many individuals, and they only feel justice has been served when the convicted murderer has been executed.

Whether this issue of justice for the survivors is distinct from the justification predicated solely upon the nature of the crime is a matter for debate, but one could argue that it constitutes a third rationalization.  Protection of society and appropriateness on the basis of the severity of the crime are powerful motivations for imposition of capital punishment (and, it should be noted, contemporary debates on this this topic have been radically transformed through the development of evidence based upon DNA and the fact of the irreversibility of the death penalty in the event a conviction for murder was to found be made in error because new evidence has surfaced).  All of that said, justice for the surviving members of the Clutter family – and there were two older children living elsewhere – could be used as a third reason to impose the death penalty.

Read the study guide:
In Cold Blood

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