The Perverse Effects of the Death Penalty

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At the outset, let me note that I oppose the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.  It has no proven deterrent value; it does not save money; and given exonerations in recent years, it has not proven infallible.  Its sole justification is in vengeance—eye for eye, tooth for tooth, limb for limb, etc.  Before us now is the tragic disappearance of Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang. Charged in her disappearance is one Brendt Christensen. Incontrovertible evidence exists that she got into Mr. Christensen’s automobile on June 9, 2017 and has not been seen since.  Christensen was arrested days later and charged in her disappearance.

             Now charged in her presumed murder, he was scheduled for trial in February of this year. In January, before the start of the trial, the Department of Justice decided to ask for the death penalty should Christensen be convicted.  That caused his first lawyers to withdraw from the case, citing the certain increase in costs for the defense.  As a consequence, the trial was put off until April, 2019.  Now, with the removal of the judge charged with handling the trial, the trial has been delayed again until who knows when.

At the center of it all is the death penalty. Yingying’s family came to Champaign-Urbana early on first seeking help in her disappearance, and then, if dead, hopefully, closure.  But after many weeks of frustration, they had to return to China. Would it not finally occur to the prosecution to drop the death penalty in this case and promptly get on with the trial?  It would afford the defendant the speedy and fair trial that both he and the public deserve. Christensen, the only person who can offer any closure, might then come forward with what only he knows and offer Yingying’s family the closure they seek.

Dan McCollum is a long-time community historian and activist focused on peace and environmental issues.

About Dannel McCollum

Dannel McCollum, a former Champaign mayor and a Democratic candidate for the state Senate in 2002, is a historian and a freelance writer.
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