Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, observing that capital punishment is “a 100% deterrent upon everyone on whom it’s been successfully imposed,” called Monday for restoring the death penalty in all 50 states and in federal jurisdictions as well.
Such a move would be justified if it led to saving the life of one victim, Meese said in an address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“I think that if we are able to spare the life of one innocent person in a robbery or a killing for hire or in some similar incident, it is worth . . . having capital punishment in every state of the union,” he said. “And I think we ought to restore it also to the federal jurisdiction.”
Meese’s proposal drew vigorous applause from his audience, although his assessment of the effectiveness of the ultimate punishment initially had prompted laughter. But he moved quickly to assure his listeners of his seriousness.
“I don’t say that facetiously, because there have been so many killers who have been sent to prison, then let loose and went out and killed again,” the attorney general said.
Thirty-seven states, including California, have provided for the death penalty since the Supreme Court restored the punishment in 1976 after a four-year moratorium, and the Reagan Administration has backed resumption of capital punishment for those convicted of certain federal crimes.
Meese, who first served then-Gov. Ronald Reagan as his clemency and extradition secretary from 1966 to 1970, told the chamber that he had studied capital punishment from various perspectives over the last 25 years and had “somewhat reluctantly” concluded that it “is a very necessary punishment--and it definitely is a deterrent.”
In addition to advocating it for repeat killers, Meese cited other crimes for which he said the death penalty “is particularly appropriate: the murder of a person during a robbery, the killing of a police officer, the killing of someone in prison by inmates.”