Anthony Banks Execution: Is There a Moral Justification for Killing a Killer?


Tonight at 6 p.m. Central Time, Anthony Rozelle Banks will be the fourth person to be executed in Oklahoma. He will be killed by lethal injection for the rape and murder of a native Korean woman in 1979, although he and his accomplice were only sentenced in 1997, after Banks' DNA was found on the victim's body and clothes.

Despite the DNA evidence, which has helped making countless death row inmates free men, and despite popular (albeit declining since the mid 1990s) support for the death penalty, did Banks really deserve to die, however horrific his crimes were – he also served a life sentence for killing a clerk during an armed robbery?

Some might plead that libertarians like me should approve of it, since killing a killer is just retribution, but the said penalty should be proclaimed by the victim or his relatives since agreeing that the state does it is “excessive violence by a third party with monopoly power and political interests that supplant individual rights in favor of collective statecraft.”

However, I can't convince myself to agree with these premises, even if the accused person is almost certainly guilty of first degree murder. First of all, and fiscal conservatives should get on board with this, it is very expensive. Be it for the possible appeals, the rising cost of drugs used in lethal injections or increased security in death row, it has cost has average of $307 million in California alone for each of the 13 executions carried since 1978. In fact, is costs more to execute a criminal than to keep him alive for the rest of his days in jail. This was one of the motivations for Maryland to abolish the death penalty in March, 2013.

Also, even though DNA evidence has saved many from death row, forensic science is mostly an invention of law-enforcement agencies; it hasn't been subject to thorough peer-review research like other sciences. Since most forensic labs are government-owned, there is, mostly unknowingly, a bias to convict people who are being analyzed, just like K9 patrols can “spot” drugs based of signals sent by their master. There could also be an incentive to plant evidence as has also happened with drugs in the past.

In fact, the possibility or error is so real that the FBI has recently decided to re-examine some 2,000 cases where hair evidence was used, involving the death penalty in some cases.

So even if Banks really did kill that woman, I cannot agree with his execution. Many people will claim that he committed an immoral act, and I agree. But are we moral ourselves to kill him?