CalPundit perfectly sums up my own reservations about the death penalty:
The death penalty has always been a curiosity to me. I don't really have a philosophical objection to it, but let's face it: the risk of killing innocent people is a really big practical objection. If you imprison someone and later find he's innocent, at least you can free him and make restitution. You can't do that after you've executed someone.
But the real curiosity is this: why are there so many people who are passionate about keeping the death penalty? What's the emotional appeal? A life sentence without possibility of parole keeps murderers off the street just as effectively, but death penalty advocates are dead set against accepting this as a substitute. Even the risk of killing the occasional innocent person doesn't keep them from demanding an eye for an eye.
Why is this?
On a similar subject, I was listening to Talk of the Nation yesterday via Internet radio, and the program looked at a recent Justice Department policy of imposing stiffer prison sentences on first-time white-collar offenders. Several of the callers--including one ex-con--commented that even minimum-security prison is not exactly a day at the beach. Even from a retribution standpoint, I'm far from convinced that keeping someone in prison for decades is somehow a softer penalty than the death sentence.