Some believe the best argument against the death penalty is the fear that an innocent person might be executed. It’s hotly debated whether that has ever happened, but it’s clear that innocent people have been sent to death row. Even one such circumstance is outrageous and unacceptable.
But even that is not an argument against the death penalty per se. The FDA, police officers, and other government entities with less constitutional legitimacy than the death penalty (see the Fifth and 14th amendments) have made errors that resulted in innocent deaths. That doesn’t render these entities and their functions illegitimate. It obligates government to do better.
Radley Balko, a death-penalty opponent, in a piece in the Washington Post, says that ultimately both sides of the death-penalty debate have irreconcilable moral convictions. I think he’s right. As far as I’m concerned, Lockett deserved to die for what he did. Everything else amounts to changing the subject, and it won’t convince me otherwise.