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How Many Innocent People Have to Die, Birmingham News

You know we've killed innocent people. We have. In the history of Alabama's death penalty, you know innocent people have died. Been hung, electrocuted, poisoned to death. Probably many. A number of Death Row inmates have been released in recent years after they were found to be not guilty of the crimes they were accused of. How did they get on Death Row in the first place? How many didn't get saved and slipped through the cracks and were executed? By you. By me.

If there is a chance of one innocent person being executed, we cannot condone a death penalty. We can never take back a life that is taken. We can't undo the wrong. And as citizens of Alabama, we're all accomplices in the death of an innocent. We allow the state to execute; we are as involved as the person who starts the injection that leads to death.

How many innocent men and women is it worth killing to maintain a capital punishment system as flawed as Alabama's? One? Ten? How many? If it were your brother -- or you -- would the collateral damage be worth it to maintain a system that kills people, really for no other reason than revenge?

We don't need capital punishment to keep citizens safe. Life without parole does that. We don't need capital punishment as a deterrent. Study after study has shown the death penalty is no deterrent. Indeed, the states with the most aggressive capital punishment laws have the highest murder rates. States without the death penalty have the lowest murder rates.

Killing somebody might be sweet revenge, for a victim's family, for the angry public. But should the state, should the government, be in the revenge business? Should we? And this thing called "closure," is it really what we think it is? Can killing a horrible person who took a life in a heinous crime really give us closure? Does it bring back our loved one? No. We still have that hole in our hearts, in our souls, that will never be filled, no matter how much revenge we exact.

Still, many Americans believe it's OK to lose a few innocents to keep capital punishment in place. I always thought that it'd be better to release 100 guilty people than to kill one innocent person. Or 1,000 guilty people. Or 1 million. Not one innocent person ever should be executed in the name of capital punishment.

I admit I've never had a person close to me killed in cold blood, murdered by a slug that sees no value in life. I know the victim's families are destroyed by such senseless violence that seems so common these days. But my prayer is if it happened to someone close to me, I could accept that sorry piece of humanity being punished without killing him. My faith informs me that I need to forgive. I cannot forgive a dead person.

This week's Views poll wants to know where you stand. Vote below. The results and a selection of comments will be published in Sunday's Viewpoints section. Also, we can talk about this on Tuesday during our live chat. How many innocent people are you willing to sacrifice to keep the death penalty in place?

Follow Joey Kennedy on Twitter: @joeykennedy