Bundy Killing No Cause for Celebration

By Leroy Collins

Vol. 11, No. 2, 1989, p. 10

Since I have a long record of opposing the death penalty, I have been asked what my reactions are to the Theodore Bundy execution.

I have made very clear my reasons for opposing the death penalty. In the first place I believe it is no deterrent to crime. There are many who do not accept this, but almost all the criminologists who have studied this issue and even the U.S. Supreme Court have concluded that the theory of deterrence cannot be supported. In confirming this I would point out that while many of our states have the death penalty, others do not, and the indications are that the crime rates of those who have no death penalty are no higher and in a majority of these the rates are lower, than in states that do have the death penalty.

Take two states--Texas and Massachusetts. In Texas since the death penalty has been reinstated, the murder rate has gone up, whereas in Massachusetts where there is no death penalty, over the same time the rate has gone down.

Now I don't contend that if we in Florida abolish the death penalty our murder rate (which has recently increased rapidly) will come down because of that fact. But the fact remains there has been no plausible study that could lead one to conclude that having the penalty deters would-be murderers.

Now the Bundy execution, I accept. He was guilty of a long series of gruesome, heinous murders of innocent young children and women. The death penalty is a part of our law, and if anyone has ever deserved it, he did. And I felt with our citizens generally, a sense of relief that he can never, under any circumstances, kill again.

As a citizen, however, I felt ashamed and embarrassed over some of the macabre demonstrations of jubilation. The shouts of joy, the parties and epithets that were screamed, were indeed reminiscent of the Roman spectacles of passion by the crowds eagerly assembled to witness executions of that period. I couldn't imagine anyone feeling joyous in the act of our state destroying a human life.

I am quietly accepting the execution of the law of our state. I learned this being governor and having the sworn duty to enforce the law, whether I liked or approved of a specific law or not. In fact, as governor I recommended the abolishment of the death penalty. But the majority of the legislators, representing the people of Florida too, saw it differently and declined to accept my recommendation. I did not try to put myself above the law. In fact, the state executed more people during my administration than in the administrations of all the governors combined who have succeeded me. Yet with every signing of a death warrant, I was distressed.

So Bundy has been executed. He was given the full penalty provided under the law. By his multiple heinous crimes, he deserved such under that law.

The execution saddened me. I do not exult in it. I think the exuberance and joyous party atmosphere it stimulated in some quarters, was in itself the reflection of a sickness.

The English experience remains impressive to me. With all their problems, they abolished the death penalty many years back. Their crime rates, their murder rates, are very small in comparison to those of the United States.

I am still opposed to the death penalty. This form of society's revenge runs counter to my nature. After all, we are all children of God, even the sickest among us.

LeRoy Collins served as governor of Florida from 1955-1961. A life fellow of the Southern Regional Council, he writes a weekly column for the St. Petersburg Times, where these comments originally appeared.