It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 10 years since David Kaczynski identified his brother, Ted, as the Unabomber, and brought to a halt a series of letter bombings that had terrorized the nation.
Nine-and-a-half years of his last name being associated with violence, murder, and madness.
But Kaczynski’s opposition to man playing god began before he ever exposed his own flesh and blood to the ultimate punishment.
“I was always opposed to the death penalty, ever since taking part in a high school debate on it,” says Kaczynski, eating a vegetarian lunch of rice and vegetables last week in an Erie, Pa., restaurant with his wife. “On the other hand, at the time it was just a hypothetical viewpoint of the head and not of the heart and gut.
“My original opposition came from my view that human beings should kill only if they absolutely have to,” says Kaczynski, the executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty who spoke Tuesday night at an Amnesty International meeting here in Charleston.
His view changed after prosecutors and law enforcement officials reneged on a deal to keep his name out of the press for fingering his brother, and to protect Ted from the death penalty, in exchange for his cooperation.
Since tackling the death penalty in earnest, Kaczynski has found a justice system more fallible than most would ever imagine.
When looking at death row inmates who have been released over the past decade thanks to DNA technology, he says there are a myriad of uncomfortable reasons so many innocent people have ended up on death row. He says everything from sloppy lab work and jailhouse snitches lying to get reduced sentences for themselves to tunnel blindness by police and political pressures on district attorneys to make arrests before the case is ready skew an already adversarial system that doesn’t seek the truth diligently enough.
Additionally, Kaczynski has found a legal system that is often racially and economically discriminatory, where sometimes the only way a convicted murderer can escape the chair, the needle, or the gas chamber is if they are lucky enough to have considerable financial resources to afford a top-shelf legal team.
Kaczynski hopes that years from now, society will look back at former Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s 2003 decision to suspend the death penalty in that state as the “death of the death penalty in this country.” Ryan was concerned by the number of apparently innocent men who had made it to his death row.
In New York state, which recently decided not to reinstate the death penalty, he found an example that is not only cruel, but also “grotesquely expensive,” even when compared to the cost of imprisoning a person for 50 years or more.
“In New York, the government spent $200 million to sentence seven people to the death penalty, [a decision] which was ultimately struck down. I consider that a $200 million failed legal experiment.”
Kaczynski would rather see that money being spent on making prisons safer, like not “double stacking” two violent offenders in the same cell, or on prevention programs out in the community.
As wrong as he feels the death penalty is, Kaczynski reserves special derision for states that take extra measures to execute mentally ill and incompetent inmates.
Because for Kaczynski, who is personally opposed to abortion, all life is precious. Even the life of his insane, murderous, violent brother — the one who still refuses to have any contact with him whatsoever.
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