August 13, 2007  


xxxAs the cold-blooded July 9 fatal shooting of Police Officer Russel Timoshenko turns the spotlight once again on New York state's death penalty debate, it's important to note that it's not just self-interest that compels most New York City police officers to support capital punishment for cop killers — and many to want it even for attempted cop killers. They're thinking not only of themselves but also of the other potential victims whose lives convicted murderers can claim.

Arguments focusing on deterrence, while not irrelevant, fail to address another important consideration — the safety of the humans who come into contact with homicidal career-criminals as they serve out their sentences of life without parole.

Someone desperate enough to gun down a New York City police officer poses a permanent threat to, among others, attorneys, court officers and even fellow inmates. There are cases where judges have been murdered by defendants in their courtrooms.

Correction officers are also vulnerable. A case in point was Donna Payant, an intelligent and devoted mother of three who served the public as a correction officer at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, N.Y. In May 1981, an inmate who was serving three consecutive life terms for a brutal double-murder lured Payant into the prison chaplain's office, strangled her with a thin cord and dumped her body in the prison garbage. She is by no means the only example.

When and if convicted, the men who killed Officer Timoshenko and tried to kill his partner, Officer Herman Yan, will have nothing to look forward to and nothing left to lose except their lives. As such, they are prime candidates to become prison predators.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has clearly stated his opinion that this case is not eligible to be prosecuted as a federal capital crime. But this is a discussion we shouldn't even be having. Let's protect society, including law enforcement and other criminal justice personnel in and out of correctional facilities, by writing and enacting a state death-penalty law that will withstand constitutional scrutiny, something the current in-limbo statute has been unable to do. The legislatures in 37 other states have accomplished that goal. Surely the Empire State's lawmakers are up to the task.