In my debating days, i used to argue that the death penalty existed because it acts as a deterrent against future crime. It would seem logical that a potential criminal would be deterred from committing a capital offense if there hung the threat of death as punishment if caught. Garnished with a bevy of cooked up statistics from obscure American states (which changed depending on what i thought the judges knew), i remember winning most of my capital punishment debates arguing along this line.
Even then, i knew this argument was wrong. Scratch under the surface of the argument and you will find that capital crimes are often irrational, illogical and, sometimes, downright evil. Murder is an irrational crime, and people do it for irrational reasons. The logic of deterrence does not apply to people who aren't thinking.
But that does not mean that the death penalty for murder is wrong. In fact, it is very right no matter what Governor George Ryan says.
Given that the accused is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the death penalty serves the rights of the kin of those who have died under the hands of the guilty. Certainly, this is an emotional argument that would probably not hold muster against rational thought. But think about it:
The people who "rationally" argue against the death penalty aren't the ones who have had their loved ones brutally slaughtered. Take any opponent of the death penalty, place him or her in the shoes of a person who can feel the pain of losing a husband, wife, child or mother to murder. I can almost guarantee a change of opinion.
Often, the only salve for such pain is revenge. A state is responsible for the physical AND emotional welfare of its people. Revenge sounds like a dirty word, but its principle is not necessarily wrong. Just as you expect others to do upon you as you would do upon them, you should expect to be done upon just as you have done upon others. That's justice.