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Will Michigan allow the death penalty for cop killers? Don’t bet on it

Jake Neher

It looks unlikely that a proposal to allow the death penalty in Michigan will go anywhere this term.

A resolution in the state Senate would allow the death penalty for people convicted of murdering police officers in the line of duty.

But the Republican chair of the committee considering the measure – who also happens to be a former police officer – says he will not support the measure.

“If a mistake is made, we can’t dig somebody up and say we’re sorry,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge.

“If somebody’s in prison, we can release them – hopefully even compensate them for the miscarriage of justice. So, I’m firmly against the death penalty.”

Jones is typically viewed as one of the more conservative members of the state Senate, and has built a reputation for subscribing to a “tough on crime” political philosophy. He says he will grant the resolution a committee hearing if there is significant support for it on the panel. But Jones says he will personally oppose it – and it is ultimately up to him to decide whether to hold a vote in committee.

Michigan became the first state – and possibly the first English-speaking territory in the world – to abolish capital punishment in 1847. Although it was technically allowed for a short time after statehood, the state has never performed an execution. Recent debates about whether to once again allow the death penalty have been infrequent and ill-fated. 

Sen. Virgil Smith, D-Detroit, says he introduced the resolution on behalf of one constituent in a newly-added area of his district whose son was killed in the line of duty.

“If you kill a cop, you’re the most egregious criminal out here,” said Smith. “If you’re willing to go that far, ain’t no telling what you’re willing to do. So, there’s no mercy at that point.”

Smith’s resolution does have support from the two top Republicans in the state Senate, Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, and Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Twp. Both are listed as cosponsors of the resolution.

The measure would need two-thirds support from both the state House and Senate. It would then need to be approved by Michigan voters.

The Michigan Catholic Conference issued a statement this week promising that it “will devote the full weight of its organization to oppose and defeat any effort to allow for state-sanctioned murder.”

“The death penalty is an antiquated and inhumane method of punishment representing nothing more than retaliation and more violence,” it said. “It has no place in a civilized society. The prohibition against capital punishment in the 1963 Michigan Constitution is clear: the state has no right to decide who lives and who dies.” 

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