Jonathan Zimmerman: Death Penalty Morally Wrong

Roundup: Historians' Take

Terrance Williams was sexually abused by the two men he killed, according to his lawyers. He was poorly represented at his trial, where jurors never heard about these circumstances. And the widow of one of his victims wants Williams' death sentence commuted.

But those aren't the strongest arguments for sparing the life of Terrance Williams, who is scheduled to be executed on Oct. 3. The best reason is the simplest: Capital punishment is inherently wrong, no matter the circumstances. And Philadelphians should understand that better than anybody else.

That's because the movement to abolish the death penalty in America began right here, in the City of Brotherly Love. On March 9, 1787 - just a few months before the drafting of the Constitution - Philadelphia physician and patriot Benjamin Rush delivered a stinging rebuke to capital punishment at a lecture in the home of another famous local patriot, Benjamin Franklin.

Part of Rush's argument would be familiar to us today: The death penalty won't deter the most vicious criminals. But his real concern - repeated until his own death in 1813 - was the effect of capital punishment on the rest of us....

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