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Debating The Death Penalty

Like a majority of Americans, Al Gore and George W. Bush support the death penalty. But recently new questions have been raised about the fairness of capital punishment in this country.

Marc Klaas and David Kaczynski, two men personally effected by the death penalty but with opposite opinions of it, have been touring the country in an attempt to shine a light on the issue.

"What we're trying to do is bring a little depth to the issue, explore really what's going on here," Klaas, who supports the death penalty, told the CBS News Early Show.

"We hope that people can start thinking about it a little more deeply and arrive at more educated reasons for being either for or against it," he says.

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Kaczynski, Klaas' debating partner, explains why he opposes capital punishment.

"I think there's been a fairly shocking revelation that since 1977, when the death penalty was re-instituted in the United States, 89 people have been tried, sentenced, convicted to die and later found out to be innocent," he says.

"In Illinois, for example, there are more people found innocent on death row than guilty," Kaczynski says. "I think the risk of executing an innocent person is too great and we really need to protect the innocent, first of all."

But Klaas says there are no documented cases of innocent people being put to death. There's another problem he's concerned about.

"People on death row have been put back out into society to kill again. That's my concern," he says.

In 1993, Klaas' daughter, 12-year-old Polly Klaas, was kidnapped from her home, raped and murdered. Her killer, Richard Allen Davis, was a repeat sex offender with a history of alcohol and drug abuse.

Klaas says his family's tragedy altered his opinion of the death penalty.

"I was vaguely against the death penalty on some very kind of shaky -- I think philosophical -- grounds until I realized that evil does exist in our society, and the best way to deal with evil is to eradicate it," Klaas says.

He says there's no argument for rehabilitating the most serious criminals, like Davis. "Never has there been a documented case of a psychopath or a pedophile ever being cured in our society," Klaas says.

Kaczynski, for his part, says his view of the death penalty has remained consistent.

"I've always been opposed to the death penalty," Kaczynski says. "If we kill a person who has killed, we become, at least a little bit, like them. And I think that's not a place where I want to be."

In 1996, Kaczynski, who suspected his older brother Ted was the man authorities called "the Unabomber," turned Ted in to the FBI. Ted Kaczynski was sentenced to life in prison after his family persuaded the courts he was mentally ill.

"Something's very, very, very wrong with my brother. But I know he's a human being," he says. "And I don't think we can kill people once we see their humanity."

The death penalty hasn't been a major issue in the presidential race as both candidates favor it. George W. Bush, whose state leads the nation in executions, has said that he supports capital punishment because he believes it serves as a deterrent.

Kaczynski disputes that view.

"There is a vast body of literature on this subject which conclusively demonstrates that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder," he says. "It doesn't save lives. And I think it's really disturbing when you imagine that 143 people have been executed in Texas because Governor Bush is misinformed on this issue."

Bush told David Letterman that he would change his stand only if he became convinced that "the death penalty didn't save other people's lives."

If a perpetrator became truly remorseful, found religion and made a dramatic transformation, Klaas admits that might warrant reconsidering whether the death penalty is an appropriate punishment.

"I think if somebody has to find religion by laying out dead bodies, I certainly don't want to follow that individual and I don't want to step over the corpses to find the lord," he says. "If they've gotten to that path by doing that, that doesn't mean they shouldn't be facing their punishment."

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