Novelist and publisher Susan Hill has responded to this posting in comments.
After life-long opposition to the death penalty I am now drawn to the idea that it is possible to forfeit your right to life at the hands of the state. Even when my close friend, the writer Robert Tewdwr Moss was murdered back in '96 I did not think his two killers should be executed: the state should never be given such power, and I thought of the spiritual repercussions - which either you believe in or you don't. Every day it is possible to read of yet another criminal outrage here and abroad. But the recent pornographic murder of the two French students in London persuades me that in very, very rare circumstances convicted killers ought to die at our hands.
It would be for the prosecution to bring a special application for the death penalty after conviction - the onus would be on it to adduce peculiarly cruel and obscene factors in the case: it must be for lawyers to define what amounts to peculiar cruelty and obscenity since the premeditated taking of life in the first place is the ultimate cruelty. Such factors would tend to reflect on the nature of the killer - on whether, for example, he or she demonstrated an especial malignancy, an enduring hostility beyond psychiatric treatment. The argument that we should not countenance execution for fear of a miscarriage of justice does not work for me anymore: no system is infallible; justice never was. We do not cease to fly because of the very rare plane disaster.
Against this, some will point out that Barry George is currently appealing his conviction for the murder of Jill Dando. Would he not now be hanged if I had my way? Under my proposal he would not face execution: it would not be enough to show that he acted in cold blood or that the victim was a much-loved TV personality. But my view might be different if Dando's killer was a serial professional one, as I suspect. (Incidentally, have you noticed how the press made a big deal of the appeal case against him - front-page headlines about what was found at his home - a loner - the usual crap - but now relegate his side of things to a few paragraphs? That's the press for you, hanging judges all, always prejudiced)
Robert's killers will be out in 2011, probably. He was beaten up for no good reason, tied up and gagged, and left to die slowly by choking. No doubt the psychos' loving families are counting the days.