And, as a final blow, he wrote, "I take no position on the desirability of the death penalty, except to say that its value is eminently debatable and the subject of deeply, indeed passionately, held views-which means, to me, that it is preeminently not a matter to be resolved here. And especially not when it is explicitly permitted by the Constitution."
After he retired, however, Stevens expanded upon his views in a 2010 piece in the New York Review of Books. He wrote about the family and close friends of the victims who "often suffer enormous grief and tangible loss." But he reiterated that the punishment of the defendant "cannot reverse or adequately compensate any survivor's loss."
An execution, he said, "may provide revenge and therapeutic benefits," but "it cannot alone justify death sentences."
He said that many of the thousands of condemned inmates on death row have repented and made positive contributions to society but that the "finality of an execution always ends that possibility."
"More importantly," he added, " that finality also includes the risk that the state may put an actually innocent person to death."