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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: Some Thoughts on the Death Penalty

Friday, December 09, 2005

Some Thoughts on the Death Penalty

The impending execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams has pushed the question of the death penalty to the front of my mind. As recently as four years ago I supported the death penalty 100%. My thinking at the time was ‘an eye for an eye’. After the execution of Timothy McVeigh, my thinking began to change. The execution of McVeigh was not by any stretch an eye for an eye. The U.S. government gave this home-grown terrorist the gift of a peaceful and humane death; a gift the same government is trying to deny suffering individuals who want to end the suffering and leave this world with a modicum of dignity. I’m not so much opposed to the death penalty as I am how it is carried out in the United States. I suppose if it were carried out the right way, I would be more inclined to support the death penalty but I think there are better ways to punish murderers and deliver a measure of justice to victims’ families that no execution ever will.

The Death Penalty is Too Humane
Maybe there are others out there who oppose the death penalty because it is too humane. Why do I say that? A person sentenced to death spends decades appealing his sentence wasting the courts time, is allowed to have visitors, and is allowed comforts such as books, magazines, televisions, and workout facilities. If and when the execution does go forward, he is visited by a clergyman and a last meal of his choosing. The execution requires little or no pain; sterile needles are injected into the arms and the lethal dose sedates the condemned followed by a tranquil death.

If it where up to me, this is how the death row inmates would be treated:

- An individual who is sentenced to death would have one automatic appeal; no other appeals would be allowed unless new findings of exculpatory evidence are discovered.

- The execution would be carried out within six months of conviction.

- During the six months, the only contact with the outside world would be from hand written letters until the day of execution. If he or she is illiterate or can otherwise not write that’s just too damn bad.

- No books, magazines, televisions, or workout facilities would be available.

- No visits from a clergyman and no magistrate would be allowed to say “May God have mercy on your soul.” Why do we want to help the worst among us find ‘salvation’ and make them believe they are going to heaven after repeating a few lines? Unconditional forgiveness (for lack of a better term) is one of my many complaints with religion; some things (such as murder and rape) are unforgivable in my view. The very thought that perhaps the victim of a murder commits a comparatively minor sin (such as telling a white lie) is sent to hell while the person who killed him goes to heaven after ‘finding Jesus’ on death row infuriates me (doesn’t everyone find Jesus on death row?). Or maybe the victim of the murder is ‘saved’ and meets his or her murderer in heaven (probably the last person the victim would want to see). Maybe I’ll explore the whole ‘unconditional forgiveness’ thing some other time. Fortunately, I do not believe in such things: this life is all we have, don’t blow it!

-The victim’s family would decide what the last meal will be. If the family does not want to make a choice, the soon-to-be-executed thug would be served a loaf of bread (no butter) with water.

-The condemned would have no more than one hour of visitation by friends and family immediately before the execution.

-Last words would be limited to five minutes.

-The governor could not commute the sentence; the governor should not have the ability to second-guess the jury’s decision.

-The manner of execution would be similar to how the victims were murdered.

Would Life Without Parole Be a Better Alternative?
Even if the death penalty was carried out in the way I described, I still would have my reservations. The basic moral question is: Does the state have the authority to kill? I am very hesitant to say the government should have any such authority. If even one innocent person has been wrongfully executed, that is too many. The only alternative I can see is life in prison without parole. Actually, I am quite fond of Bill O’Reilly’s idea: instead of sending the worst dregs of society to their death, put them in work camps in Alaska. Eight hours of hard labor everyday in the harshest environment possible. No visitation – ever. No contact with the outside world. No books, television, cigarettes, or anything a person might take pleasure in.

In the event a person was later exonerated by new evidence, not only would the state be required to release him, but the state would also be required to pay the wrongfully imprisoned person a significant sum of money (say $1 million for each year incarcerated?). As horrible as it would be to lose many years of life behind bars that could never be taken back, at least the state could try to set things right. Once a person is executed, there is no going back.

Back to Reality
Unfortunately, I am not confident that any such steps will ever be taken. Monsters like Stanley “Tookie” Williams will continue to have the ability to make endless appeals, write books ‘to prove’ that he’s a good person now and perhaps be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Sympathetic writers will continue to write screen plays and imbecilic celebrities will portray him in a positive light telling us simpletons why he was wrongfully convicted. Victim’s families will continue to be victimized psychologically, and in death the victimizer may even become some sort of martyr. Martyrdom seems to be en vogue these days with terrorists (which includes Williams). As conflicted as I am about the death penalty, I certainly hope Governor Schwarzenegger does not cave in to these sympathetic pleas for clemency. Though Stanley “Tookie” Williams will receive an all too painless death, at least he will be dead.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Dan Szymkowiak said...

If you're trying to teach prisoners a lesson by executing them, trust me, they won't remember whatever it is you tried to teach them. If it's to curb crime rates, any criminologist will tell you that crime rates have a statistically negligible correlation to the presence of a death penalty. If it's to reduce prison population, the number of people on death row would not create a significant population boom in the long run, and there are other sectors of the prison population (people charged with possession, for example) that could be looked at.

The thing that bothers me about this Williams case is why he would get all this attention and celebrity while the hypothetical inmate with an IQ of 70 and illiterate will never, ever receive attention. I honestly believe he's done some good work, but this is more a media spectacle than reality in my opinion.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Stephen Littau said...

Dan:

When it comes to the death penalty, such things as curbing crime rates, teaching 'lessons', or reducing the prison population is irrelevant in my view. I see the death penalty as a way to exact revenge (an eye for an eye). I would agree with you about the death penalty's overall effectiveness in all those areas though.

If we want to curb crime rates and reduce the prison population, we need to end the war on drugs, release all non-violent drug offenders, and reserve prison only for individuals who have committed crimes against others. At the very least, we need to get rid of mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenders and put violent offenders to the front of the line (as I've written several posts on before).

The media spectacle of Williams bothers me as well. I don't know why some get attention and others do not. As to Tookie's good work: no amount of good deeds can ever erase the terrible crimes he committed. Like I said before, nearly all death row inmates 'find Jesus' but so what? Good behavior in prison or rehabilitation should never be a factor for clemency.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

The death penalty is a touchy subject.... I am a Christain and I think there are times and places for the death penalty. Tookie Williams murdered 4 or more people in extreme violent acts. He was not remorseful for the acts. He made fun of the victums. He was sentenced to death by a jury. Even if he found Christ and started doing good, he still has to pay for the conquences of his actions. He has no right to all this publicity. Jesus Christ will give him his final judgement!

When OJ Simpson got off for murdering his wife, I told TF that it didn't really matter because he would get his final judgement in due time. The Lord will sentence him to the place he will spend time and all eternity...That's much longer than what he will get on earth.

For those that don't believe in an eternity, well that probably influences you on your feels about the sentence.

It's still a touchy subject that I spin around in my mind every time something like this comes up. I just wish people would think about conquences before doing what they do.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Icarus Goodman said...

I also used to support the death penalty 100%, and in my mind, I would still love to see deserving criminals recieve this punishment. But you raise a good point about death beig too easy a sentence. An eternal sleep and escape from pain doesn't sound so bad. Maybe years of torture, or the labor camp idea, sounds more to my liking.

But, in the end, I cannot support the death penalty simply because I shiver to give the government that much power. Since our justice system is not 100%, I don't want to take the risk of mistakes and abuse, not to mention the precedent of saying the government has the right to systematically execute its citizens. Maybe one day we can invent memory scans or some other futuristic device that will enable us to be 100% sure of guilt, in which case, an eye for an eye sounds grand.

9:33 AM  
Blogger dudleysharp said...

Innocence & Deterrence in the Death Penalty Debate
Dudley Sharp, contact info below

Innocence

The false innocence claims by anti death penalty activists are legendary. Some examples:


"The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/08/the-innocent-executed-deception--death-penalty-opponents--draft.aspx


The 130 (now 139) death row "innocents" scam
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocence-and-the-death-penalty.aspx


"The Exonerated: Are Any Actually Innocent?"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2006/08/21/the-exonerated-are-any-actually-innocent---new-mexico.aspx


Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/05/04/sister-helen-prejean--the-death-penalty-a-critical-review.aspx


"At the Death House Door" Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/01/30/fact-checking-is-very-welcome.aspx


"The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/05/the-death-penalty-more-protection-for-innocents.aspx


"Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown", A Collection of Articles
http://homicidesurvivors.com/categories/Cameron%20Todd%20Willingham.aspx


"A Death Penalty Red Herring: The Inanity and Hypocrisy of Perfection", Lester Jackson Ph.D.,
http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=102909A


Deterrence

Anti death penalty folks would have us believe that the death penalty is not a deterrent. Yet, all prospects of a negative outcome deter some. It is a truism. The death penalty, the most severe of criminal sanctions, is the least likely of all criminal sanctions to violate that truism.


25 recent studies finding for deterrence, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation,
http://www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPDeterrence.htm


"Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/02/deterrence-and-the-death-penalty-a-reply-to-radelet-and-lacock.aspx


"Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let's be clear"
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/03/death-penalty-deterrence-murder-rates.html


"The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/05/the-death-penalty-more-protection-for-innocents.aspx


Sincerely, Dudley Sharp
e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

5:35 AM  

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