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.