Feb 22

Death Penalty-Painless or Abolition?

In Brief—It’s wasteful and illogical to work to make the death penalty painless for the condemned instead of working to abolish it altogether. Abolishing the death penalty would allow American society to address the many social problems that exist and become more civilized in the process.

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The Waste of the Death Penalty—

After months of torturous waiting on Death Row, the last nightmarish walk to the end of his life. Prisoner V is strapped down weighted by the long-dreaded expectation that his life will end in just moments. What must his thoughts have been as he waited in his lonely cell? What are his thoughts now?

Here are some possible reasons that V is facing the death penalty:

He is entirely innocent of any crime but is convicted based on mistaken identity. He is black and killed a white police officer. He is a risk-taking sadistic killer who enjoys killing. He has a criminal past but was miles away at the time of the crime and knows nothing of it. He is merely the perceived enemy of the person who accused him to get rid of him. He is mentally deficient and has no idea of the wrongfulness of his act. His lawyer was negligent during the trial or appeal.

Thirty-two American states currently have the death penalty. Most use lethal injection, some permit gas, a few use electrocution, two use hanging, one uses a firing squad, some of these states provide alternative methods and some allow the condemned person to choose. All deliberately kill a human being. Guilty, mentally deficient or innocent, the condemned is a human being.

Purposes of Punishment—

The purposes of legal punishment are: deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution and restitution. Deterence means that others will be deterred from criminal activity. Incapacitation means removing the convicted person from society so society will not be further victimized. Rehabilitation means that the convicted person will have his/her behavior positively altered so s/he will no longer victimize society. Retribution means an eye for an eye. Restitution is often for financial crimes and is not applicable for purposes of the death penalty.

In medieval times—and in some countries today—the condemned person was executed publicly. He/she was frequently tortured, often in full public view preceding the execution. Was this a deterrent? Clearly not! Crimes were still committed…even while the execution was taking place.

Pain versus Painless—

In Oklahoma, Charles Warner was in visible severe pain for several minutes before dying. Also in Oklahoma, Clayton Lockett writhed in pain for almost 45 minutes before dying. Surviving victims said he deserved the pain. Currently, the Supreme Court is considering whether potential pain suffered by the condemned amounts to “cruel and unusual” punishment under the constitution. As always, the court is concerned about whether the condemned person, a human, suffered pain before dying.

Today, the lawmakers of Oklahoma want to continue killing, but heaven forbid the condemned person should feel pain. One legislator has suggested nitrogen gas as a solution. Nitrogen, he points out, has the added benefits of avoiding the secret drug cocktail controversy that’s before the Court as well as providing the condemned with a quick, happy (!) death. Let the killing continue!

I suspect that I’m not the only one who finds this concern bizarre? Why are so many otherwise intelligent Americans concerned about any pain the condemned might suffer? Seems to me that that killing a person is worthy of concern far outweighing pain suffered. Why do we focus on pain and not on the enormous issue of the death penalty? Furthermore, that killing is done out of sight and in the name of all members of society. I certainly don’t want any person killed regardless of the crime for which that person has been convicted.

Learn, Don’t Kill—

Assuming the condemned person is not innocent, logic says that it makes sense to learn something about why one human kills another. That knowledge can benefit society in a variety of ways. Sure, it doesn’t give as many political points as appearing tough on crime, but society might learn from the incident.

The death penalty won’t bring back the victim and, while it might give emotional satisfaction to a family member, society could learn how to prevent the next death. Could anger management courses be strengthened? Could mental health treatment benefit? Could domestic violence be diminished? Could the perpetrator be rehabilitated? These and many benefits could result from abolishing the death penalty, and beyond saving taxpayer money, it could elevate America’s morality along with providing the country with useful information on prevention of future tragedies.

What About War?—

It’s one thing to abolish the death penalty, but with abolition how can we then say it’s not okay to kill within our borders while it’s okay to kill those “others” who live somewhere else in the world? Think about that.

Meanwhile, it’s time to abolish the death penalty and stop wasting money and time on the pain just so politicians can burnish their “cred” and families can get revenge. One step at a time. Let’s abolish the death penalty and take a step toward becoming civilized.

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  1. You can actually boil this down to one major reason to abolish the death penalty….The possibility of killing a person who is NOT guilty. No one can say with certainty that we have not already put to death an innocent person. There are any number of executions that are now suspect.

    I get it though….how can you allow a Ted Bundy or a David Berkowitz to live after what they’ve done? How? Well, turn it around. How can you take the chance that you might be killing an innocent person? Can you imagine for one second what the state of mind would be of an innocent person walking the long hallway to their end? You cannot?

    I’ve heard people say, “You can bet that by the time it reaches a death penalty trial, you’ve got the right suspect”. Maybe not so. Take the case of Ray Krone in 1992 when an Arizona jury sentenced him to death for a murder he did not commit. New DNA testing methods produced evidence that set him free after a years long court battle and the death sentence judgement. Modern testing saved him. And, while technology might make it more difficult to sentence an innocent person to death, the chance still remains.

    “Well”, they say, “it’s too bad if that happens, but in order to keep the deterrent, we have to take that chance”. If the death penalty was a deterrent, we would have put ONE person to death years ago and anyone else after that would have stopped short of committing a crime that would land them on death row. Right?

      • Don Bay on February 24, 2015 at 10:15
        Author

      You correctly point out one of the major flaws with the way the American judicial system works: What if an innocent person is executed? Krone is just one of many who have been shown to be innocent of the crime charged in time to stop the travesty…but not before years were served in the Hell of prison and death row.

      Tragically, quite a number of provably innocent people have been executed and it is only after they are dead—sometimes for years—that the executed person was found to have been innocent. Too late! The dead do not rise. Unfortunately, the morally-dead former Vice President, Richard Cheney, believes deliberately killing an innocent person is justifiable in order to get the guilty ones. It’s frightening that too many Americans agree with his warped view.

      A real irony is that the state engages in premeditated killing in order to deter others from killing. Huh? The killing goes on unimpeded among the citizenry with the state leading the way and setting the degenerate example. Someday, if humanity doesn’t kill itself off first, we’ll become civilized and abolish the death penalty, but I recommend not holding our breaths.

  2. Two thoughts: police and prosecutorial misconduct and actual innocence..

    There are so many instances of police and prosecutorial misconduct that this alone argues that the death penalty be abolished. Given that there could be misconduct, and that it happens many times, we need to think about the possibility of this every time we convict, and on the part of the judge, every time s/he gives the death penalty.

    Actual innocence has been found to be inadequate to overturn a conviction many times. For some reason, DNA or otherwise, it is shown that the person is actually innocent, but the powers that be argue that a jury has decided and that must stand. Actually innocent? Too bad, it has been decided and we must support the verdict. DNA proof of innocence more often wins the day, but misconduct?

    And of course, when the state murders it’s hard to argue that murder is wrong. Seems it’s only wrong if an individual (guilty or not) does it. If we together do it, murder is fine. No it’s not, it brutalizes us all.

      • Don Bay on February 24, 2015 at 09:44
        Author

      You are absolutely right on all your points, and I will emphasize one of them, namely the role of lazy, doctrinaire judges.

      Far too often, doctrinaire judges will say that the jury has spoken and, even though they are wrong, we must allow the innocent person to be executed. This is not only lazy but most importantly it ignores the fact that justice is the most important factor in America’s system. Justice is being willfully cast aside in favor of blind adherence to form. Form trumps justice. Any judge who allows this should be removed from the bench as unfit to serve as an arbiter in America’s system of justice for all.

    • Donna Boe on April 20, 2015 at 05:17

    I believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, and that the victim’s family doesn’t really get “closure” like they think they will. The family of the little boy killed in the Boston Marathon bombing expressed it really well when they asked the govt. not to seek the death penalty. The continuous trials and legal appeals forces the family to re-live the murder each time and prevents them from getting on with their lives. The numerous court appeals also costs the state or federal govt. a lot of money that could be better spent on justice reform, and drags out the case for years. So that by the time a person is actually executed, it could be years after the crime was committed.
    When I was in the legislature, the Director of Corrections arranged for our Methodist bishop and some of us to go on death row, and to meet one the of inmates there. “Tom” has been on death row for years and in solitary confinement all that time. There is no question about his guilt because he murdered another inmate in full view of many at the prison. He was chosen by the director because he wasn’t likely to yell obscene things at us or act in a negative way. Unusual for an inmate on death row, he was married a couple of years ago. I correspond with his wife, and occasionally send him a letter, a book or something. He sometimes sends us a letter with poetry he has written. He has been there for such a long time because of all the court appeals.
    Is Tom really the person that the state should execute? The Quakers realized that people can change; that’s why they set up “pententaries” where inmates were given the chance to be penitent. One death row inmate in Oregon spends his time writing letters to benefit a Catholic charity.
    I heard Sister PreJean speak in Idaho three years ago and have read two of her books. She makes a very strong case against the death penalty.
    It diminishes all of us when “our” government kills someone. I hope that we can eliminate the death penalty in this country in my life time.
    Donna

      • Don Bay on April 20, 2015 at 09:54
        Author

      You hit all the points for abolition of the death penalty. I will only underline the point that the state is setting a poor example for the preciousness of life when it takes a life in the name of all the people.

      Fortunately, the abolition of the death penalty is on the horizon if only the conservatives on the Supreme Court would recognize that. No matter how they rationalize it, it is cruel and unusual punishment. It’s past time for the United States to join the civilized nations of the world.

    • Don Bay on August 9, 2015 at 17:42
      Author

    This pingback gives me the chance to say that the death penalty is not only immoral, it puts its proponents in the position of saying that murder is wrong for you citizens, but it’s okay for the state to kill as an example that killing another person is wrong. Put more clearly, the state is being inconsistent.

    There are more arguments against the death penalty, but the state’s position is simply irrational and indefensible.

  1. […] up, and assuming you have read my earlier piece on dumping the death penalty, it is clear that the five Republican politicians in black robes will twist themselves into pretzels […]

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