The Search for Kinder, Gentler Executions

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The bizarre debate about whether lethal injection is a sufficiently "humane" method of execution–a kind and gentle enough way to kill someone–adds to my growing doubts about the death penalty. I used to be confident enough in supporting capital punishment to defend it in print, but over the years I've been increasingly troubled by the slowness of its application and the possibility of executing an innocent man, which is the sort of mistake you can't correct. These two concerns, of course, are at odds with each other, because the more careful you are to avoid executing the wrong guy, the longer the process takes. Meanwhile, making a condemned man sit on death row for years is a kind of torture, which the criminal justice system is not supposed to inflict.

Or is it? Referring to rapist-murderer Michael Morales, whose California execution has been delayed while a federal judge decides whether the state is killing people as painlessly as possible, New York Law School professor Robert Blecker tells The New York Times: "There are some people who deserve a quick but painful death. Not everyone who deserves to die deserves to die painfully. But if you are a sadist who rapes, consciously inflicts pain, and takes pleasure in it as you torture your helpless innocent victim to death, then you deserve to die quickly but painfully."

Presumably, some crimes are so heinous that their perpetrators deserve to die slow and painful deaths. If so, should the government deliberately torture them? That seems to be the logic of retribution, the gussied-up version of revenge that is one of the criminal justice system's main goals. Maybe we're moving in the wrong direction, seeking increasingly sanitized, mechanized, and hidden methods of execution when we should be moving toward more brutal, hands-on, and visible methods, such as public hangings or communal stoning. Those would not only have more of an eye-for-an-eye feel; they probably also would be more effective at deterrence.

Plus they would pose the moral question more starkly: Granted that some people deserve to die, should the government be in the business of killing them in cold blood? You can argue that in a state of nature a murder victim's relatives have a right to deadly retribution, a right exercised on their behalf by the state once a government is established. There is an undeniable intuitive appeal to the biblical injunction, "Whosoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." At a time when there were no prisons to incapacitate murderers, this approach was certainly better than the alternative. But now that murderers can be locked away for life, I'm not sure it is anymore, especially when the choices that courts make between these two options seem, taken as a whole, utterly arbitrary.

If I were a committed opponent of the death penalty (I'm not quite there yet), I would not be complaining about the cruelty of lethal injection. I'd be pushing for crueler and more conspicuous forms of execution, a campaign supporters of the death penalty also should be able to get behind. If they're right, execution should not be done behind closed doors by medical technicians and machinery. It should be done in broad daylight, preferably with blood and pain.

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  1. As an opponent of the death penalty, I still support public executions. Let the people see what they’re voting and paying for.

  2. I at one time envisioned “The Execution Channel.” Talk about a deterrent. And bring back the firing squad! That’s how I would go.

  3. Maybe we’re moving in the wrong direction, seeking increasingly sanitized, mechanized, and hidden methods of execution when we should be moving toward more brutal, hands-on, and visible methods, such as public hangings or communal stoning. Those would not only have more of an eye-for-an-eye feel; they probably also would be more effective at deterrence.

    Yeah, that worked out real well for England when they did it. Shit, they hung people for petty theft there, and it had pretty much no effect on the crime rate at all.

  4. In “Oliver Twist,” Fagin sends the gang out to pick pockets at Tyburn because the witnesses at an execution are more distracted and the pickpockets have an easier time of it. Dickens is at pains to point out that many of those being executed were, in fact, pickpockets.

    I’m neutral on the death penalty. I don’t think it’s a deterrent, as evidenced by the literary reference, and until we make perfect humans, it can never be applied perfectly. By definition if you execute the wrong guy, the right way gets away with it, and the incentives for the cops and prosecutors to correct themselves after the execution is, shall we say, wanting. At least with whole life sentences, there is the chance that mistakes can be ameliorated later.

    On the other hand, death penalty opponents are the best argument in support of capital punishment. The whole circus around Tookie Williams sickened me completely. Save the tears for someone who deserves it, not that vicious thug. Because of the tendency of capital punishment foes to cry big tears over this week’s vicious thug who’s really, really sorry, I’m convinced they don’t mean life without parole to be what it has to be in order to be sufficient punishment. Life without parole only works if it really is life, that is, if those convicted never draw another free breath, and no one comes along when they’re old and gray and argues for their release because they’re old. The victims never got the chance to be old, so I’m completely without sympathy.

    Having gotten that rant off my chest, I can now go back to work. Thanks,

  5. I support the death penalty simply because of its use as a deterrent as opposed to some representation of my moral code or sense of justice. Criminals and potential criminals have to know there are consequences to their actions. The death penalty is that extra incentive not to “finish the job”. If the penalty for murder and severe assault are the same why not just kill off the witness? You’re less likely to get caught. And hey, if you do who cares you were already getting Life anyway.

  6. Oops. “If you execute the wrong guy, by definition the right one gets away with it.”

    Preview, always preview, especially long emotional rants.

  7. What often goes overlooked in the death penalty debate is the fact that executing someone prevents them from murdering again. I’m not talking about the miniscule risk of a prisoner, who would otherwise have been executed, escaping from prison and murderering again, but, what would seem to me, the very real risk of someone, who would otherwise be put to death, murdering another prisoner or ordering the death of someone who isn’t in jail, be it a rival gang member, informer, witness, etc.

  8. I’m becoming more of a skeptic over time as well. I remain unconvinced that an humane and accurate death penalty apparatus is immoral, but that accuracy constraint is pretty important.

    I used to believe that there was an efficiency constraint that should be applied as well, but lately I’ve been reconsidering what efficiency actually means in this context. The cost of imprisonment is high, but the number of death penalty cases as a percent of total prison population is low.

    The valid arguments in favor of a death penalty should be tied primarily to deterrent value, if there is any. I don’t like the capitalized Justice System, as the implication of that name is that the realization of some platonic ideal of justice is the primary function of the system. In fact, the justice system’s primary function is to align incentives. So, I am unpersuaded by the idea that capital punishment serves justice is some more pure sense than life inprisonment. Who cares? The relevant questions are what does each option cost, what are the incentives they create, and are we sufficiently protected from the immediate threat.

  9. Yeah, that worked out real well for England when they did it. Shit, they hung people for petty theft there, and it had pretty much no effect on the crime rate at all.

    Indeed, the late John Diefenbaker (former Prime Minister of Canada and considered by some to have been the foremost criminal defense lawyer in that country) told how his grandfather attended the public hanging of two pickpockets in Newmarket, Upper Canada in the 1830’s. During the event four spectators had their pockets picked.

    He used the story to illustrate the lack of deterrent value of capital punishment during the parliamentary debates on the death penalty in the early 1970’s.

  10. Don’t quite get why its so necessary to find a painless method of execution. Death is generally accompanied by pain or major unpleasantess. Humans face that possibility and I can’t see how you should be exempt by virtue of committing a capital crime. I don’t feel any sympathy due to the pain of the method unless it is a method that is incorporating additional pain for the purpose of torture. I am also highly sceptical that capital punishment is not a deterrent. The effects are probably made insignificant by the fact that regardless of quality of evidence you seem to have to move a mountain and wait an eternity to get a murderer executed. Is it also possible that opponents are not being consistent when they fail to argue with equal certainty against other ‘collateral damage’ examples where it seems generally accepted that a few innocents buying it is acceptable? Just wondering, proceed with castigation now.

  11. But in our constant-surveilance society, couldn’t the ubiquitous use of cameras tend to eliminate the “killing the wrong person” problem?

    I’m not a supporter of the death penalty by any means, but doesn’t technology change the equation a little?

  12. I have no sympathy for the executed guilty. Most people don’t get a quick or relatively painless death. After watching the elderly deteriorate in pain over a number of years, I have no symptathy at all for someone who gets to go by lethal injection. We should all be so lucky as to die that way.

  13. Capital punishment is NOT about deterrents, it’s about Punishment. As for painless ways to kill someone, how about carbon monoxide?

  14. “It should be done in broad daylight, preferably with blood and pain.”

    Two men enter, one man leaves!

  15. Karen, you made you post at 11:14 AM while I was composing mine.

    I was going to add that I had heard the anecdote elsewhere since I heard it from “The Leader”.

    I had also forgotten the Oliver Twist reference. I wonder if Dief had perhaps incorporated fiction into his own family’s history and made it fact in his own memory. He was an imaginative and flowery orator and a persuasive debater.

  16. I have long been of the opinion that exceutions should be public, bloody and painful for many of the same the reasons cited in the article, but I would go one step further and require that all TV and radio stations to carry the execution live and that all public events must stop for one minute at the time of the execution. It is all too easy for the pulic to view execution as an abstraction that is done by “others” in sanitized room behind prison walls. The truth is that every citizen shares the burden of responsibility for the act of execution. It’s time to force the general public to acknowledge and take some responsibility for what is being done on their behalf.

  17. If we were really honest about wanting a quick, painless way of execution, we’d kneel the convicted down, put a 30.06 deer rifle loaded with 180 grain soft points to his head, and blow his brains out in microseconds. All the debate about the cruelty of lethal injection would be moot.

  18. “It should be done in broad daylight, preferably with blood and pain.”

    Two men enter, one man leaves!

    Have you been reading the “Great Outdoor Fight” story arc at Achewood?

    It’s riveting stuff, man.

  19. Can you be agnostic?

    I’m unconvinced that the death penalty is a deterrent.

    I’m unconvinced that death is the ultimate punishment.

    I don’t however really have a problem with it.

  20. The deterrent factor in the death penalty is dubious.

  21. I’ve always seen the death penalty as being analagous to putting down a feral dog. You can’t train a feral animal to be a house pet, and you certainly can’t just turn them loose.

    Same goes for some people, unfortunately. For whatever reason, they are compelled to be dangerously violent, and we’re better off without them.

    However, I think that the US has handled the death penalty badly, and like Jacob Sullum, I’ve come to be hesitantly against it. Of course, incarcerating dangerously violent people wouldn’t be a problem if our prisons weren’t stuffed full of nonviolent drug offenders.

  22. I’ve been reading H&R long enough to know that a lot of you arguing as opponents this stuff should be publicized/televised would in any other hypothetical argument, be pointing out that this is an emotional ploy, and that on the flip-side if many of the murders committed could have likewise been televised, there may be a massive increase in CP support.

  23. would go one step further and require that all TV and radio stations to carry the execution live and that all public events must stop for one minute at the time of the execution. The truth is that every citizen shares the burden of responsibility for the act of execution. It’s time to force the general public to acknowledge and take some responsibility for what is being done on their behalf.

    When my state executed a serial killer named Michael Ross a few months back (he raped and murdered four teenage girls), I was damned glad they did it, though I think it was more on behalf of the victims and their families than for me. The only reason I personally do not take any responsibility for Ross’ death is because I am too honest to take credit for accomplishments that are not my own.

    But why should ordinary people be required to stop what they’re doing and pretend that humanity is somehow diminished by the execution of a mass murderer? You may as well require people to spend a moment of silence after they flush the toilet, to mourn the loss of something that was once a part of them. Fuck that.

  24. Phil, Karen, Isaac:

    The fact that the death penalty fails to deter in some cases does not imply that it fails to deter in all cases. If one of you wants to point to a society that introduced or revoked the death penalty and didn’t experience a change in behavior, that would be a solid argument for the claim that the death penalty is not an effective general deterrent.

    Please note that I make no claims about whether such a study exists. Maybe this evidence exists, and maybe it supports your conclusion, but the arguments you’ve presented so far regarding the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent are obviously flawed.

  25. The criminal “justice” system is so stodgy. They stick with a “new, improved” method for decades.

    Want a quick way to execute?

    Something like a guillotine, explosive load drives bolt into the spinal cord just below the skull. That should work.

    Anyway, with the protections, life imprisonment is less expensive than execution.

    I oppose government execution on prinicple rather than from personal sentiment. At the very least it should only be permitted in case of absolute certainty of the guilt of the convicted.

  26. The deterrent angle seems to only work in cases where the crime is premeditated by a reasonable person. I doubt most captial offenses meet both criteria. It sounds like a poor attempt at justifiying state-sanctioned murder from someone who’s never committed a crime and has no ability to understand the thinking and process that leads a person to commit violent acts.

  27. I’m against the death penalty because

    1) I’m not 100% sure about anything
    2) It’s not a deterrent
    3) I doubt it saves any money.

    But I could be swayed into supporting it only for use against public servants.

  28. The death penalty should only be imposed at the moment the crime in question is about to be, or is in the process of being, committed — either by the victim of said crime, or by a witness to it. For that reason I support people being able to arm themselves.

    At no other time should the death penalty be imposed. It is useless as a deterrent (we still have the highest murder rate of any western country while most of our peers do not have it) and the State is far too incapable of perfection in its doings to allow it such a power. All of the benefits of a death penalty conviction goes to the prosecutor while there are no benefits to the defender for getting a suspect off (especially if said suspect subsequently does do something aweful)… it is all skewed.

    I am always amazed that Libertarians would grant the state this power. Leave it to the people alone.

  29. “Capital punishment is NOT about deterrents, it’s about Punishment.”

    I don’t buy this as a legitimate argument for a state sponsored institution. Punishment implies an analysis of desert, and there may be no more mushy concept in philosphy than desert. Analyzing desert is not something the government is especially qualified to do. Definining Punishment and Justice as roles of the government is grounding the function of government in quasi religious concepts.

  30. The death penalty is neither deterrent nor retribution.

    The death penalty has to do with the place that society accords the voice of the victim, a voice that is missing.

  31. I’ve been reading H&R long enough to know that a lot of you arguing as opponents this stuff should be publicized/televised would in any other hypothetical argument, be pointing out that this is an emotional ploy,

    I think just about EVERYTHING the government does should be public. My desire to see traffic court hearings publicized isn’t an emotional ploy.

    and that on the flip-side if many of the murders committed could have likewise been televised, there may be a massive increase in CP support.

    There’s a reasonable suggestion. I’ll tell you what – if you videotape a murder, I’ll support broadcasters’ right to air it.

  32. I would pay to see the execution by decapitation of serial spammers.
    I would pay a lot.

  33. When William Penn founded Pennsylvania the English criminal code had something like 170 capital crimes. Penn’s charter is famous for reducing that number to two, Murder and Treason. Since then Quakers have (as everyone probably knows) evolved into rabid opponents of the death penalty under any circumstances.

    I understand that when Michigan became a state in 1837 it was the first English speaking government in the world to ban the death penalty. Until the 1970’s state governments increasingly liberalized with some outright abolishing. For most of that period European countries continued to use the death penalty and abolition came later.

    I find it interesting that on this issue and others the positions of Europe and the US have almost completly reversed over the last century or so.

    The fact that the death penalty fails to deter in some cases does not imply that it fails to deter in all cases.

    This is true. It is worth noting that many of the anecdotes reference common petty crimes which are common by virtue of the fact that they are perceived to be easy and the perpetrators have a high expectation of ever actually being caught.

    However I do recall hearing of a study which found an increase in homicides immediately before and after a highly publicized execution. The suggestion was that some people felt they had the right to carry out their own “death penaties” against people who had transgressed against them.

    Since it was by a bleeding heart liberal in a “progressive” christian publication I’ m not sure I put that much stock in it though. It should not be summarily dismissed either.

    I tend to oppose the death penalty for both principled and pragmatic reasons. That said I frequently find it hard to sympathize with the people who have committed the heinous acts that have led to their condemnations. But, by the same token, I have never felt that my emotions were a good basis for public policy.

  34. in re: deterrents

    “An armed society is a polite society.” -R.A.H.

    I agree with Garth that the only lethal punishment acceptable in a society of free persons is that delivered in an on-the-spot fashion.

  35. Foucault had a lot to say on this matter.

  36. “The death penalty has to do with the place that society accords the voice of the victim, a voice that is missing.”

    I don’t get this either. The voice of the victim is a poor criteron for determining the allowable limits of punishment (small p). The victim’s voice is heard in life inprisonment as opposed to some lesser punishment. That a society may not allow death as an outcome is no indication that society is deaf to the voice of the victim.

  37. In the old west they didn’t always punish someone who killed another man, but they came down hard on the horse thieves. As the saying went, there were always going to be men who needed to be killed, but there was never a horse that needed to be stolen.

    While I am against the death penalty, I am all for encouraging that segment of the criminal element to commit suicide. Conviction of a crime that previously carried the death penalty should include a mandatory sentence of 24/7 incarceration in a room the size of a closet, with a cot, a sink, shower stall and a toilet. You get three edible, nutritious, cheap meals a day and will never see natural sunlight again. When they are handed their prison jumpsuit standard issue should include a razor blade and a vial of sleeping pills with the toiletries. No matter what it will be significantly cheaper than what we currently have.

  38. Alain: If Capital punishment is not meant to be used as a deterrent and only as a punishment then why have a punishment? We make associations between actions and repercussions to those actions because we don’t want people to do certain things. This is why you give children rules and punish them for bad behavior: so they won’t do it or if they do, so they will not repeat that behavior.

    On another note, with all the talk of “who is responsible” in the death of a murderer, whether it be the government or individuals for making up that government, the fact that the murderer CHOSE to murder someone is being ignored. Ultimately the person responsible for the death of the murderer is the murderer. He made a choice and now he has to live with it…or die with it as the case may be. No one forced him to take a life, and if he was forced he can present the evidence at trial. What happened to taking responsibility for your own actions?

  39. Ok, ok, ok, let’s get rid of the death penalty already, sentence people to LWP, maybe even do what Swillfredo suggests (Good ideas. How about chaining them on no more than one foot lenght 24/7 and why the hell should the taxpayer fund such luxuries as a shower and toilet? They need some incentive to use the razor. Geez)
    Then we can all rest in peace that no innocent person will ever be irreversibly punished, walk away and let them rest, er.. rot, er… whatever, in peace.

  40. The victim’s voice is heard in life inprisonment as opposed to some lesser punishment.

    There are many lesser crimes which can also qualify one for life imprisonment. Deliberate pre-meditated murder is a more serious crime, and therefore worthy of a more serious penalty. Why let the criminal have a better time of it than his victims had? My only complaint about the execution of Michael Ross was that he suffered far less than his victims, even though he was far more worthy of death than any of those young girls were.

  41. I couldn’t agree with Garth more. The death penalty fails for a whole host of reasons and succeeds only in satisfying the desire for vengence that seems far too primal to be endorsed by the government. This post would be far too long if I discussed all my objections to the death penalty, but the short list of libertarian reasons as follows:
    1) The government cannot be granted that much power. I don’t grant anyone the “right” to take my or anyone else’s life.
    2) The death penalty is overly expensive and bureacratic. I believe the buracracy is necessary in this instance and therefore, reform is not an option.
    3) The penalty is not practical. Without any normative benefit, and the embarrassment of sharing policy with Iran and Libya, it is not worth it. To practically fight crime, policy makers need to be resourceful and diligent; not vengeful.

    As for correcting its problems, I think Justice Blackmun said it best by noting the constant problems in maintaining the penalty and stating “from this day forward, I shall no longer tinker with the machinery of death.”

  42. I believe the goal of capital punishment is not punishment per se, but permanent removal of the transgressor from society. This permanency can be accomplished just as easily by life imprisonment as by execution. The possibility for error makes execution a troublesome option.

    Some criminal acts are so horroble that those who commit them should never walk free. Some crimes are irreversible, but the punishment for them should not be.

  43. I believe the goal of capital punishment is not punishment per se, but permanent removal of the transgressor from society. This permanency can be accomplished just as easily by life imprisonment as by execution. The possibility for error makes execution a troublesome option.

    Some criminal acts are so horroble that those who commit them should never walk free. Some crimes are irreversible, but the punishment for them should not be.

  44. Without any normative benefit, and the embarrassment of sharing policy with Iran and Libya, it is not worth it.

    Comparing our death penalty with Iran’s is not an honest comparison; we don’t execute people for adultery, blasphemy, homosexuality or criticizing the government. You may as well point to all the people China has imprisoned on religious grounds and then say we shouldn’t imprison people, because it is embarrassing to share a policy with the Chinese.

  45. digamma, the suggestion was never meant to be reasonable, which is why the language “hypothetical” and “if…could be” is there. The point is that how people would react to publicizing (and try to convince me this wouold not be a skewed presentation – in both cases) of an emotional event cuts both ways and really is not a strong argument. And if you want to really grind on this, I’m sure a few good dramatizations well publicized at key opportunities would have much of the same effect.

  46. I’m against the death penalty because

    1) I’m not 100% sure about anything
    2) It’s not a deterrent
    3) I doubt it saves any money.

    Are you sure about #2 Russ?

  47. Right now I am against the death penalty on pragmatic grounds. Get back to me when we have a more libertarian state (i.e. downsized, accountable, and knows its place). Then we can discuss principle.

    It may be that any state I would trust with the death penalty would not exercise that power.

  48. Another question occurs to me: if the penalty for murder becomes simple life imprisonment, won’t you then have to reduce the number of other crimes which make one eligible for life imprisonment?

    For example, kidnapping can be grounds for a life sentence, but if the penalty for kidnapping is the same as the penalty for murder, then what incentive does a kidnapper have to keep his victim alive? The same goes for serial rapists–once a man has raped X number of women he’ll likely face life imprisonment if he’s convicted, which means that at a certain point the penalty for rape is the same as the penalty for murder, so why then would a rapist keep his victims alive and risk their identifying him?

  49. I’ve never seen a study that can objectively show that the death penalty has a “deterrent effect.”

    Occasionally there are anecdotes, but anecdotes are hardly data.

    Like someone trying to pass off a “Free energy” device, I think the “deterrent effect” crowd is full of crap.

  50. It’s really a simple question: can the government be trusted to not kill innocent people?

  51. Crooked cops and DA’s motivated by the thought of political careers really exist, alnog with juries that are sick of the case and want to get home, juries that are just don’t like the defendant, or that are convinced by mistaken testimony from eyewitnesses. I read somewhere that up to 4% of all convictions are mistaken. (I wish I could find the source. I thought it might be the Innocence Project http://www.innocenceproject.org/ , but I didn’t see any statistics there.)

    I used to be very much in favor of the DP. I would still be in favor of it if it could be applied correctly. Like a lot of posters here, the “cruel and unusual” argument holds no water for me. I think Jeffrey Dahmer deserved a much MORE painful death than the one he received. Once the state executes an innocent however, then it has committed manslaughter, if not murder. As someone else pointed out, at least with imprisonment, the wrongly convicted can get some part of their lives back.

  52. The death penalty has to do with the place that society accords the voice of the victim, a voice that is missing.

    i’m no prosecutor, but even if the victim was a staunch dp opponent, couldn’t the government still seek it on their own behalf – or more loosely – society’s behalf.

    if so, isn’t it possible that the death penalty is not solely about the voice of the victim, especially when it can be outright ignored.

    i view the death penalty in a similar light to the schiavo-living will thing. it is important to have a very strange conversation with your family/spouse/whoever regarding what they would want to have happen to their killer if they were murdered.

  53. I oppose capital punishment for the following reason:

    Each individual human life has value, regardless of the judgement the government or our peers may pass. To choose to execute someone else is to pass a final judgement that is not within your right.

    For this reason, whether or not it’s a deterrent is irrelevant.

  54. I oppose capital punishment for the following reason: Each individual human life has value

    What was Ted Bundy’s value–population control?

  55. What about the poor innocent people in jail for life without parole?
    At least on death row you get your case looked at with a fine tooth comb to make sure your guilty, but lifers who are innocent don’t even get the time of day. My guess is that there are more innocent lifers than on death row.

  56. I say we switch over to the old Soviet method…a 9mm to the back of the head while being walked down a corridor. It would be painless and, if done well, the criminal wouldn’t even know it was happening.
    At 40 cents a round, we could clear out death row for next to nothing.

  57. won’t you then have to reduce the number of other crimes which make one eligible for life imprisonment?

    That’s a fair question, but also can serve in the reverse. You can only kill a guy once, so what is to deter him once he hits that threshold? Perhaps we can progressively make the conditions of lifetime incarceration better or worse based on the conviction. If you are a rapist, basic cable. A second degree murderer gets rabbit ears only.

  58. That’s a fair question, but also can serve in the reverse. You can only kill a guy once, so what is to deter him once he hits that threshold?

    How about–the more people you kill, the more prolonged and painful your execution will be?

  59. I’d rather just apply the death penalty at the time of the violent attack where possible.

    Saves time, saves money, saves legal resources.

    Florida’s castle doctrine law makes sense in removing the victim’s duty to flee.

    Suicidal office/school/mall/church shooters aren’t afraid of the death penalty, but they seem to be afraid of something. I haven’t of any cases where someone went on a shooting rampage at a firing range.

    The threat of immediate death at the hands of your victim seems to be a significant deterrent.

  60. The death penalty has little to do with the executed. It has everything to do with stopping the punishment of the taxpayer keeping the convict alive and in good health for 60 years and everything to do with closure for the families of the convicts victims.

    Death is not unusual. The FFs only spoke out against cruel AND unusual not either in isolation. These guys were not the linguistic dolts of today, they said what they meant.

  61. “Why let the criminal have a better time of it than his victims had?”

    My position is that this is an irrelevant question, except to the extent it has bearing on a deterrent effect.

  62. “making a condemned man sit on death row for years is a kind of torture” —

    No man or woman on death row has to my knowledge ever made that argument. Wanting to get the sentence over with is not the same thing as believing you are being tortured by being made to wait for it to happen.

  63. “It has everything to do with stopping the punishment of the taxpayer keeping the convict alive and in good health for 60 years and everything to do with closure for the families of the convicts victims.”

    I don’t think it is the function of government to supply closure. I do accept the efficiency argument, except that it has to be balanced with sufficient guarantees that very few to no innocents get killed by the state, which tends to make the process less efficient.

  64. robert cote,

    i disagree and i think you are taking an ambiguous phrase too literally.

    if i state that i am an opponent of rape and murder do you think i only mean when they are done together and that when done in isolation are just fine?

  65. I don’t think it is the function of government to supply closure.

    Maybe not, but by proposing life sentences rather than execution for serial killers, you’re saying in practice that the government should deny closure to the families of the victims. “My little girl is dead, and the SOB who raped and killed her will only die of old age.”

  66. So I was having a little chat with The Law Of Unintended Consequences earlier today about getting rid of the death penalty because of the possibility of killing the wrong guy.

    He told me, “oh, the death penalty actually increases scrutiny! Extremely careful jury selection, extremely detailed appeals processes, lots and lots of chances to be found innocent and exonerated!

    “If you guys get rid of the death penalty, these things will go away. Just throw the guy in the clink for life without possibility of parole and who gives a fuck, right? Are you gonna finish that?”

    I gave him the rest of my cheeseburger. I didn’t have much of an appetite by that point.

  67. Darn it, BPerry already made that point.

    LESS ENTERTAININGLY, THOUGH!

  68. Jennifer, if I don’t have the right, as an individual, to exact revenge on someone by killing them*, then how can the government?

    Not to go all Objectivist, but rights aren’t additive.

    *This does not include self-defense.

  69. My only problem with the death penalty is that there is no way to administer it perfectly. Texas Monthly had a good article on capital punishment in the last months of 2004. (I’m sorry I can’t narrow it down further.) From that article I learned that the biggest risk in getting a death sentence isn’t race or class but geography, specifically commiting a murder in Harris Co. (For the non-Texans, Harris Co. is Houston.) Harris County accounts for 1/3 of the capital sentences in the US and 2/3 of those issued in Texas. Dallas, Tarrant, Travis, and Bexar (Dallas, Ft. Worth, Austin, and San Antonio) account for virtually all the remainder. 240 of Texas’ 254 counties have never issued a capital sentence since the reauthorization in the 1970’s. To be fair, Harris is the largest county with a high crime rate, but far from %66 of all Texas’ violent crime. My own home county had a sensational robbery – murder last year, but the DA isn’t seeking the death penalty because the county just can’t afford it. It’s either one death sentence or several miles of county highway. (I’m not sure if they would have spent the money if either sex or children were involved.) Had the criminal lacked the foresight to cross county lines from Dallas, he would be on death row now.

    The geography problem would be bad enough, but there are numbers of cases in which the cops and DA’s acted with less than scrupulous care. The most famous one is the DuPage Co. Illinois case where the cops just faked evidence. They never quite caught on to the fact that it’s no deterrent to convict the wrong guy and let the actual perp get away with it. A county in West Texas obtained a death sentence (since, thankfully, overturned) against a guy for setting a fire that killed three people, without producing evidence that the fire was arson. It was later demonstrated that the trailer burned because of a wiring problem. My state very nearly killed a man for surviving an accident.

    Having said that, I despise the tactics used by organized opponents of the death penalty. “Dead Man Walking” was a complete whitewash of one of the vilest thugs ever to walk on two feet. Helen Prejean may be a nice person, but she has truly lousy taste in friends. She was on a “Frontline” episode about the incidents that led to the book. When confronted with the evidence given by Willie’s surviving victim, Sis. Prejean said “I believe she [the victim] saw a different side of him than I did.” No shit, Sis. The constant parade of scary thugs who have “truly changed” is a really bad political tactic.

    When it comes down it, I oppose capital punishment because I can’t be perfectly administered, and if anything needs to be perfect, this one does. This gives me no satisfaction because I know that most of the guys on death row richly deserve it. The food, water, and oxygen required to keep them alive would be better used on rats, roaches, and fire ants. (Again for those of you north of the Mason – Dixon, fire ants are an imported tropical species whose extinction, even where they came from, would be the greatest boon to humanity since the discovery of winemaking.)

  70. Jennifer, if I don’t have the right, as an individual, to exact revenge on someone by killing them*, then how can the government?

    You don’t have the right to imprison somebody who tries to kill you, so how can the government?

  71. The 8th Amendment most certainly does not provide for canteen privileges and access to a weight room and tennis court. Cruel and unusual punishment is 25 years for jaywalking, not death by electrocution. My opposition to the death penalty is not because I am concerned about the treatment of prisoners, the suffering of the convicted during their execution does not concern me in the slightest. Were I the family of the victim I am sure my mind could be changed as fast as George W. Bush could mangle the word expediency.

    As such, my opposition is a basic respect for all life. That murderers do not exhibit this same respect to life is irrelevant, I respect theirs. However, their enjoyment of this right should be under the most gruesome, inhospitable conditions, thus serving as both a deterrent to future criminals, and saving me money in the criminal justice system.

  72. Damn typos. First sentence, 3rd paragraph:

    I oppose the death penalty because IT can’t be perfectly administered. . .

  73. Maybe not, but by proposing life sentences rather than execution for serial killers, you’re saying in practice that the government should deny closure to the families of the victims. “My little girl is dead, and the SOB who raped and killed her will only die of old age.”

    If the only way the family can get closure is via revenge (which is what you are asking for in this case…eye for an eye right?), then that is a flaw in the family, not the system. The state should not be in the business of seeking revenge in the name of the victims.

    The state goal is to maintain law and order, not provide emotional relief to the victims

  74. “I oppose capital punishment for the following reason:

    Each individual human life has value, regardless of the judgement the government or our peers may pass. To choose to execute someone else is to pass a final judgement that is not within your right.

    For this reason, whether or not it’s a deterrent is irrelevant.”

    What does it say about our value of human life if there is no relative punishment for taking one? Furthermore, the only person choosing to execute another is the murderer. The punishments are in place, but the only time they are used is if someone chooses to kill. In effect, when a murderer chooses to murder he chooses to kill the victim and himself.

  75. If the only way the family can get closure is via revenge (which is what you are asking for in this case…eye for an eye right?), then that is a flaw in the family, not the system.

    Yeah, right. Only flawed people would hate someone who murdered their loved ones.

  76. Yeah, right. Only flawed people would hate someone who murdered their loved ones.

    Jennifer,

    “Hating someone”, and only be able to achieve closure via revenge are not the same thing. You can hate someone without requiring that they be put to death as revenge. Needing revenge in order to be able to move on with life life should be an issue between the victim (or relatives) and their therapist. The state should not be required to fulfil the victims bloodlust.

  77. “You don’t have the right to imprison somebody who tries to kill you, so how can the government?”

    That’s a good point…

  78. There will always be capital cases shrouded in doubts; and there will be clear-cut cases that so-shock the public conscience that blood is called-for. The Chinese government’s low-tech method of an open field, a kneeling micreant, and a .38-spl into the base of the skull is both efficient and quick.

  79. What does it say about our value of human life if there is no relative punishment for taking one?

    It could say that we value human life so much that even taking a life as punishment devalues it.

  80. You can hate someone without requiring that they be put to death as revenge. Needing revenge in order to be able to move on with life life should be an issue between the victim (or relatives) and their therapist.

    It sounds to me like you are far more concerned with the rights of a serial killer than with his victims and their families. Sneering that people should be “above” the desire for revenge is like a Puritan sneering that people should be above feeling sexual desire.

    Kristen had a very good question–if you all respect human life so much, why wouldn’t you say that the willful taking of human life deserves an exceptional penalty?

  81. Jacob, I don’t understand this:

    If I were a committed opponent of the death penalty (I’m not quite there yet), I would not be complaining about the cruelty of lethal injection. I’d be pushing for crueler and more conspicuous forms of execution, a campaign supporters of the death penalty also should be able to get behind.

    Why does this same logic not apply to the drug war? Wouldn’t harsher drug penalties make people come to their senses quicker? Would you support a life sentence for an eighth of pot? No?

    When odds are against a total victory, incrementalism is a better tactic.

  82. It could say that we value human life so much that even taking a life as punishment devalues it.

    That’s like saying you won’t imprison kidnappers, because “we value freedom so much that even taking freedom as a punishment devalues it.”

  83. I am moderatley pro death penalty. I used to be staunchly pro DP but I live in Illinois and in case you haven’t heard, we’ve had some problems with our Death Row inmates (over half where found to be innocent).

    It has been proposed in Illinois that criminals be given a death sentence only in cases where there is NO doubt that a murder was commited by the criminal, not just beyond a reasonable doubt. Not sure how this would work in real life though.

    Finally, let me say two words to those of you who favor life without parole sentences: Charles Manson.

    Can someone explain to me why this guy come up for parole every 3 or 4 years? If he truly has a life sentence, why is he being given a chance at parole?

    Now before people start flaming me, let me state clearly that the chances of him being freed are excedingly small. My point is: Does a life sentence really mean for life ?

    If it always did, I would have no problem abolishing the death penalty.

    Of course, I would rather see live, televised executions of the truly guilty.

  84. “Kristen had a very good question–if you all respect human life so much, why wouldn’t you say that the willful taking of human life deserves an exceptional penalty?”

    To be clear, I would take issue with who gets to take that life and when, rather than whether it should be taken at all.

  85. To be clear, I would take issue with who gets to take that life and when, rather than whether it should be taken at all.

    I agree–we definitely need serious death-penalty reform in this country. I am opposed to cases of people executed merely on circumstantial evidence, or the testimony of eyewitnesses. But in cases where guilt is absolutely proven, say via DNA, or because the murder was caught on camera or something, then I have no problem whatsoever with the death penalty for murderers.

  86. A friend of mine was attending the University of Pennsylvania and had a political science class and one of the topics was the death penalty. Initially, nearly 90% of the class was anti-death penalty. In the second day of the section on capital punishment the class watched a Frontline documentary on St. Helen Perjohn and the real life case that inspired the movie Dead Man Walking. The Frontline documentary goes into explicit detail of the heinous crimes the subject of the movie committed. He and a friend kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered at least one young woman, I can’t remember exactly. What I do remember is that by their own accounts the last words the woman heard before dying was Perjohn’s boy saying “the bitch just won’t die”. The Frontline documentary, while excellent and much more worth your time than either the book or the movie, pretty much takes the view that capital punishment is wrong. Interestingly enough, after watching the documentary and seeing exactly what this guy did, the class of upper middle class mostly liberal Ivy League students completely reversed their opinion and now about 90% class supported capital punishment at least in some cases.

    I bring this up because I would have no problem with televising executions as long as they included a detailed description and or reenactment of the crimes for which the person is being executed. If you are going to show the person dying, you ought to also to the extent possible show why they are there. To do otherwise is to insult the victim and portray the criminal in an unfairly favorable light. My feeling is that if they showed the crimes, not many people would have a problem with capital punishment.

  87. It sounds to me like you are far more concerned with the rights of a serial killer than with his victims and their families. Sneering that people should be “above” the desire for revenge is like a Puritan sneering that people should be above feeling sexual desire.

    The only “rights” the victims family have is the right to have the perpatrator captured and held accountable. Defining how to hold that person accountable is not their “right”.

    I’m more concerned with having a society that doesn’t cater to the bloodlust of everyone who has ever been wronged. People can have whatever desire for revenge they want, but I believe the state should just ignore that desire. The state is not beholden to the whim of every victim. If putting the killer to death would bring the victim back, then I could see the point, but to put someone to death just to get even is not what I consider sound policy.

    I am also concerned about the ability of the state to put people to death. All too often we see overzealous prosecuters and investigators who are more concerned about quelling the “outrage” in the community then they are about actually capturing the guilty party.

    If you want to wrongly categorize this as “siding with the serial killer”, then again that is your flaw not mine. Just because I am taking a principled stand against killing in general (whether its done as a crime or as retribution) is hardly “siding with the criminals”

  88. ChicagoTom, did you say “bloodlust”? I think you meant “desire for justice” =)

    Seriously though, revenge is an primitive motivation.

  89. Jennifer: good luck. Sensible, rational reform remains in the realm of the sensible & rational. But as with abortion, the DP debate is driven on both sides by extremists (NO EXECUTIONS! or EXECUTE ANYONE WHO IS CONVICTED OF A DEATH-PUNISHABLE OFFENSE!).

    To paraphrase Kang, death penalties for some, little American flags for others!

  90. Finally, let me say two words to those of you who favor life without parole sentences: Charles Manson.

    My understanding is that Mr Manson never actually killed anyone himself, but instead directed other to do so, which is why he gets to come up for parole. I may be wrong, but this is what I remember someone telling me years ago. I believe that in order to be a “murderer” you must actually do the killing yourself (again though I am not sure)

  91. I am also concerned about the ability of the state to put people to death. All too often we see overzealous prosecuters and investigators who are more concerned about quelling the “outrage” in the community then they are about actually capturing the guilty party.

    True, but this can happen with any sort of criminal prosecution.

    I’m more concerned with having a society that doesn’t cater to the bloodlust of everyone who has ever been wronged.

    I do not advocate a society that caters to the bloodlust of EVERYONE that has been wronged, merely those who have had loved ones murdered.

    If putting the killer to death would bring the victim back, then I could see the point, but to put someone to death just to get even is not what I consider sound policy.

    By that logic, you could just as easily oppose punishment for rapists, since imprisoning a rapist won’t undo the trauma his victim suffered. Property crimes like theft or fraud are really the only ones that can be “undone” in certain circumstances. For all other crimes, the fact that the harm caused by the criminal cannot be undone shouldn’t have anything to do with what penalty the criminal faces.

  92. ChicagoTom,

    I believe you are correct that Charlie didn’t actually kill anybody. He just directed others to do so.

    But his original sentence was death, I believe, and was commuted to life after California abolished the death penalty.

  93. Chicago Tom,

    Manson killed several people, including a ranch hand at the Spawn Movie Ranch. It is true, however, that he did not actually pull the trigger and was not present at either the Tate or the Labianca murders. Of course conspiring with and helping the person who does with the trigger is legally murder. Manson is not the best argument for the death penalty. The best is Richard Speck. Speck was a freak who strangled I can’t remember how many nurses in Chicago in 1966. Spared the death penalty by the Supreme Court’s temporary ban of the death penalty, Speck went on to live quite a successful life in Illinois prisons. He managed to get hold of estrogen and grow breasts, get drunk with his friends on homemade alcohol and live a demented but happy life as a transsexual sex toy. That doesn’t sound like much of a life to me, but for Speck it seemed to work fine and he didn’t have many complaints about prison life. He died a natural death after suffering a heart attack, in which there were numerous and heroic attempts to revive him by emergency personnel. Sounds like for him at least a lot better fate then his victims who were all under 25 and died in terror choking to death as he strangled them. I think justice would have been served much better if Speck would have gotten the chair back in the 1970s.

  94. Sounds like [Speck got] a lot better fate then his victims who were all under 25 and died in terror choking to death as he strangled them. I think justice would have been served much better if Speck would have gotten the chair back in the 1970s.

    I agree.

  95. True, but this can happen with any sort of criminal prosecution

    We do agree that wrongful imprisonment is better than wrongful death sentence right? At least if Ive been wrongly jailed I could get some sort of financial settlement to try and make amends right?

    By that logic, you could just as easily oppose punishment for rapists, since imprisoning a rapist won’t undo the trauma his victim suffered

    Jennifer,

    by your logic, rapists should be sodomized?

    In my opinion, imprisoning is enough of a punishment for all serious crimes. Loss of freedom is pretty high up there on the punishment scale to me.

    I don’t want to particularly live in a fire and brimstone, eye for an eye tooth for a tooth, society. That kind of society, IMHO, tends to propogate instead of deter violence

  96. Charles Manson and his minions all received death sentences in the original trial. Their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment when the Supreme Court overturned almost all existing capital punishment statutes in (I think, please don’t quote me) 1972. At that point, death sentences obtained under the now-invalid statutes were automatically commuted to life imprisonment. Because he hadn’t been sentenced to life without parole in the original trial, he became eligible for parole under existing California life-sentence procedures.

    ChicagoTom, you can be convicted of murder without touching the victim if you conspire to kill someone. The old common-law term was “accessory before the fact.” Thus, the person who pays a hit man is guilty of capital murder despite being in another state when the hit occurs. Manson orchestrated and planned the crimes and was present at one of the locations, I believe the LaBiancas. It was clear from the testimony that but for Charlie, no murders would have happened. Therefore, he’s every bit as guilty as the ones who wielded the knives.

  97. My understanding is that Mr Manson never actually killed anyone himself, but instead directed other to do so

    So what? I don’t think a single Russian died directly at the hands of Stalin; he merely instructed others to do so. Hitler didn’t directly kill any Jews, either.

  98. Thanks for the Manson corrections. Also note that I wasn’t trying to justify or imply that he wasn’t responsible or a murderer, I was just stating the (wrong) impression I was under as to why he was not on death row.

  99. We do agree that wrongful imprisonment is better than wrongful death sentence right?

    I agree, which is why I’ve already said I only support the death penalty in cases where the murderer’s guilt is definitely proven; no circumstantial evidence or eyewitness accounts.

    by your logic, rapists should be sodomized?

    They already are. Prison rape is a bitch. But the point I was making with that example was that your argument “the harm can’t be undone” applies to all but property crimes, and therefore shouldn’t apply when considering penalties for crimes.

    I don’t want to particularly live in a fire and brimstone, eye for an eye tooth for a tooth, society. That kind of society, IMHO, tends to propogate instead of deter violence

    Who said anything about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? I’m content with a life for a life. Seriously: tell me how Connecticut has become a more violent state since we executed the serial killer Michael Ross a few months back. Tell me what violence was propagated by his execution.

  100. Right now in San Antonio there is a murder trial going concerning the following facts. A man and his 16 year old daughter picked out one of the man’s customers for his lawn mowing business because “she had a lot of money and they didn’t.” They befriended the woman, a single school teacher in her early 30s, and once they got her to trust them and let them into her home kidnapped and robbed her. Holding her for several hours, they then tortured raped and murdered her, dumping her body in a field. The daughter went state’s evidence and in return for a 30 year sentence is now testifying at the dad’s capital murder trial. One other lurid fact that will not get to the jury is that she is pregnant with his child. I can’t see how anything short of death for this guy could do justice in this case. Every time I am feeling a little squeamish about the death penalty, I see a case like this and my belief in it is reaffirmed.

  101. So what? I don’t think a single Russian died directly at the hands of Stalin; he merely instructed others to do so. Hitler didn’t directly kill any Jews, either.

    As I said above, I didn’t make the claim that he didn’t deserve punishment or that he wasn’t responsible for the murders, I was stating why I thought he didn’t get the death penalty. I wasn’t passing any judgement on whether it was appropriate or not, I was merely stating what impression I was under.

  102. In theory, I’m in favor of the death penalty.

    In practice, it would be cheaper (and more reversible) to stick them in solitary confinement without parole.

    I’m all about finding the cheapest way to “permanently” get these guys off the streets.

  103. they then tortured raped and murdered her, dumping her body in a field.

    I hope this guy gets the death penalty because I have such respect for human life that I feel anyone who deliberately takes it, particularly in such a vile manner, forfeits the right to their own.

    I also favor prison sentences for kidnappers because I respect freedom–you take someone’s freedom, you forfeit your own; and I think thieves should have to pay heavy fines and restitution to their victims because I respect property rights–you take someone’s property, you forfeit your own.

  104. Downstater,

    Rape and murder are two seperate acts. Cruel and unusual is a compound reference to ONE individual act of punishment. It was meant to prohibit say, removal of one’s skin and being buried alive in an anthill. We do unusual ALL the time. We do arguably cruel all the time as well. We aren’t perfect in either prosecution or sentencing or punishment. PERFECT is not a requirement. The FFs were smart enough to understand perfect is the enemy of good enough.

    Jason, who says; “I don’t think it is the function of government to supply closure.” I disagree. We go to the govt all the time for closure. Simple stuff like divorce decrees, complex stuff like war reparations. Obscure stuff like black longshoremen pardoned for mutiny in WW-II.

    In closure we honor many people for their lives as example. I see nothing wrong with declaring people like Morales, murderer, rapist, multilator, druggie becoming another positive example by being executed.

  105. Since we’ve already gone over familiar ground on the death penalty, what about the subject of execution methods, which sort of inspired this thread?

    Those of us who oppose the death penalty presumably want the least painful protocol possible. What about everybody else?

  106. I agree Jennifer. The fact is prison is not that much of a punishment for some people. Moreover, if you don’t have the death penalty it is nearly impossible to control people who have no hope of ever leaving prison. Not all murders are the same. There are crimes of passion and less calculated and evil murders that are of such a nature that the person perhaps ought to be given some kind of a chance at redemption in prison. Other murders are so heinous and evil that to allow the person who committed them to live out a natural life, even in prison, is just an affront to their victims and to society at large.

  107. I agree, which is why I’ve already said I only support the death penalty in cases where the murderer’s guilt is definitely proven; no circumstantial evidence or eyewitness accounts.

    That’s a nice standard in theory. How does that work in practice? Unless someone is confessing or the murder is on film, what is this definitive proof?

    They already are. Prison rape is a bitch

    Last I checked, it isn’t the guards or the warden raping them is it?

    But the point I was making with that example was that your argument “the harm can’t be undone” applies to all but property crimes

    If the harm can’t be undone then I don’t believe eye for an eye punishment is worthwile or useful other than to fulfill a desire for revenge. Incarceration is sufficient.

    Seriously: tell me how Connecticut has become a more violent state since we executed the serial killer Michael Ross a few months back. Tell me what violence was propagated by his execution.

    It isn’t the execution of Micael Ross that would hurt society, its the adoption of the attitude that revenge is an acceptable reacion to being the victim of a crime.

    Jennifer, can we agree to disagree? You obvisouly believe in the Death Penalty and I don’t want to try and convince you otherwise. I don’t and can not be convinced otherwise. I just don’t believe that we as humans have the right to take the life of another unless it is in the process of self defense.

  108. Like many of the people posting here I oppose the death penalty because it can?t be administered perfectly. In politics and law enforcement there are always going to be a few (maybe more than a few) “bad apples”, and some of them are not even elected officials. Once you accidentally execute somebody there is no way to correct the mistakes, unlike other forms of punishment (jail, probation, etc.) I feel a little uncomfortable with the idea of the government being able (by law) to methodically kill its own citizens.

  109. That’s a nice standard in theory. How does that work in practice? Unless someone is confessing or the murder is on film, what is this definitive proof?

    DNA comes in handy.

    It isn’t the execution of Micael Ross that would hurt society, its the adoption of the attitude that revenge is an acceptable reacion to being the victim of a crime.

    Which is, ironically, a benefit to the death penalty. If you, personally, went around taking revenge on those who hurt you, society would indeed be a more dangerous place. But as I said earlier to Mediageek, you personally do not have the right to imprison someone who robs or assaults you, but the government has the right to do so. And I think having the government run prisons for thieves and rapists is far more civilized than having the victims of thieves and rapists run around getting revenge on their own. Same goes for the death penalty.

    Last I checked, it isn’t the guards or the warden raping them is it?

    They allow it to happen. If I lock you in a room with a hungry tiger, I think I’m responsible for your getting mauled to death even though I personally never gave you a scratch.

    Jennifer, can we agree to disagree?

    Certainly. For the record, what got under my skin wasn’t your anti-death penalty stance but your implication that there is something wrong with a person who would want to see his daughter’s rapist/murderer executed, and that such a man should “rise above” any desire for revenge.

  110. Good point John,

    I had forgotten about Richard Speck.

    Does anyone have a link to the video of him snorting cocaine and having hot sex while ‘paying his debt to society back’?

  111. “My little girl is dead, and the SOB who raped and killed her will only die of old age.”

    Fine, then go kill the SOB yourself. I’m fine with society paying for the apprehension, incarceration, and rehabilitation; after all, society will try to protect itself. But if you want emotional satisfaction from retribution/ punishment that should be your business not mine.

  112. Fine, then go kill the SOB yourself. I’m fine with society paying for the apprehension, incarceration, and rehabilitation; after all, society will try to protect itself. But if you want emotional satisfaction from retribution/ punishment that should be your business not mine.

    The law does not allow people to kill their children’s murderers.

    So rather than have society pay for incarceration of a murderer, it may as well pay for the execution. That way, society stays protected AND the victims get closure.

  113. For the record, what got under my skin wasn’t your anti-death penalty stance but your implication that there is something wrong with a person who would want to see his daughter’s rapist/murderer executed, and that such a man should “rise above” any desire for revenge.

    If you re-read my original comment, I never stated that everyone should rise above any desire for revenge, my issue was if that is THE ONLY WAY to achieve closure then the problem is with the person not the system. Everyone at some point or another has a desire for revenged when they have been wronged, but most people eventually deal with those feelings and acheive closure without going out and exacting revenge.

    I’m sorry if that got under your skin or came off as callous, but it is my belief. Enlightened people shouldnt NEED nor demand the state provide revenge in their name in order to acheive closure and move on with their lives.

  114. So rather than have society pay for incarceration of a murderer, it may as well pay for the execution. That way, society stays protected AND the victims get closure.

    Society could provide grief counseling to the victims and acheive the same result could it not ? 🙂

  115. Rape and murder are two seperate acts. Cruel and unusual is a compound reference to ONE individual act of punishment.

    i find it hard to believe that the founding fathers, in their infallible wisdom, would take these negative attributes of a punishment to be completely kosher independently.

    let me try to put together a better analogy than my last:

    i don’t want a rapist and a murderer dating my daughter (a compound reference to ONE individual), but that does not mean that i’m just fine with her dating a guy if he’s just a rapist or just a murderer.

    We do unusual ALL the time

    is this even possible?

  116. I have actually handled a few criminal cases. (Thankfully they all ended in plea bargains. Representing guilty people is easy. The only question is whether he’s 5 years or 15 years guilty.) Despite what “CSI” says, very few criminal cases have DNA evidence. Most convictions are obtained from evidence of informants and confessions. The numbers of cases in which DNA can be used are increasing, but it’s still an expensive and uncommon process, only available to wealthy urban counties. Even in cases where you’d think DNA would be easy to find, there are ways of avoiding. Rapists who wear condoms, for example, leave nothing to test. (I should note that a fairly large number of rapists who do this discard the thing at the crime scene, providing about the neatest package of evidence imaginable. Thank God criminals are stupid.) Also, the reliability of DNA evidence depends on the person properly collecting the sample, and very few jurisdictions have police trained in these techniques. Once it’s collected, it has to be preserved and transported according to strict protocols or it can be contaminated, and all that’s before the sample even arrives at the lab.

    Crime labs are run much more like “Barney Miller” than “CSI.” There have been a number of scandals at even the best crime labs recently, the FBI one being the most publicized, but the Harris Co. crime lab, them of the 1/3 of the US death sentences, recently had a series of highly unflattering revelations about poor evidence handling. The Dallas DA had to throw out bunches of convictions a few years ago because the head chemist at their lab was found to be faking results. Even the best evidence handling isn’t going to overcome outright fraud.

    As to incarceration, the new supermax prison model means that the prisons will serve their entire terms without ever seeing or touching another human being. The guards wear what looks like riot gear, the cells are closets, and the prisoners never see each other. It’s as close to solitary forever as can be arranged. It’s also astronomically expensive, but cheaper than capital punishment. So far, only the feds and Illinois have this as an option, but it’s as close to a death sentence as we can get without actual execution. Mr. Speck wouldn’t have enjoyed this type of incarceration at all.

    All that having been said, I agree with Jennifer on the inherent worth of violent criminals. I would extend life without parole to serial rapist and child molesters (isn’t that redundant?) and probably gang leaders who can’t be tagged for anything else. Please refer to my earlier post about rats, roaches, and fire ants. I’m mildly opposed to the death penalty because of the way it’s administered and because with supermax prisons, we can impose something pretty horrid but short of death.

  117. Jennifer,
    I am opposed to cases of people executed merely on circumstantial evidence, or the testimony of eyewitnesses. But in cases where guilt is absolutely proven, say via DNA, or because the murder was caught on camera or something, then I have no problem whatsoever with the death penalty for murderers.

    So, are you suggesting that the jury-trial system is fatally flawed? If the evidence was strong enough for the jury to find the individual guilty of murder is it not strong enough to support the individual’s death as well? Guilt by jury is guilt by jury. After the verdict, evidence is no longer of any consequence.

  118. I always think to myself, wouldn’t it be just great if the capital punishment opponents got their wish for live televisied excecutions and then people loved it?

    Why do we automatically assume people would find the death penalty revolting if they had to or had the option of watching it on television? Simply because you, personally, find it revolting? Executions in the middle ages were among the most popular forms of entertainment. Ever see The Running Man? People love blood on television! I’ve got some confidence that airing capital punishment would help it rather than hurt it.

  119. Why do we automatically assume people would find the death penalty revolting if they had to or had the option of watching it on television?

    That’s a good question. I’ve seen a real execution on film and I did find it quite disturbing.

    Have other posters actually seen one? What was your reaction to it?

    Also, How important is context? If televised executions took the form of a special event with storylines about how gruesome the crimes committed were, would that have an effect on the likelyhood of being bothered by it?

  120. So, are you suggesting that the jury-trial system is fatally flawed? If the evidence was strong enough for the jury to find the individual guilty of murder is it not strong enough to support the individual’s death as well? Guilt by jury is guilt by jury. After the verdict, evidence is no longer of any consequence.

    I don’t even know what point you’re trying to make. If your main goal is number of prosecutions, rather than finding the guilty party, then you’re right about evidence not being of consequence after a verdict. However, I prefer a system where the people punished are actually guilty.

  121. Enlightened people shouldnt NEED nor demand the state provide revenge in their name in order to acheive closure and move on with their lives.

    No, we just think it best serves justice.

  122. So, are you suggesting that the jury-trial system is fatally flawed?

    I wouldn’t say that the jury system is “fatally flawed”, but I do have my doubts about juries ability to ignore their own prejudices and any pre-conceived notions.

    Like in the Cory Maye case where the he shot the sherriffs son in self defense but got a death sentence anyway.

  123. Enlightened people shouldnt NEED nor demand the state provide revenge in their name in order to acheive closure and move on with their lives.

    Enlightened people should also be enlightened enough to not have the gall to tell the parents of a murder victim that they are unenlightened for wanting their child’s killer dead.

  124. I don’t even know what point you’re trying to make. … However, I prefer a system where the people punished are actually guilty.

    In the U.S. court system, the jury determines guilt. Regardless of whether there is concrete DNA evidence or the word of a crack-whore if the jury finds a person guilty then, in the eyes of the law, they are guilty and qualify for captial punishment. The quality of the evidence does not play a role in the sentencing, only in determining guilt.

    How do you propose to insure that (innocent)people are not wrongfully executed when the jury finds them guilty? Do you want the judge to determine sentencing based on the quality of evidence? “It’s good enough to find him guilty but not good enough to kill him.”

  125. How do you propose to insure that (innocent)people are not wrongfully executed when the jury finds them guilty?

    Sigh. Let me repeat myself again: I only favor the death penalty in cases where the evidence is conclusive, not in cases of circumstantial evidence or the word of an eyewitness.

    Do you want the judge to determine sentencing based on the quality of evidence? “It’s good enough to find him guilty but not good enough to kill him.”

    Yes–good enough to lock him in prison, but not concrete enough for execution.

  126. Also, How important is context? If televised executions took the form of a special event with storylines about how gruesome the crimes committed were, would that have an effect on the likelyhood of being bothered by it?

    Chicago Tom,

    See my above post about the polysci class at Penn. My guess is that if the executions were put in context, most people would be cheering the execution.

    I have only seen the grainy silent film of President McKinley’s assasin being executed and it was pretty sterile and unmoving. Which one did you see?

    The execution accounts in the book In Cold Blood are pretty vivid and disturbing as well as the description of death row contained in the book. Back then, Kansas locked their death row prisoners up in 5×8 cells on the second floor of a drafty, hot stone building. They had one small window and were let out of their cells once a week to change clothes and shower. Other than when their families or a lawyer came, they never left their cells. It was brutally hot and unventilated in the summer and cold and drafty in the winter. Ellis and Hickock lived under those conditions for five years until they were finally hung. It took like 15 minutes for each of them to die. As cruel and vile as their crime was, killing a family of four in rural Kansas, I think justice was served in that case.

  127. I’m with the juror who was asked by the judge during voir dire if he could impose the death penalty if the defendant was convicted of 1st degree murder. “Well, I work Monday thru Friday, but I could do it on the weekend”.

  128. Enlightened people should also be enlightened enough to not have the gall to tell the parents of a murder victim that they are unenlightened for wanting their child’s killer dead.

    Stop putting words in my mouth. I never said there is something wrong with wanting them dead. There is something wrong with NEEDING them dead in order to move on with life or acheive closure.

    Are you purposely being obtuse about the difference?

  129. There is something wrong with NEEDING them dead in order to move on with life or acheive closure.

    Really? How do you know this?

  130. Yes–good enough to lock him in prison, but not concrete enough for execution.

    Then you agree that a judge can and should usurp the ruling of the jury? Then why have a jury in the first place? Why not go to a model like Indonesia has and have the prosecution and defense submit all of thier evidence directly to a judge?

    My point is that under our system of law, death is too irreversable of a sentence. Juries are easily swayed, evidence (yes even DNA) can be faked/forged/planted or even just contaminated, allowing a judge to determine guilt concentrates too much power into one individual. You want “cases where guilt is absolutely proven” when no such thing truly exists.

  131. I have only seen the grainy silent film of President McKinley’s assasin being executed and it was pretty sterile and unmoving. Which one did you see?

    I don’t remember who it was, but it was without context other than stating that it was a murderer. It was a black and white video.

    I agree that if you were to show televised executions with context and an emphasis on the crimes committed and the distress to the family, most people would cheer for the executions. I don’t think that fact validates or invalidates the properness of executions though.

  132. I agree that if you were to show televised executions with context and an emphasis on the crimes committed and the distress to the family, most people would cheer for the executions. I don’t think that fact validates or invalidates the properness of executions though.

    I agree, but I think it would be wrong to just show the execution without the context. You shouldn’t do one without the other.

  133. There is something wrong with NEEDING them dead in order to move on with life or acheive closure.

    It’s my opinion Jennifer. It also seems to be the philosophy of many religions as well. You know…forgive and forget, turn the other cheek. That kind of thing. It’s how I was raised, it’s a value that were instilled in me from youth.

    You can disagree if you want. You can even call it stupid, naive, misguided, wrong-headed, whatever. That’s your right. Just stop mischarecterizing my statements please.

  134. I agree, but I think it would be wrong to just show the execution without the context. You shouldn’t do one without the other.

    I won’t argue that. It would be disingenuous to show it completely without context. But it would be equally unfair to show it in a sensationalistic manner as well.

    It should be done in a detached, objective way. One that doesn’t take a position on the rightness or wrongness and merely presents facts.

  135. re: Jennifer’s comments

    I don’t dispute that people can have righteous anger and feel a need for retribution. I dispute that the fulfilling of that impulse should serve as a basis for setting a justice system’s limits.

    1) It is too squishy to be philosophically meaningful.

    2) An expansion on the idea of government limits based in psychological satisfaction would be pretty frightening. I am much more comfortable with criminals, even violent ones, running around free than I am with an expansive police state precisely because I don’t think the government should be in the business of persuing perfect justice (read – granting closure to all victims). What the government should do is recognize its limitations and be comfortable promoting legal behavior and deterring illegal behavior through incentives.

    That is not to say that I am 100% opposed to the death penalty. I’m just saying that its merits or flaws as a public policy have not much to do with its function as a giver of closure.

    Here are the relevant questions:

    Is it humane in the sense that there are some places we may just not want to go? I think an assisted suicide version probably is.

    Is it effective as an incentive toward correct behavior? I don’t know.

    Is it efficient when compared to other alternatives? Probably not in its current form.

    Does it solve the immediate problem? Certainly. It is the best deterrent to future wrongdoing by a particular individual ever devised.

    What is the acceptable failure rate of the process? How many innocents get killed? I am not so naive as some to suggest that the answer to this is obviously zero. If there is a net positive incentive to the process, there is probably a non zero risk of innocent casualties that is acceptable. My concern is that this acceptable number has to be very small.

  136. It also seems to be the philosophy of many religions as well. You know…forgive and forget

    Murder can’t be forgiven because the victim, the only one who can grant forgiveness, is dead. I cannot forgive your murderer because the forgiveness is not mine to grant.

  137. Then you agree that a judge can and should usurp the ruling of the jury? Then why have a jury in the first place?

    Turn the question around: if a judge can’t ever overrule the jury, then why bother with a judge?

    You want “cases where guilt is absolutely proven” when no such thing truly exists.

    Really? Who do you think was the real killer who murdered Ted Bundy’s victims? Who do you think really buried those bodies under John Wayne Gacy’s house? If their guilt wasn’t proven, then what, in your opinion, were the weak spots in the prosecution’s cases?

  138. Murder can’t be forgiven because the victim, the only one who can grant forgiveness

    Then by that same token, closure has been acheived.
    If only the victim can grant forgiveness, only the victim can seek revenge and closure.

    Which is it Jennifer, are the family members victims or not? If they are then they can grant forgiveness, if they are not then they have no claim on revenge / closure.

    You can’t have it both ways

  139. Turn the question around: if a judge can’t ever overrule the jury, then why bother with a judge?

    The judge has other functional roles. Like overruling or sustaining objections, deciding what evidence is relevant, and making sure procedures are properly followed.

    I don’t like the idea of a judge overturning a jury who found someone innocent, but I have no problems with a judge overturning a guilty conviction if an injustice is occuring. (Isn’t that the appelate process??)

  140. Re: Harsh execution methods (touching on the original topic): Of course, you need look no further than the James Bond movies for a treasure trove of exquisitely nasty execution methods that could be adopted. My favorites: Dropping the condemned man into a shark tank (The Spy Who Loved Me) or crushing a car with him locked inside (Goldfinger, although in that movie the guy was already dead).

    Re: Televising executions: I agree that this could backfire on death-penalty opponents if it becomes too popular. I can just see networks lobbying a state about to execute someone to schedule the execution so that they can run it against American Idol. And what if harsher methods tend to draw greater ratings?

    Re: Death-row inmates getting all the attention from people trying to clear their names: My guess is that that would change if the death penalty were abolished, as life in prison would simply become the new “ultimate punishment”.

    Along the same lines, it seems there’s even been some rumblings on the Left lately (can’t find the link) that life in prison basically amounts to a slow execution and is thus no better than the death penalty.

  141. I don’t like the idea of a judge overturning a jury who found someone innocent, but I have no problems with a judge overturning a guilty conviction if an injustice is occuring. (Isn’t that the appelate process??)

    I fully support that. I’m inclined to support the death penalty in the abstract (there are some people who, as they say, ‘need killing’); but I don’t think we have anywhere near the procedural safeguards we’d need right now. I’d like to support a system where 12 jurors can convict if the evidence shows guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but if any one of them, or the judge (or perhaps a second jury and/or other sort of board) expresses any doubts, then there’s no death penalty. The judge in this case wouldn’t be overruling the jury; any one person saying voting against death would nix it, because the burden of proof should be that high.

  142. Then by that same token, closure has been acheived.
    If only the victim can grant forgiveness, only the victim can seek revenge and closure. Which is it Jennifer, are the family members victims or not? If they are then they can grant forgiveness, if they are not then they have no claim on revenge / closure. You can’t have it both ways

    Sure I can–the families have been victimized, but are not the ultimate victims. That’s why even now, during the penalty phase of a murderer’s trial, family members of the victim are invited to speak about how the murder has impacted their lives, but the family members do NOT have the right to say “I forgive this guy, so let’s not punish him.”

  143. The only reason I personally do not take any responsibility for Ross’ death is because I am too honest to take credit for accomplishments that are not my own.

    Oh, you’re personally responsible for it. After all, you paid for it. Just as you paid for Lyndie England’s leash and are paying for Guantanamo.

    Be proud of yourself. Take the credit.

  144. you paid for it. Just as you paid for Lyndie England’s leash and are paying for Guantanamo.

    By that standard, the only Americans who don’t share the blame for Lynndie and Guantanamo are the ones on welfare.

  145. Jadagul

    What you describe is already the procedure in Florida (and AFAIK all 50 states since a SCOTUS ruling a couple of years ago).

    Essentially at the trial the guilt of the defendant is determined. There are strict rules of procedure and admissiblity of evidence just as in any proceeding.

    If there is a conviction there is a sentencing hearing. Here the state presents all the reasons why the convicted murderer should die and the defense presents all the reasons why he should not. Here the rules of evidence are relaxed so that eg the defendant’s 6th grade teacher can be brought in to describe how he enjoyed pulling the wings off flies. Actually, seriously, I believe that in this phase evidence which was suppressed in the trial as prejudicial can now be brought in to demonstrate the defendant’s depravity etc.

    The judge still has the final option of rejecting a jury’s recommendation of death and levying a sentence of life without parole. He cannot overrule a recommendation of life without parole and impose a death penalty.

  146. That’s why even now, during the penalty phase of a murderer’s trial, family members of the victim are invited to speak about how the murder has impacted their lives, but the family members do NOT have the right to say “I forgive this guy, so let’s not punish him.”

    Putting someone behind bars for life is hardly declining to punish him. It’s not like it’s a party for life*.

    And family members are free to ask that the death penalty not be imposed, as Mathew Sheppard’s parents did. Frankly it is rare that I find people to admire, but in that case, for once, I did.

    However, I would not have condemned them or felt any pity for the subhumans who murdered their son if they chosen to do otherwise.

    *Psycopaths like Richard Speck are exceptional.

  147. The most painless of all deaths would be to put the person face-down on the pavement and drop a 500-pound cast-iron bathtub on his head. No pain! No recognizable facial structures anymore, but no pain!

  148. Jamie, cast-iron bathtubs are often valuable and attractive pieces of furniture, and thus not worth wasting on human detritus like a serial killer. What about dropping one of those huge early-1970s luxury sedans on them instead? You can find them at select junkyards for about $7.53 apiece.

  149. Jennifer, quit making me laugh until I pee while I’m at work.

  150. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

    And Property.

    That works for me.

    Just governments don’t violate the fundamental rights of Men.

    Just governments don’t torture or steal property or kill defenceless human beings.

  151. They never quite caught on to the fact that it’s no deterrent to convict the wrong guy and let the actual perp get away with it.

    Actually, the deterrent value of any punishment has much less to do with whether the person being punished *is* guilty than it does with whether the person being punished is generally *perceived* to be guilty. If the state puts to death an innocent man whom everyone (except the real killer) thinks is guilty of murder, it could have a pretty good deterrent effect (except, of course, on the real killer, who know knows he can literally get away with murder and may therefore be encouraged to try it again). That’s why deterrence should never be seen as the *sole* purpose of punishment.

    Re: Death-row inmates getting all the attention from people trying to clear their names: My guess is that that would change if the death penalty were abolished, as life in prison would simply become the new “ultimate punishment”.

    I seriously doubt it. As the Supreme Court has stated, as the basis for most of its DP jurisprudence, death is qualitatively different. Much of the motivation for people who move heaven and earth to free unjustly condemned prisoners is the knowledge that there won’t be a chance to get it right once the poor slob is executed.

    Finally, let me say two words to those of you who favor life without parole sentences: Charles Manson.

    Can someone explain to me why this guy come up for parole every 3 or 4 years? If he truly has a life sentence, why is he being given a chance at parole?

    I’ve watched at least one of those parole hearings on TV. Given that California didn’t put him to death in 1972, and given that the law requires the parole board to consider whether he has been rehabilitated and can safely be put back into society, I’m perfectly willing to have him paroled any time he demonstrates reliably that he’s not so totally crazy as to be a threat to society. From what I saw of his testimony at the hearing, I don’t expect that to happen any time this century.

    On the other hand, what’s really insane is the farce of the parole hearings for his fellow defendants, the women who actually carried out the murders. They have been rehabilitated as thoroughly as anyone this side of heaven, and yet the parole board goes through the charade of weighing the evidence and then denying parole under the pretense that “you haven’t quite shown to us that you’re ready to be let back into society” (or words to that effect). Gimme a break. If they had been sent to the gas chamber back in 1972, that would have been justice, and I wouldn’t have lost a moment’s sleep. But to keep them entombed alive, after they have done everything conceivable to turn their lives around, for something they did over three decades ago when they were under the sway of an evil Svengali, is cruelty far beyond the transitory pain of a sodium pentathol injection.

  152. I don’t like the idea of a judge overturning a jury who found someone innocent, but I have no problems with a judge overturning a guilty conviction if an injustice is occuring. (Isn’t that the appelate process??)

    I fully support that.

    As some else has pointed out, this is the general way it works now.

    A judge can call a mistrial and release a defendant even after guilt by jury has been imposed, but they are not at liberty to sentence any person for whom the jury has said is innocent.

    And in death penalty cases, it’s usually 9 of 12 to convict, 12 of 12 to recommend death. Again here, the judge doesn’t have to go with death and also can’t impose the death penalty on someone whom the jury chose not to.

    I think some of this varies state to state, but in all cases of death penalty, there is a second trial for all intents and purposes to begin imposing the sentence. I think the differences are rather it’s primiarily juries or judges who make the final call.

    Jennifer –

    Very good points. I’ve appreciated reading them.

  153. differences are rather = differences are whether it’s primiarily …

  154. Thoreau,

    I’ve only skimmed but it doesn’t look like you got a lot of takers. I’m moderately opposed to the death penalty but, if we are going to have it, would prefer not torture but at least something public, open, and definitive. Hanging would be suitable, I think. My primary objection to lethal injection is that it is done in the bowels of a prison. Executions (like nearly everything else the govt does) should be public, and if people can’t stand to watch, then they need to face the fact that they don’t really want anyone killed in their name.

    I can respect either position — either being against the govt killing its own citizens or believing that murderers deserve death — but I believe that people ought to pick one, and stick to it.

  155. As far as I can tell, our collective squemishness about painful executions is merely a reflection of our schizophrenic attitude towards retribution. We want it, but we don’t want to want it. Perhaps we all ought to all fess up: “Eye for an eye” was more than just a passing fad. It’s scrawled in the margins of all of our laws and religious texts. To say that it’s “uncivilized” would fly in the face of history; institutionalized retribution is one of the few characteristics shared by every civilization.

  156. What’s the worse punishment….
    Life in a cage or death?
    How about life in a cage or a very painful death?

    I’d like to say the comparisons like the difference between sinking into a cold pool or jumping in? The problem with the analogy is nobody can answer the death part of the question. They can answer about pain, but pain-and-death…not so much.

    That death is the ultimate penalty is a guess. That a painful death is the ultimate penalty is also a guess. Life in solitary is certainly painful, and I have little doubt about that. Life in solitary with an untreated slipped disk would be excrutiating. That death is worse? Suggests to me that the death penalty is for the benefit of the living.

    It seems our history of crime and punishment has been to try to “civilize” the process, but once debate starts the “uncivilized” slip starts to show. Hobbes would be proud. First, it’s not personal – about the victim. Crimes are against the state. It’s important not to torture even to the point of making incarceration bearable. It’s important that the execution method be painless. Why? What difference does it make? No one knows? A “respect for life” is often the veil used to mask a fear of death.

    Sometimes I wonder if the reports I read about how Afghani’s handle crime and punishment reveals a more honest dealing with our core humanity. The victim, or loved ones, can throw the stones. Torture is acceptable. As much as we’ve civilized the procedure ultimately we’re just dressing-up the same desire.

    Maybe that’s not so bad.

  157. I support freezing people until such time as all restaurants are Taco Bell.

    Also, teach them how to knit.

  158. thoreau:

    Those of us who oppose the death penalty presumably want the least painful protocol possible. What about everybody else?

    Bona fides: I don’t think there’s anything more inherently wrong with the government depriving someone of his life after properly-carried-out* due process for a crime meriting it than there is it depriving him of his liberty. To be all het-up libertarian, even the government of the people uses guns. I also find the point about the lesser scrutiny of life-imprisonment cases interesting, particularly if you contrast the skeptical attitude towards the overuse of non-lethal weapons in the tazer-shotgun-shell thread with the death-penalty opposition here.

    But as to methodology: While I’d want them to see it coming, I want it to be as quick and painless as possible.

    (*Again, “properly-carried-out”. I have no problem with commuting death sentences to imprisonment if there’s anything hinky about the trial – though I’d prefer a retrial in such a case, so an innocent man could go free – and I think they should have as many appeals as they have grounds for.)

  159. Those of us who oppose the death penalty presumably want the least painful protocol possible.

    No. Some of us do not want the State – our agent – ritually killing defenceless human beings no matter how sweetly and gently.

    “Eye for an eye” was more than just a passing fad. It’s scrawled in the margins of all of our laws and religious texts.

    Punishing the heinous crimes of adultery, homosexuality, and blasphemy are scrawled there, too.

    Adultery is a crime against property and family. The adulterous woman – property of her husband – risks, cuckoo-like, introducing into the family illegitimate heirs to the substance of the family.

    Stoning adulteresses is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It deters, and it offers the satisfaction of retribution. (Jennifer: If you can’t be there, just mail in your rock.)

    Homosexuality is a crime against nature and, thus, against God. It involves the misuse of the organs of creation.

    Knocking walls over on top of homosexuals is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It deters, and it offers the satisfaction not only of re-establishing the natural order but also of getting rid of people engaging in practises we find personally distasteful. (Jennifer: If you can’t be there, no problem. We’ve still got your rock from the adultery case.)

    Blasphemy is the greatest crime, since it is a direct offence against God.

    Hacking off the heads of blasphemers not only deters, but it helps remove some of God’s pain. (Jennifer: I know you can’t be there, but you can feel ok with yourself. You’ve raised your voice in favour of capital punishment, and that’s already something. God thanks you.)

    To say that it’s “uncivilized” would fly in the face of history; institutionalized retribution is one of the few characteristics shared by every civilization.

    A just government may not do what I as an individual do not have the right to do.

    In the history of civilisation, this is a relatively recent notion. I grant you that. And one which has not been fully assented to by a majority of Americans (or humans, for that matter).

  160. Isaac, SixSigma: cool, I didn’t know that. I think it should probably be even stronger, although if SixSigma is right about the 12 of 12 for death, it’d be a bit hard to write the rule. Basically, I think that if anyone expresses any doubt at pretty much any point in the proceeding, that’s it, no death penalty. Hung jury at the first trial? No death penalty. Twelfth juror has a slight margin of doubt? No death penalty. Judge has any factual doubt? No death penalty. Encourage all executives to use commutation, that sort of thing. Maybe it requires more of a culture shift-and that twelfth juror feeling comfortable expressing his last shred of doubt-but the optimist in me says we could get it to work. If we can’t, we can’t; but I do really believe that there are some people who ‘need killing.’

  161. Stoning adulteresses is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It deters, and it offers the satisfaction of retribution. (Jennifer: If you can’t be there, just mail in your rock.)

    Hacking off the heads of blasphemers not only deters, but it helps remove some of God’s pain. (Jennifer: I know you can’t be there, but you can feel ok with yourself. You’ve raised your voice in favour of capital punishment, and that’s already something. God thanks you.)

    Raymond, I’ve already said multiple times here that I favor the death penalty only for murderers, not for adulterers, blasphemers or any other such people. Pretending that if I favor the death penalty for murderers, then I must favor the death penalty for all perceived criminals, might make you feel morally superior about yourself, but it doesn’t actually contribute anything to this discussion.

  162. And in death penalty cases, it’s usually 9 of 12 to convict, 12 of 12 to recommend death. Again here, the judge doesn’t have to go with death and also can’t impose the death penalty on someone whom the jury chose not to.

    I think you might have that reversed. All criminal convictions in this country require unanimity from the jury. So also do aquittals. Failure to reach a unanimous decision will result in a mistrial.

    Hanging would be suitable, I think.

    thoreau, hanging is, in fact, not particularly suitable. They were botched far more frequently in practice than anyone ever wanted to let on.

    Heads have been torn off due to miscalulating the relationship between the length of drop required and the weight of the condemned. More often, I believe, were insufficient drop resulting in the condemned slowly strangling to death, sometime with the aid of jailers pulling on his legs to speed up the process.

    A chiropractic student once explained to me the way that a hanging is supposed to work. Properly done death should be instantaneous with all life functions ceasing within a few seconds. But I understand that it rarely works that neatly.

  163. Incidentally, I observed in both Australia and Canada, that before outright abolition there was a long period of time during which death sentences were commuted before the DP was abolished outright.

    The last hanging in Canada was in 1962 but the majority of death sentences had been commuted in recent years. The death penalty was abolished in 1976. The vote in parliament was a conscience vote; ie members were not subject to party discipline if they did not vote a party line.

    In Australia the death penalty is a state matter. Queensland was the first state to abolish capital punishment in 1922 (which is interesting in that Qld is now considered the most rightwing state in Oz). Western Australia was the last in 1984. The last executions in each state were some years before.

    Commutations of death penalties, I think, tend to show a general social uneasiness about the death penalty. We generally do not see abolition as long as a large majority is either in favor of or at least not uncomfortable with Capital Punishment.

  164. Punishment implies an analysis of desert, and there may be no more mushy concept in philosphy than desert. Analyzing desert is not something the government is especially qualified to do. Definining Punishment and Justice as roles of the government is grounding the function of government in quasi religious concepts.

    If punishment is not a valid concern when deciding how the state is to treat a convicted murderer, then what is the justification for life imprisonment? Is an 80-year-old who committed murder in his 20s still so great a threat to society that he needs to remain locked up?

    What irritates me most about this debate is that death penalty opponents use arguments that call into question not only the death penalty, but any severe punishment meted out by the state, including long-term imprisonment. Sure, it would really suck if someone was put to death for a crime they didn’t commit…but is it that much better to serve 20 years of the prime of your life in prison, for a crime you didn’t commit?

  165. The law does not allow people to kill their children’s murderers.

    It does and it doesn’t. It doesn’t allow you to commit murder on your own, but it allows itself to commit murder on your behalf.

    And the reason for that is twofold:

    1) Most people’s belief that two wrongs don’t make a right.

    2) Our half-assed belief in #1 and wanting to have it both ways. We want revenge, but should anything go wrong in our vengeful actions, we want to have someone else to blame. Socialized vengeance!

    Seriously, if the people pushing for the death penalty – the prosecutors and the victim’s family members who wanted it – were at risk for death themseleves if the state executed the wrong person, then maybe there’d be some fairness in the law. But as it stands, when somebody fucks up the whole vengeance thing, it’s everybody else that has to pay. Why isn’t locking someone up in a hell hole good enough?

    So rather than have society pay for incarceration of a murderer, it may as well pay for the execution. That way, society stays protected AND the victims get closure.

    There ain’t no protection if the closure comes at the expense of the wrong person. And then there ain’t no closure, either. Socialized closure!

    Our socialized protection racket has enough flaws as it is. But there’s at least some sense to it and works fairly well, although I would say we’ve OD’d on it’s beginning to fail more often (War on Drugs for example). Socialized vengeance and socialized closure are beyond reasonable. I can understand the personal need for closure and vengeance, but bureaucratizing those functions doesn’t appear to be working.

  166. Pretending that if I favor the death penalty for murderers, then I must favor the death penalty for all perceived criminals…

    I’m not pretending any such thing. I am saying, though, that what is the ultimate crime for you (rape, murder) is not necessarily the ultimate crime in different cultures (or “civilisations”). And that those who argue in favour of capital punishment in the US cannot logically argue against the death penalty in countries which execute adulteresses, homosexuals, or blasphemers. For that would be hypocrisy.

  167. It [i.e., the law] does and it doesn’t. It doesn’t allow you to commit murder on your own, but it allows itself to commit murder on your behalf.

    Ah, yes, the old “capital punishment is state-sanctioned murder” trick. Of course, if that’s true, then imprisonment is state-sanctioned kidnapping.

  168. Murder is, by definition, “the unlawful killing of one human by another”.

    Will you accept the old “ritual state killing of a defenceless human being” trick instead?

  169. And that those who argue in favour of capital punishment in the US cannot logically argue against the death penalty in countries which execute adulteresses, homosexuals, or blasphemers. For that would be hypocrisy.

    How do you figure? I’ve said “if you take someone else’s life, you forfeit your own.” How would it be hypocritical to then say “having sex is not worthy of the death penalty”?

  170. (this thread is at an end, but what the heck)

    I’ve said “if you take someone else’s life, you forfeit your own.”

    That statement is based on some pretty important presuppositions:

    1. The right to life is not unalienable.

    2. My right to life exists at the pleasure of others.

    There are some interesting conclusions that can be drawn from your denial of the principles of the Declaration of Independence:

    1. If the right to life is not unalienable, then no fundamental right is. There is no such thing as a “fundamental right”.

    2. If my rights exist at the pleasure of others, then others – the government, my parents, my local reading group, you? – decide when I lose my hitherto-fundamental rights and when I don’t.

    3. If you have decided I have forfeited my rights, anyone may (for example) kill me with impunity.

    (But by killing me, you forfeit your own right to life. And so on and so on… Hm. We have… My head is hurting from the feedback. I guess another presupposition of your statement is: Jennifer is the final arbiter of who lives and who dies. And who gets tortured [as per your comment of February 23, 2006 01:10 PM].)

    In other cultures, Jennifer is not the final judge of my rights. In some, it’s the State (ie, China); in others, God (eg, Iran). And in yet others, it’s the majority (eg, the US).

    My rights depend pretty much on geography and the kindness of strangers.

    I cannot prove that my ideas are “true”. “The end justifies the means” seems to be the prevalent philosophy in the US today. The Law of the Jungle-Survival of the Fittest was popular in parts of Europe in the first half of the 20th Century. Theocracy rules in much of the world today.

    For my part, I have assented to the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Because those principles are more likely to keep me and the people I love safe than you or God.

  171. For my part, I have assented to the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Because those principles are more likely to keep me and the people I love safe than you or God.

    Yes, thanks to the principles of the Declaration of Independence the victims of Bundy and Speck are still alive and quite happy, too. No, wait, they’re not. Could it be possible that serial killers don’t respect the Declaration as much as you do? Hmmm.

    I guess another presupposition of your statement is: Jennifer is the final arbiter of who lives and who dies.

    I’ve never said that. If your cause is so just and true, why can you not argue it honestly, instead of making stuff up?

    In other cultures, Jennifer is not the final judge of my rights. In some, it’s the State (ie, China); in others, God (eg, Iran). And in yet others, it’s the majority (eg, the US).

    I keep talking about this country, and you keep mentioning more barbaric ones. It’s like I’m saying “thieves should go to prison,” and you keep saying “Ah-ha, Jennifer is the final arbiter of who stays free and who goes to jail. Furthermore, in Saudi Arabia they punish thieves by cutting their hands off. But Jennifer must be fine with that, right? If not, it is hypocrisy to say ‘I think thieves should go to prison, but not have their hands cut off.”

  172. I’ve never said that.

    Then explain this–> ‘I’ve said “if you take someone else’s life, you forfeit your own.” ‘

    And this–> ‘Deliberate pre-meditated murder is a more serious crime, and therefore worthy of a more serious penalty.’

    Who is deciding here? Who is setting herself up as the arbiter of who should die?

    I keep talking about this country, and you keep mentioning more barbaric ones.

    Any country which violates fundamental human rights is barbaric. Torture, state killing… Barbaric. And you, Jennifer, have gleefully spoken up in favour of both practises in this thread.

  173. Any country which violates fundamental human rights is barbaric.

    You could just as easily say that it is barbaric to allow a man who has taken the lives of others to live. Furthermore, if freedom is a fundamental human right, then you can say any country which violates people’s freedom is barbaric.

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