[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Mar 20 22:45:02 CST 2005
LIFE ON A THREAD
The difference between life and death can rest on the whim of a president
or the ability of a lawyer. Whether or not the death penalty can be
justified is very much up for grabs.
American writer and anti-capital punishment campaigner Richard North
Patterson, was in Australia recently and says, though it hardly needs to
be said, that proof of innocence is neither of use nor consolation to
someone after they have been executed. All it can do is further fuel the
motivation of those fighting for the abolition of capital punishment.
North Patterson believes capital punishment to be an abomination on a
moral and judicial scale, a practice prone to corruption, error and ego.
The further her trial progresses, the more two schools of thought emerge
about Gold Coast woman Schapelle Corby.
In Australia, the prevailing view is that she is innocent, being forced
to sit and wait in a hot, crowded Indonesian prison cell located
tantalisingly close to the beaches and other tourist settings she had
left Australia to enjoy.
Supporters contend Corby not only is a victim of someone else's cruel
trickery, but could become a sacrificial lamb paying for growing
anti-Western sentiment within Indonesia's chiefly Muslim society.
The view from Indonesia, however, is that Corby is little more than a
brazen opportunist, whose attempt to smuggle 4.1kg of cannabis into Bali
last year in a boogie board bag protected only by its zipper, represents
the height of arrogance, stupidity or both.
Corby is enmeshed in a legal system the workings of which can be
incomprehensible to outsiders. All that is clear, and brutally so, is the
possible result - the taking of her life, even if she is innocent.
North Patterson's latest novel, 'Conviction' uses fiction to expose the
inadequacies, injustice and inequity of American death penalty law. In
its comprehensive dissection of the American legal system, Conviction
also can be read as a lesson to other governments and a plea for them,
including Australia, not to consider the re-introduction of capital
While the brevity of his Australian stay did not allow North Patterson to
become fully apprised of the Schapelle Corby case, the depth of his study
and lobbying in the U.S. allows him to speak about its potential outcome.
"Some people say capital punishment legislation in the U.S. is
incompetent. I'm not so sure. Lawyers are incompetent, not the law,
because if the goal of the law is finality, even for the innocent, then
achieving that goal through an execution is hardly incompetent," he says.
"But there are so many misconceptions about the death penalty that need
to be addressed in order to change opinion that capital punishment is an
"For starters, the American legal system is one that has many examples of
people being put to death and later found not to have committed the crime.
That is horrifying, but perhaps even worse is the feeble excuse that
killing a few innocent people is an acceptable price to pay for getting
the rest who are guilty.
"Secondly, the American legal system has too many lawyers who are either
poseurs, hustlers or just plain incompetent.
And there are not many lawyers prepared to defend the poor in capital
"Thirdly, too many Americans continue to convince themselves that capital
punishment is a deterrent to violent crime. If it was, then Texas, for
example, would be the safest place in the world. Take it from me, it's
North Patterson's mention of the U.S. state of Texas is deliberate. When
American President George W. Bush was governor of the Lone Star state, he
did not so much increase the number of executions as install an express
Violent crime, however, did not diminish in the slightest, and of the 38
U.S. states with death penalty statutes, Texas executes more often than
Conviction is set in San Francisco 12 years after two brothers, Rennell
and Payton Price, have been sentenced to death for the killing of an
11-year-old girl. As the execution date looms, overworked lawyer Teresa
Paget, her husband Chris and Harvard law graduate and stepson Carlo
become convinced that Rennell Price did not receive a fair trial, may not
have been mentally competent to stand trial in the first place, had a
lousy lawyer and might actually be innocent.
As North Patterson said in a previous interview: "Probably the No.1
contributor to death sentences is a terrible lawyer."
'Conviction' is a rivetting legal thriller from a writer who started his
professional life as a trial lawyer in Washington and San Francisco. He
then became an assistant attorney-general for the state of Ohio, before
working as the liaison to the special prosecutor for the Watergate
hearings in the 1970s, which helped bring down President Richard Nixon.
Among North Patterson's 12 best-selling novels are Degree of Guilt, No
Safe Place, Balance of Power and The Final Judgment. He also serves on
the boards of several Washington-based advocacy groups dealing with
political reform, reproductive rights, gun violence and capital punishment.
Linking gun violence and capital punishment, North Patterson points out
how American law is all-embracing in one context, yet apparently
selective in the other.
"The right to bear arms, to own guns, is right up there near the front of
the American Constitution, yet our gun laws have become idiotic," he says.
"These laws make it possible for murderers, abusers, drug traffickers, you
name it, to have guns. The American passion for guns is such that it is
possible to own any gun you want. The foolish belief is that guns make us
safer, as if a bar full of armed drunks is safe. What kind of thinking is
that? The nightly news is full of examples of the folly of our gun laws,"
Yet strangely, America's constitutionally approved right for everyone to
own a gun is an example of democracy at work. In the case of the death
penalty, however, democracy and equality are less visible, a point well
made in 'Conviction'.
"Individual crimes must be punished, of course," says North Patterson.
"But the U.S. death penalty is a classic example of the inequities within
Death row cases in the U.S. are dominated by the disenfranchised -
blacks, Hispanics, the poor, people of substandard mentality, people with
lack of opportunities in life, victims of abuse. They are also the people
who cannot afford the best legal representation and so, as occurs in
'Conviction', they suffer from an incompetent defence," he says.
"If that's not bad enough, the final nail in their coffin - so to speak -
comes in the form of community attitudes that say `Well, these are not
worthwhile people to begin with, so what does it really matter if they're
"Implicit in that attitude is a sense, a belief, that even if a person
didn't commit this particular crime for which they are to be executed,
they would have committed a similar crime sooner or later, so the death
penalty is vindicated."
Then there is the scapegoat theory, which finds a person being made an
example for social or political reasons, for the need for justice to be
seen to be done. It is into this category that many fear Schapelle Corby
While it serves nothing and no one to compare one country's
legal system with another, compounding Corby's woes is the
level of bitterness currently bouncing between Indonesia
and Australia over the two-and-a half-year prison sentence
recently given to Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir for his
role in the Bali bombings of October, 2002.
Such ill-feeling is a component of the ever-broadening
division between Islam and the West since the events of
September 11, 2001, and which have led to the ongoing
debacle in Iraq, an increase in fundamentalist-inspired
terrorism and the rise of the kind of ultra-right wing
thinking that saw President George W. Bush and Australian
Prime Minister John Howard re-elected so profoundly.
"It's a worry," says North Patterson. "The rise of the
right wing makes it difficult to make headway in the fight
for reforms on capital punishment, although that doesn't
mean you stop fighting."
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT AROUND THE WORLD:
Stats from 2004 reveal a sharp rise in the application
of capital punishment around the world, although it is
likely verifiable figures fall well short of the reality.
Executions by shooting were carried out last year in
Afghanistan, China, Indonesia, Lebanon, Uzbekistan,
Vietnam and Yemen, either by firing squad or a single
bullet to the back of the head.
Hanging was prevalent, with executions in Bangladesh,
Egypt, Iran, India, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon,
Pakistan and Singapore. Most of the 157 verifiable
hangings last year were by the short drop method,
although Iran continues to execute people by hoisting
them into the air by crane (includes a 16-year-old
girl, Ateqeh Rajabi, for her crime of premarital sex).
Saudi Arabia remains the only country where beheading
is an official form of punishment, while lethal injection
was the primary process in the United States.
Countries in which verifiable executions took place in 2004: Afghanistan -
1 shot; Bangladesh - 12 hanged; China - 24 shot
and 193 injected; Egypt - 6 hanged; India - 1 hanged;
Indonesia - 3 shot; Iran - 95 hanged; Japan - 2 hanged;
Jordan - 1 hanged; Kuwait - 9 hanged; Lebanon - 2 shot
and 1 hanged; Pakistan - 10 hanged; Saudi Arabia - 36 beheaded; Singapore -
4 hanged; United States - 58 injected and 1 electrocuted; Uzbekistan - 2
shot; Vietnam - 44 shot;
Yemen - 1 shot.
(source: Gold Coast Bulletin, Australia)
More information about the DeathPenalty