[Deathpenalty] [POSSIBLE SPAM] death penalty news----TEXAS, GA., USA
rhalperi at smu.edu
Sun Oct 2 13:46:27 CDT 2011
Is the death penalty about to die?----Millions of dollars wasted on capital
punishment in Texas.
In 2003 there were 28 death sentences handed down in Texas, and last year, only
eight. Harris County, which accounts for more than 100 of the 314 people on
death row, saw no new death sentences in 2008 or 2009 and only two in 2010.
Bexar County has seen only three death sentences since 2007.
It looks like Texas is having second thoughts about death sentences, and
In 2010, Texas carried out 17 lethal injections, the fewest since 2001. Texas
isn’t about to abolish the death penalty, but it may be starting to move away
from its infamous grip on the death penalty.
There are 3 factors afoot:
There is mounting concern about the execution of innocent people. No one wants
to see an innocent person executed. With 12 individuals exonerated and freed
from Texas’ death row since 1987, we know the system isn’t faultless.
Has Texas actually executed an innocent person? No one knows for certain, but
death penalty scholars point to 3 executed prisoners who had credible claims of
innocence: Cameron Todd Willingham, Ruben Cantu, and Carlos De Luna.
The Texas Forensic Science Commission’s April 15 report did not address
Willingham’s actual guilt or innocence in the Corsicana house fire that killed
his 3 daughters. However, 9 fire experts who reviewed his case concluded there
was no evidence of arson.
Investigative reporting by the Chicago Tribune on the De Luna case and by the
Express-News and Houston Chronicle in 2006 on Cantu threw considerable doubt on
the actual guilt of both men. It is immoral to have executed an innocent one.
The financial costs of the death penalty are staggering. Fiscal conservatives
question whether it is worth the price. The cost of a capital trial, the
appeals process, time on death row and the execution itself cost an estimated
$2.3 million in 1992, according to the Dallas Morning News. In today’s dollars,
that would be more than $3.6 million.
In short, millions of dollars are wasted on a capital sentencing system in
Texas. The money could be much better spent on improving policing functions,
expanding restitution programs and developing more drug treatment programs —
all of which would do far more to enhance public safety than having a death
Finally, there is an alternative to the death penalty — a sentencing option
that Texas lawmakers adopted in 2005: life without parole. In 2010, Texas
juries handed down three life-without-parole sentences in capital cases. The
point is, juries don’t have to hand out death sentences.
Texas may be the death penalty capital of the United States, but, even here,
the tide may be starting to turn.
(source: Roger C. Barnes chairs the Department of Sociology and Criminal
Justice at the University of the Incarnate Word;
Troy Davis Mourned as a Martyr by 1,000 in Ga.
Sent to death row 20 years ago as a convicted cop killer, Troy Davis was
celebrated as "martyr and foot soldier" Saturday by more than 1,000 people who
packed the pews at his funeral and pledged to keep fighting the death penalty.
Family, activists and supporters who spent years trying to persuade judges and
Georgia prison officials that Davis was innocent were unable to prevent his
execution Sept. 21. But the crowd that filled Savannah's Jonesville Baptist
Church on Saturday seemed less interested in pausing in remorse than showing a
resolve to capitalize on the worldwide attention Davis' case brought to capital
punishment in the U.S.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, national president of the NAACP, brought the crowd to
its feet in a chant of "I am Troy Davis" — the slogan supporters used to paint
Davis as an everyman forced to face the executioner by a faulty justice system.
Jealous noted that Davis professed his innocence even in his final words.
"Troy's last words that night were he told us to keep fighting until his name
is cleared in Georgia," Jealous said. "But most important, keep fighting until
the death penalty is abolished and this can never be done to anyone else."
After 4 years of extraordinary appeals, every court that examined Davis' case
ultimately upheld his conviction and death sentence for the 1989 slaying of
Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail, who was shot twice while trying to help
a homeless man being attacked outside a bus station. MacPhail's family and
prosecutors say they're still confident Davis was guilty.
Regardless, questions raised by Davis and his lawyers garnered support from
thousands worldwide, including dignitaries such as former President Jimmy
Carter and Pope Benedict XVI. The night Davis was executed, protests were held
from Georgia to Washington, from Paris to Ghana.
During a call-and-response litany at the funeral, the congregation chanted in
unison: "We pray to the Lord for our souls and the soul of Troy Davis, martyr
and foot soldier."
"He transformed a prison sentence into a pulpit," the Rev. Raphael Warnock,
pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, said in his eulogy Saturday. "He
turned death row into a sanctuary."
Other than expressions of outrage at Davis' execution, there was little doom
and gloom at his funeral. Warnock's congregation at Ebenezer, the church where
Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, helped raise money for the 3 ½ hour
service, which carried more than a hint of celebrity sheen.
Davis' closed casket was piled with a spray of blue and white flowers — a color
scheme decoded by a close friend who mentioned his love of the Dallas Cowboys.
Attendees each got a glossy, 22-page program filled with a scrapbook's worth of
photos, many of Davis in his white prison garb posing with family members
during weekend visits.
A song by the Billboard-charting gospel singer Dietrick Haddon got the crowd so
excited that ushers walked the aisles stopping people from taking video and
photos with their cell phones.
And the comedian and activist Dick Gregory, who joined the others in an
impassioned call to end the death penalty, first brought people to their feet
Gregory said he needed to apologize to Davis' family after the way he handled a
recent phone call from a bill collector. "He said, 'Are you Dick Gregory?' And
I said, 'I am Troy Davis!'"
Davis' nephew, 17-year-old DeJaun Davis-Correia, was the only family member to
speak during the service.
He recalled Davis, the uncle who had been in prison his entire life, spending
long hours with him on the phone helping with homework, particularly math.
Davis-Correia, whose mother is Davis' older sister, said the family always knew
when he had tests in school because Davis wrote them all down on his calendar,
the same calendar he filled with the birthdays of all his friends and
supporters. And he said his uncle would have wanted a note of celebration at
"You really shouldn't be sad all the time, you should be happy and be
positive," Davis-Correia said. "That's the attitude my uncle instilled in me."
Amnesty International, which worked for years to exonerate Davis, urged its
supporters worldwide to remember him Saturday by wearing black armbands and "I
am Troy Davis."
The advocacy group's U.S. director, Larry Cox, spoke from the dais behind
Davis' casket Saturday urging those who fought to spare his life not to give up
until America ends its use of the death penalty.
"If you thought you saw us fighting to save Troy Davis, now that we've been
inspired by Troy Davis, you ain't seen nothing yet," Cox said.
(source: ABC News)
'Usual' anti-death penalty claims given
Editorial Director David Hampton in his ongoing crusade against the death
penalty recently told us that "seven of nine eye witnesses" against convicted
killer Troy Davis had recanted ("Events call to rethink the death penalty,"
Sept. 25). The implication being that there were only nine. Actually, there
were some 34 witnesses for the prosecution at Davis' trial and the seven were
all reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court!
Mr. Hampton gave us all his usual arguments against the death penalty; it's
arbitrary, it costs more, mistakes are made, it's not a deterrent, it's
immoral. While guarantees are impossible to us in this life, the rule of law
and the jury system have combined to serve us very well since about the 12th
As for deterrence, never in the history of mankind has a single executed
murderer ever gone on to kill again. It is moral because it gives support to
The only thing flawed about justice in this case is that it took 22 years!
(source: Letter to the Editor, Jackson Clarion-Ledger)
Davis execution renews death penalty debate
When Troy Davis was executed in Georgia last month for the 1989 murder of
police officer Mark MacPhail, opponents of capital punishment nevertheless took
solace in hoping that the death penalty was on its way to being abolished.
After all, Davis had more going for him than almost any of the 1,270 U.S.
prisoners put to death since 1976. About 650,000 Americans had signed petitions
opposing his execution. Those pleading for his life included Pope Benedict XVI,
ex-president Jimmy Carter and former FBI director William Sessions.
7 of the original 7 eye-witnesses had recanted their testimony. Thus, the
possibility remained that Davis was innocent. But likely, we will never know.
Once a suspect has been executed, the justice system does not encourage further
Some of those who favored the execution say they did so on the premise that the
death of Davis will bring closure to the family of Officer MacPhail.
But Jeanne Woodford doubts that assessment. As former warden of San Quentin
State Prison, she became so distressed by a lifetime of helping administer the
death penalty that on May 12 she took on a radically different post: executive
director of Death Penalty Focus, a San Francisco-based group opposed to capital
punishment. She was one of six ex-wardens opposed to the killing of Davis.
"The death penalty serves no one." Woodford has said. "It doesn't serve the
victims. It doesn't serve prevention. It's truly all about retribution."
She is not alone. In the following paragraphs, 25 other notable people express
their views on capital punishment, a subject which may well be on the
California ballot next year.
A justice's view
1. "... the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory
manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually
innocent."----Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr.
2. "I was 8 years old when my father was murdered. It is almost impossible to
describe the pain of losing a parent to a senseless murder ... But even as a
child, one thing was clear to me: I didn't want the killer, in turn, to be
killed. I remember lying in bed and praying, 'Please, God. Please don't take
his life, too.' I saw nothing that could be accomplished in the loss of one
life being answered with the loss of another."----Kerry Kennedy, daughter of
the late Sen. Bobby Kennedy.
3. "If not remedied, the scandalous state of our present system of capital
punishment will cast a pall of shame over our society for years to come. We
cannot let it continue."---- ustice Thurgood Marshall, 1990.
4. "You believe an eye for an eye until you are put in that situation. If they
kill those guys, it really doesn't mean much to me. My father is gone."
----Basketball player Michael Jordan on the murderers of his father, James.
5. "Government ... can't be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect
taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to
kill."----Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking."
6. "Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human
7. "It's just really tragic after all the horrors of the last 1,000 years we
can't leave behind something as primitive as government sponsored
execution."----Sen. Russ Feingold.
8. "... to top it off, for those of you who are interested in the economics, it
costs more to pursue a capital case toward execution than it does to have full
life imprisonment without parole."----Ralph Nader.
9. "Capital punishment, like the rest of the criminal justice system, is a
government program, so skepticism is in order."----George Will.
10. "A humane and generous concern for every individual, his health and his
fulfillment, will do more to soothe the savage heart than the fear of
state-inflicted death, which chiefly serves to remind us how close we remain to
the jungle."----U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark.
11. "When you execute a man who has been on death row 7, 8, 10 or 12 years, you
are not executing the same man that came in."----Don Cabana, former warden of
Parchman Penitentiary, Miss.
12. "Here I want to say that one must be careful in searching his soul ... one
may just find that God is there and that he does not support the barbaric idea
that man should execute man."----Ron McAndrew, former warden of Florida State
13. "To me the death penalty is vengeance, and vengeance doesn't really help
anyone in the healing process."----Bud Welch, board president, Murder Victims'
Families for Human Rights. His daughter, Julie, was killed in the Oklahoma City
14. "No man has the right to take God's place and say another man should die.
It destroyed my life."----Perry Cobb, who spent 8 years on Illinois' death row
for a crime he did not commit. He was exonerated in 1987.
15. "California's death penalty is ... an incredibly costly penalty, and the
money would be better spent keeping kids in school, keeping teachers and
counselors in their schools and giving the juvenile justice system the
resources it needs."----Former Los Angeles County district attorney Gil
16. "Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders."----French
philosopher Albert Camus.
17. "My overriding belief is that it is always possible for criminals to
improve and that by its very finality the death penalty contradicts
this."----The Dalai Lama.
18. "People who are well represented at trial do not get the death
penalty."----Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
19. "To say that the death of any other person would be just retribution is to
insult the immeasurable worth of our loved ones who are victims."---- Marietta
Jaeger. Her daughter, Susie, age 7, was kidnapped and murdered in 1973.
20. "I do not think that God approved the death penalty for any crime, rape and
murdered included. Capital punishment is against the best judgement of modern
criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the
nature of God."----Martin Luther King.
21. "I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death.
I don't think it's human to become an Angel of Death."----Nobel laureate,
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
22. "The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery. It is a
punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, should be at the
service of death." ---- Bryan Stevenson, death row lawyer.
23. "Most people approve of capital punishment, but most people wouldn't do the
hangman's job."----George Orwell.
24. "I believe that no one should be executed, guilty or innocent. There are
appropriate sanctions that protect society and punishment wrongdoers without
forcing us to steep to the level of the least among us at his or her worst
moment."----Actor, activist Mike Farrell.
25. "I have come to think that capital punishment should be abolished."----Jack
Kemp, Republican vice presidential candidate, 1996.
(source: Column, Tom Hennessy, Long Beach Press-Telegram)
Death penalty is dead wrong: It's time to outlaw capital punishment in America
I have studied the death penalty for more than half my lifetime. I have debated
it hundreds of times. I have heard all the arguments, analyzed all the evidence
I could find, measured public opinion when it was opposed to the practice, when
it was indifferent, and when it was passionately in favor. Always I have
concluded the death penalty is wrong because it lowers us all; it is a
surrender to the worst that is in us; it uses a power - the official power to
kill by execution - that has never elevated a society, never brought back a
life, never inspired anything but hate.
And it has killed many innocent people.
This is a serious moral problem for every U.S. governor who presides over
executions - whether in Georgia, Texas or even, theoretically, New York. All
states should do as the bold few have done and officially outlaw this form of
For 12 years as governor, I prevented the death penalty from becoming law in
New York by my vetoes. But for all that time, there was a disconcertingly
strong preference for the death penalty in the general public.
New York returned to the death penalty shortly after I was defeated by a
Republican candidate; the state's highest court has effectively prevented the
law from being applied - but New York continues to have the law on its books
with no signs of a movement to remove it.
That law is a stain on our conscience. The 46 executions in the United States
in 2008 were, I believe, an abomination.
People have a right to demand a civilized level of law and peace. They have a
right to expect it, and when at times it appears to them that a murder has been
particularly egregious, it is not surprising that the public anger is great and
demands some psychic satisfaction.
I understand that. I have felt the anger myself, more than once. Like too many
other citizens, I know what it is to be violated and even to have one's closest
family violated through despicable criminal behavior. Even today, I tremble at
the thought of how I might react to a killer who took the life of someone in my
own family. I know that I might not be able to suppress my anger or put down a
desire for revenge, but I also know this society should strive for something
better than what it feels at its weakest moments.
There is absolutely no good reason to believe that using death as a punishment
today is any better an answer now than it was in the past - when New York State
had it, used it, regretted it and discarded it.
Experts throughout the nation have come out strongly against the death penalty
after hundreds of years of lawyers' cumulative experiences and studies revealed
that the death penalty is ineffective as a deterrent.
Some of history's most notorious murders occurred in the face of existing death
Psychiatrists will tell you there is reason to believe that some madmen - for
example, Ted Bundy - may even be tempted to murder because of a perverse desire
to challenge the ultimate penalty.
It is also unfairly applied.
Notwithstanding the executions of mass killers like Timothy McVeigh, capital
punishment appears to threaten white drug dealers, white rapists and white
killers less frequently than those of other races. Of the last 18 people in New
York State to be executed (ending in 1963), 13 were black and one was Hispanic.
That racial makeup seems an extraordinary improbability for a system operating
with any kind of objectivity and consistency.
Because death penalty proponents have no other way to defend this policy, they
cling unabashedly to the blunt simplicity of the ancient impulse that has
always spurred the call for death: the desire for revenge. That was the bottom
line of many debates on the floor of the state Senate and Assembly, to which I
listened with great care during my tenure as governor. It came down to "an eye
for an eye, tooth for a tooth."
If we adopted this maxim, where would it end? "You kill my son; I kill yours."
"You rape my daughter; I rape yours." "You mutilate my body; I mutilate yours."
And we would pursue this course, despite the lack of any reason to believe it
will protect us even if it is clear that occasionally the victim of our
official barbarism will be innocent.
It is believed that at least 23 people were wrongfully executed in the United
States during the twentieth century. Twenty-three innocent people killed by the
official workings of the state, but it is not called murder.
According to the Innocence Project, 17 people have been proven innocent -
exonerated by DNA testing - after serving time on Death Row. These people were
convicted in 11 different states. They served a combined 209 years in prison.
And government was prepared to end their lives.
Tragically, New York holds the record for the greatest number of innocents put
to death over the years. According to some, New York leads all states with at
least 6 (perhaps more) wrongful executions since 1905.
Yet proponents of the death penalty continue to assume that the criminal
justice system will not make a mistake, or they simply don't care. As was shown
by the recent Troy Davis execution in Georgia, where shaky witness testimony
and a lack of physical evidence were considered insufficient to create
"reasonable doubt," too many people seem unconcerned about the overly ambitious
prosecutor, the sloppy detective, the incompetent defense counsel, the witness
with an ax to grind, the judge who keeps courthouse conviction box scores.
But these imperfections - as well as the horrible and irreversible injustice
they can produce - are inevitable. In this country, a defendant is convicted on
proof beyond a reasonable doubt - not proof that can be known with absolute
certainty. There's no such thing as absolute certainty in our law.
We need to continue to do the things that will control crime by making the
apprehension and punishment of criminals more effective and more precise. We
need adequate police and prisons and alternatives to incarceration. We should
also have a tough, effective punishment for deliberate murder. There is a
punishment that is much better than the death penalty: one that juries will not
be reluctant to impose; one that is so menacing to a potential killer, that it
could actually deter; one that does not require us to be infallible so as to
avoid taking an innocent life; and one that does not require us to stoop to the
level of the killers.
There is a penalty that is - for those who insist on measuring this question in
terms of financial cost - millions of dollars less expensive than the death
penalty: true life imprisonment, with no possibility of parole under any
True life imprisonment is a more effective deterrent than capital punishment.
To most inmates, the thought of living a whole lifetime behind bars only to die
in a cell, is worse than the quick, final termination of the electric chair or
I've heard this sentiment personally at least three times in my life. The
second time it came from a man on the way to his execution in Oklahoma. He was
serving a life sentence for murder in New York at the same time that Oklahoma
was eager to take him from New York so they could execute him for a murder he
had committed in Oklahoma. I refused to release him so that he could be
executed in Oklahoma, but then the governor who replaced me in 1995 was able to
get New York to adopt the death penalty - and to prove New York really approved
of death as a punishment, he released the inmate from prison and sent him to
Oklahoma, where he was promptly executed.
On the night before he died, he left a note that was published in the New York
Post that said, "Tell Governor Cuomo I would rather be executed than to serve
life behind bars."
Because the death penalty was so popular during the time I served as governor,
I was often asked why I spoke out so forcefully against it although the voters
very much favored it. I tried to explain that I pushed this issue into the
center of public dialogue because I believed the stakes went far beyond the
death penalty itself. Capital punishment raises important questions about how,
as a society, we view human beings. I believed as governor, and I still
believe, that the practice and support for capital punishment is corrosive;
that it is bad for a democratic citizenry and that it had to be objected to and
so I did then, and I do now and will continue to for as long as it and I exist,
because I believe we should be better than what we are in our weakest moments.
(source: Guest Column, Mario Cuomo, New York Daily News)
Sunday Dialogue: The Death Penalty
The Letter to the Editor:
Re “An Indefensible Punishment” (editorial, Sept. 26):
The death penalty is not “immoral,” “grotesque” or “unjust.” Rather, it is a
just punishment that should be reserved for the grotesque and immoral crimes
that we hear and read about every day.
However, the administration of the death penalty is a different story. You
correctly state that it is subject to arbitrariness, discrimination and other
problems, including that mistakes are made.
The statistics do show that in our country a sentence of execution is more
frequently given to minorities and the poor in certain geographic regions. DNA
evidence has also proved that innocent people have been put on death row.
However, DNA can be used as both a sword and a shield. The same way that DNA
exonerates the innocent, it should condemn the guilty, but only with additional
safeguards, including eyewitness testimony, video surveillance and confessions
that are subject to judicial oversight to test their reliability.
Without indisputable video surveillance or DNA evidence together with other
forms of reliable evidence, a sentence of life imprisonment without the
possibility of parole should be applied instead of the death penalty.
ALAN SASH----Chappaqua, N.Y., Sept. 26, 2011
The writer is a commercial litigation lawyer.
Mr. Sash’s letter speeds right past the central issue. The problem with the
death penalty is not that we may be executing innocent people; notwithstanding
widespread concern about the Troy Davis case, we’re doing much better at
avoiding questionable executions with the help of DNA testing and multilevel
review of the evidence and trial process.
The problem with the death penalty is not that it fails to provide effective
deterrence to serious crimes, or that botched executions are cruel and unusual.
The problem with the death penalty is that it’s just plain wrong for a
civilized society to kill people.
That’s why all our friends in the community of nations have abolished the death
penalty or no longer use it, and why China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen and Syria
continue to use it. Using it diminishes us as a country.
I’m a part-time circuit court judge, and I believe in law and order. But people
who commit our most heinous crimes should be removed from society for the rest
of their lives; they shouldn’t be killed.
L. PHILLIPS RUNYON III----Peterborough, N.H., Sept. 28, 2011
There are indeed crimes that demand the death penalty, when we can agree that a
murderer has forfeited his right to live in society, even a society of fellow
prisoners, and the state must end his life in the name of justice. But these
are not what Mr. Sash calls “the grotesque and immoral crimes that we hear and
read about every day” (are there moral crimes?). Rather, the death penalty
should be reserved for exceptional circumstances.
Even when a killer is guilty beyond any doubt, imprisonment should almost
always be the default penalty. There must be a compelling reason to justify
STEVE NELSON----Washington, Mass., Sept. 28, 2011
I support the death penalty. You cannot look at a crime like the brutal murder
of a mom and her two girls in a Connecticut home invasion and not think “those
responsible should die.”
In my former career as a military attorney, I both prosecuted and defended
hundreds of criminal cases, from first-degree murder to shoplifting. Proof
beyond a reasonable doubt is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no
higher or better standard of proof.
There is nothing inherently difficult in proving that one human being killed
another. From a prosecutor’s standpoint, it can be harder to prove a bad-check
case than a murder case.
Finally, I am fed up with the idea that a defense counsel is incompetent if he
fails to present, after his client is found guilty, psychological testimony
about how sad and pathetic the defendant’s childhood was. The jury doesn’t
care. Its attitude is the same as mine: You committed a heinous crime. Now face
PAUL McBRIDE----Sacramento, Sept. 28, 2011
As with all human institutions, the criminal justice system suffers in various
degrees from corruption, incompetence and malfeasance. Even the most ardent
supporter of the death penalty would agree that, in some cases, innocent people
are convicted, and the guilty walk free. We know this from the 138 exonerations
of death row inmates.
The penalty of death is too permanent to accept inevitable errors or willful
misconduct by the police, judges or prosecutors. The danger of executing an
innocent person is greater than the societal benefit derived from putting a
guilty prisoner to death, particularly when reasonable alternatives exist, such
as life in prison with no possibility of parole.
The rationale for imprisoning a convicted criminal is threefold: to protect
society from future harm, to deter other would-be criminals and to punish the
offender. Jail fulfills these objectives; no circumstances warrant use of the
JEFF SCHWEITZER----Spicewood, Tex., Sept. 28, 2011
Prison as an alternative to the death penalty, even prison without possibility
of parole, is sometimes not a suitable punishment for heinous crimes. In
today’s prisons, inmates participate in sports activities and have access to
libraries, entertainment and medical care. Thus prison life, while of course
not desirable, is at least tolerable to many inmates.
LEROY KAYSER----East Hampton, N.Y., Sept. 28, 2011
A central point in the Times editorial that Mr. Sash does not address is the
lack of decent counsel for poor defendants, especially at their initial trial.
Texas, the state that executes the most people every year, has an abysmal
record of providing defense counsel to the indigent, which includes most
capital defendants. Even states that have relatively decent public defender
systems do not spend nearly enough time or money to ensure justice for all.
Should it be any surprise that prisons — including death rows — are filled with
the poor, especially people of color?
The problem of the unfairness of the death penalty is not separate from the
rest of the criminal justice system. It is an integral part of a system that is
often unfair, discriminatory and mistaken at various points. The death penalty
merely magnifies the inherent unfairness, perhaps because of its finality.
DANIEL E. HOOD----New York, Sept. 28, 2011
The writer is a retired professor of criminology. **
Mr. Sash suggests that the death penalty is acceptable with “indisputable video
surveillance” and “other forms of reliable evidence” to prove guilt. When he
can also guarantee perfect judges, infallible juries and error-free defense
attorneys, then he may have a point.
As long as human beings are part of the judicial system, there will be wrongful
executions. The question is what benefit do we get from hundreds of “just”
executions, and is that benefit worth even a single person put to death
STEVEN COHEN----South Windsor, Conn., Sept. 28, 2011
As a European, I am bewildered and disgusted in equal measure by this seemingly
perpetual American obsession with executing people. Even a seemingly sensible
person like Mr. Sash thinks it is perfectly reasonable, moral and just to take
the life of another human being, as if revenge equaled justice.
We dispassionate Northern Europeans tend to be of the opinion that the purpose
of incarcerating people is to prevent the criminal from continuing to commit
crimes and, for nonviolent crimes, to deter others. Punishment for its own sake
doesn’t even enter the equation.
For serious violent crimes, the threat of punishment has no deterring effect
whatsoever. If it did, Texas would have the lowest violent crime rate in the
Western world. So even if one ignores the morality (or lack thereof) of the
death penalty itself, surely we can argue, more prosaically, that it simply
NILS WETTERLIND----Stockholm, Sept. 28, 2011
I wish I could share Mr. Sash’s hope that judicial oversight furnishes the
safeguards necessary to render eyewitness testimony, video surveillance and
confession evidence, and yes, even DNA evidence, sufficiently reliable in all
cases to render a death sentence the “just punishment” he and many others
believe it can be in certain circumstances.
Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, the state and federal trial courts in
which I have appeared in my 35-plus years as a lawyer defending capital and
noncapital criminal cases decline to provide that oversight. Trial judges are
human, and can be as defiant or mistaken about what is required of them as
anyone else. But most of the time when trial judges fail to provide that
crucial oversight, it is because the appellate courts tell them they do not
ALISON STEINER----Jackson, Miss., Sept. 28, 2011
The Writer Responds
I disagree with Mr. Runyon that “the problem with the death penalty is that
it’s just plain wrong for a civilized society to kill people,” and with Mr.
Schweitzer that “no circumstances” warrant its use.
Society recognizes that some crimes are so heinous that no other punishment
besides death will suffice. When you combine that with the certainty that a
defendant committed the crime, you arrive at Mr. Nelson’s position that “there
are indeed crimes that demand the death penalty,” in “exceptional
Mr. Schweitzer voices the universal concern that we may execute an innocent
person. To prevent that, the death penalty should be reserved for cases where
there is 100 % certainty of guilt, subject to appellate review.
This process is fair as long as the defendant has access to effective counsel,
as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. If, as a society, we believe that the
death penalty is a just punishment for some offenses, then we need to ensure
that the system is properly funded.
ALAN SASH----Chappaqua, N.Y., Sept. 29, 2011
(source: Letters to the Editor, New York Times)
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