Obligatory Capital Punishment Thread

As I’m sure many of you have noticed, there is currently a doomed death penalty thread at the bottom of this page (though I suppose this thread will bump it to the top of page 2) started by a young fellow who was looking for some help with his homework. Since that thread got off to a bad start (ops that dont use grammer or spelling or punctuation r seldom crowd gatherers), and since we haven’t had a plain old death penalty debate in a while, I figured I’d start one.

Back when I was a Limbaugh Republican (oh, was I ever so young?) I was (predictably) a proponent of capital punishment. Since my quasi-Libertarian/Utilitarian awakening, I have (again, predictably) changed my mind. My objection to the death penalty is essentially three-fold:

  1. I simply do not like the idea of the state having the right to commit cold-blooded murder, even of not-so-nice people. It’s not a rational objection, for me, so much as it is a gut-felt distrust of the govenrment.

  2. An unsettlingly large number of death-row inmates are found to have been innocent, leading one to wonder how many innocent people were killed before their vindication came, and how many more we kill every year.

  3. To the best of my knowledge, no causal link has ever been established between the death penalty and a reduction in crime. Furthermore, the death penalty (in America) is considerably more expensive than life in prison (due to court costs, etc.). Hence, the only remaining justification for capital punishment (that I can think of) is vengeance. I don’t find vengeance to be an acceptable end for a justice system; my (unprovable) conjecture is that the quest for vengeance is likely to cloud criminal proceedings and, ultimately, lead to the irrational conviction of innocent people. Surely the family members of murder victims would object, as would I were I in their position. However, while it is easy to sympathize with them, we shouldn’t let them determine public policy, for the same reason that we wouldn’t let them serve on the jury of an accused murderer.

Anyway, I’ve got two finals and two papers due tomorrow, so I shant be around here for at least a day or two. But, please, discuss in my absence.

For the slightly macabre, below is a link to Texas’ list of executed offenders, complete with “Offender Information” and last statements (which are oddly fascinating – take, for example, Henry Porter, #9).

– Jer

Fucking neo-Gothic/pseudo-Classical monstrosity shoud be razed post-fucking-haste.

oh. Sorry. That’d be capitol punishment . . .

Aren’t neo-Gothic and pseudo-classical mutually incompatible architectural styles? And anyway, the Capitol doesn’t even have any gargoyles - how can it be neo-Gothic? Now for a neo-Gothic seat of government, check out the Canadian Parliament, including the Parliamentary library, the House of Commons, and the Senate.

Glad you brought this subject up VarlosZ. This last Sunday NPR did a piece on the ethics of televised and/or radio broadcasted execution. My three kids and I listened to the program and we were all left not only unsettled by undecided on the issue of capital punishment. A few facts keep coming back to me; the program stated that the majority of the folks that are executed are not only people of color, but that the average IQ of those executed hovers somewhere around 60 and also that these folks come from an overwhelmingly impoverished social background. Statisically, it would appear that poor, mentally deficient people of color are overrepresented when it comes to capital punishment here in the good ol’ U S of A. This is more than a little disturbing.

Personally, I could never make a life or death choice for anyone but my self and I don’t feel that any other person has some special characteristic that would allow him or her to pass that kind of judgement. I do, however, understand the primal desire for retribution. If someone were to murder my children I’d most likely want to kill the murderer myself.

The restate what I said in the earlier thread, I’ve never understood how a society can be considered to have the right to decide who lives and who dies. Currently, most Americans believe that a jury of twelve individual or a judge can make a just and fair decision, and that if they believe that it’s right for a convict to die, then that person should be executed. But Timothy McVeigh believed that it was right for his victims to die, because they were all part of the evil system. So who’s to say that McVeigh is wrong, but the judge/jury is right?

Like VarlosZ said, death penalty proponents have never provided solid evidence that it prevents crime, though not for lack of trying. McVeigh is a good example of how capital punishment does not achieve this purpose. McVeigh knew that if he committed the crime, he would probably be aprehended. He knew that if aprehended, he would probably be executed. Yet he planted the bomb anyway. Why?

I’ve also heard it said that jurors who support the death penalty are more likely to convict, period. No cites, (and I’m certainly interested if anyone has some for or against it) but it sure sounds right–if not exactly right–to me.

I’m not opposed to it out of any kind of “value of each life” thing–when Dahmer got beaten to death by other prisoners, I will admit that I grinned, for example–but because of issues already raised. The extremely troubling statistics on those on death row who were later acquitted, what it implies on those who weren’t cleared in time. And purely practical concerns–it costs more, and it doesn’t work, and when something costs more than an alternative, and is not only not more effective but quite probably worse…I don’t want to buy.

The people who are concerned about overpopulation are the same people who are against the death penalty… go figure.


Because he was committing “suicide by cop” - in his interviews with the two journalists who’ve published a book, he said he fully expected he would die in a shoot-out when the police tracked him down. It’s just taking a bit longer than he thought it would.

If, as he has repeatedly claimed, it was always his intention to die, why did he plead not guilty to the offence? Why not plead guilty and use the trial as an opportunity for a bit of grandstanding?

Can you plead guilty to a capital offence in the US?

The Anglo-Canadian common law rule (when we still had the death penalty) was that you could not. Because of the punishment, the Crown had to prove the case in full, not rely on a guilty plea.

Exactly. The majority death penalty supporters believe that it should only be employed against murderers who commit particularly heinous crimes (but they leave it to someone else to determine which crimes are the most heinous). However, many of the most notorious criminals are either suicidal or beyond all reason when they commit the crime, so the death penalty isn’t going to deter them.

Of course we can trust the FBI and expert testimony, right?