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Capital punishment


Capital Punishment is the ruling by a court, sentencing an individual who has been convicted of a serious crime to death. How serious is the death penalty? Well, thirty-eight of the fifty States in the Union have the death penalty enacted in their state (Bright 13). The death penalty is very controversial issues because it is so serious, people ponder the thought of, is it moral or even humane? Some people feel that it let’s the criminal off easy because it doesn’t allow him to live with the guilt of something like murder. Other people like Raymond Forni who is the chairman of the French National Assembly feel that the death penalty is pure "savagery" (Lacorne 51). Apparently Connecticut agrees with Raymond Forni because they have not executed anyone in 41 years (Margolis 216). As you can see, everyone has his or her own, personal opinion on the ultimate punishment.

In 1972 the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty was to be suspended. However, it did not last long, the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 (Federici 109). The Court mandated

The 8th and 14th amendments cannot tolerate the infliction of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and freakishly imposed.

The court also said

The fundamental respect for humanity underlying the 8th amendment... requires consideration of the character and record of the individual offender and the circumstances of the particular offense as a constitutionally indispensable part of the process of inflicting the death penalty.

The main concern was class that the unemployed were the majority of the population receiving the ultimate sentence of death, fifty percent of the blacks and forty-four percent of the whites that were on death row were unemployed (Johnson, 520-521). The case of Gregg v. Georgia established that the Death Penalty was not unconstitutional (Albers 468).

The death penalty was born with the hanging of George Kendall in Jamestown County, Virgina in 1608; its legality was not even brought into question until about two- hundred and fifty years later. In the beginning there were quite a few different methods of carrying out the death penalty. The different ways of executing an individual were, lethal injection, electrocution, poisonous gas, hanging, and being placed in front of a firing squad. Seven hundred and seventy-seven individuals have been killed since the death of Gary Gillmore in 1977. Killing eighty-five inmates ranked us 3rd behind Saudi Arabia and China in 2000 (Trollinger 24). The lethal injection bill was passed in 1977 in Oklahoma. Republican representative William J. Wiseman Jr. was the architect behind getting the necessary support for the bill. This bill made Oklahoma the first governmental body ever to adopt lethal injection as a method of executing capital offenders (Wiseman 6). The last public hanging in the United States took place in 1936 at Owensboro, Kentucky; 20,000 people traveled to Owensboro to watch the gruesome hanging (Sheppard 42). In the days of Socrates around 200 B.C., executions were much different. If you were caught committing arson they were burned alive, suspected witches were beaten to death, and slaves were strangled. Around A.D. 426 people were dumped into cold water, crushed under rocks forced to battled trained soldiers or thrown into fires. Once the 19th century approached the guillotine became rather popular. The inventor of the guillotine was Dr. Joseph Ignance Guillotine described it as A cool breath on the back of the neck.

Hanging is surprisingly still lingering around. Charles Campbell was sent to jail for rape. Years later after he got out of prison he murdered the same woman he raped. He was hung for the crime in 1994. In Louisiana if a child under the age of twelve is raped their perpetrator can be sentenced to death. In 1997 two murderers were crucified like Jesus on the cross in 1997. Since 1608 nearly 19,000 have been executed in America alone, 98 were killed in 1999.

In the case of Eddings v. Oklahoma the court evaluated whether or not youthful offenders should be treated any differently than adults when concerned with the death penalty. They also looked at family history and emotional disturbance. The court ruled that those factors should have been considered. By refusing to do so, the judge imposed the death penalty without

the type of individualized consideration of mitigating factors... required by the 8th and 14th amendment in capital cases.

After close analyzing by the court they ruling was the affirmation of a defendant’s age as a mitigating factor in sentencing. Juveniles deserve different treatment than adults because youth means more than just age. It is a time and condition in life when someone is more likely to be influenced by another or their surroundings. Our history has proven from Judicial Recognition that minors, especially in earlier years, are much more immature and irresponsible than adults. The lack of experience, perspective and judgment is just not the same as adults. The court also ruled that minors deserve relaxed treatment because society has an obligation to teach and nurture youth. The court declined to set a minimum age to be sentenced to death. It did however make a difference in the case of Thompson v. Oklahoma, it was ruled that people under the age of 16 are too immature to receive the death penalty. Although, if 16 and 17 year olds are normally treated as children rather than adults then they certainly should not be treated differently in death penalty situations. Different types of crimes also matter in age; each case should be taken into consideration individually (Saharsky 1150-1156).

In 1994 the United States expanded its crimes punishable by death to over forty. Europe disagrees with us more than any other country as far as capital punishment is concerned. They want nothing to do with executing anyone under any circumstances. Europe is so serious that they are conducting an international campaign against Capital punishment (Federici 100). Capital punishment is not the only difference, the amount of people that commit murder from the "dangerous age bracket" 25-34 are about eighty percent less than the United States. The Jewish culture also strongly opposes the death penalty (Baruch 52). South Africa’s constitutional court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1995 and Russia it in 1999, in hope of someday joining the council of Europe. There are many other countries out there that would like to join the council of Europe. The question is, how long will we go against the rest of the world continuing this outdated punishment? Maybe it is a good idea to do away with the executions, after all we have released ninety people from death row after finding them innocent. The governor of Illinois is so disturbed by that number that he has temporarily called a halt to executions until he is convinced that the system will no longer send innocent people to death row. He has concluded that the system is plainly not working. The people being executed can be glad that they didn’t commit a serious crime a long time ago. Before we had the death penalty the punishments were limited to whippings, brandings, cutting of fingers, putting people in stocks, hanging or just plain shooting them. It has now become a law that if the defendant does not understand that he or she is being executed because of the crime he co!

mmitted we must wait until he or she is "restored to competency" (Bright 6-13). In Nigeria people have been executed for something as simple as stealing a bag of seed or a car. In 1995 Nigeria executed eighty-six people, seventy-five of them were for armed robbery.

Is ethnic background or wealth an issue in the sentencing of criminals? Some people just try to ignore that question because they want to believe that we live in a perfect world where there is no bias. That is simply not true just look at the facts; O.J. had money and look at him now, he’s not in jail where he should be. As a whole execution rates are increasing. Mostly blacks and Hispanics are being executed and they are less likely to be given probation, more likely to be given prison sentences and they are more likely to serve a longer period of time. There are currently 4,000 people on death row and approximately one hundred are killed annually. From the end of the war until the 1960’s Rape was a capital crime and ninety percent were black men raping white women. From 1930-1999 fifty-five percent of the people executed were black yet they only made up twelve percent of the population. Mostly all juries and judges are white, even in predominantly black countries. In Georgia a white person is three to six times more likely to be sentence to probation than a black person. Many people do know that the judicial system is bias so the Defunct Post-conviction Defender Organization was formed to ensure the fairness of a capital sentence. The organization new it was urgent so they recruited and trained private counsel in the art of death penalty litigation. Congress terminated the organizations funding in 1996. This abolished any chance of finding fairness in capital cases (Stummer 608).

Geographic location also plays a role in execution rates. For example, Houston, Texas sends more people to death row than most states do. They have also had more people executed over the last twenty-five years than any state except Virgina or Texas. Dallas has a higher murder rate than Houston but only has twenty-five percent of Houston’s executions. Are you wondering why? The reason is that Johnny Homes was the District Attorney for the past twenty years. He was a very strong supporter of the death penalty (Bright 19-21).

Alabama has the greatest number of people per capita on death row. They have the worst criminal defense system in the country, as rated by the American Bar

Association (ABA). Alabama is one of the few states that have the give judge’s the power to ignore a jury’s recommendation of life without parole and impose the death penalty single handedly. Individual judges who overruled the jury sent One sixth of the current populations of Alabama’s death row there. Though rarely done judges also have the authority to reduce a death sentence to life without parole. Ferrill McRae is the most famous of the judges. Most of the time he has an all white jury. He is famous for his tough attitude towards and crime that he even has his own television show. One young attorney needed the judge’s signature on a client’s bail-reduction application; the first thing McRae wanted to know was the client’s "color". Once he was informed that the client was black, he supposedly told the attorney that he shouldn’t try too hard because we need more niggers in jail.

That is just about as cut and dry as it goes, your either racist of your not. Obviously judge McRae is. Another time in court he asked a woman who she had "been *censored*ing lately". McRae has denied these allegations but this young attorney and others stand by their stories. Even McRae’s friends say he is famous for his filthy language. He was quoted "I’m not sure lethal injection is more humane. With 7,000 volts of electricity, you’re dead that quick". Many judges have overruled juries to condemn the deranged and mentally disabled to die in the arms of "Yellow Mama," the state’s yellow electric chair. Ninety-five percent of Alabama’s death row occupants are overwhelmingly poor and a minority. Another Alabama attorney boasted in a campaign that he’d looked into the eyes of murderers and sentenced them to death (Silverstein 26-31).

When Timothy McVeigh was put to death on June 11, it was the first federal execution in 40 years. I would say that his killing was appropriate considering he killed one hundred and sixty-eight innocent people (Lynch 14). Even though it was six years ago and in Oklahoma City it is still sad to think that someone could kill that many people with a truck bomb. Aside from the recent attack on September 11 it was the worst terrorist act ever in America. There is a big debate amongst the general public on whether he should die quickly, slowly or just let him deteriorate in a federal penitentiary. One woman said

Execution’s too easy for him, that’s just exactly what he wants.

There was one woman who lost two grandchildren in the horrific bombing that has spent her time tracing McVeigh’s footsteps leading up to the attack. She even slept in the same motel bed that he did, doing all this for a documentary. She now believes that she knows enough to say that she does not want him put to death because she feels he may be part of a much greater conspiracy that has yet to come. Did McVeigh have anything to do with assisting Afghanistan in bombing the World Trade Center?

Julie Marie Welch died at the age of 23 thanks to Timothy McVeigh. After her death Julie’s father Bud, told others that we should "hang him." After awhile his memory of his daughter’s opposition to the death penalty led Bud to forgive Timothy. Bud went to the home of Timothy’s father Bill in western New York State. He talked with Bill and his daughter Jennifer and they helped each other through the healing process. It takes a strong man to be able to forgive a man who murdered his own flesh and blood (Wall 37).

Some believe that Jack Kevorkian tried to take Capital Punishment into his own hands and act as if he were the authority. He welcomed people that were severely ill or in so much pain that they just wanted to kill him or herself. Mr. Kevorkian would put them in a van with lethal gases and potassium chloride. Kevorkian should have personally received the death penalty but instead he received a measly 10-25 years in prison (Lynch 15).

In the average death penalty case an attorney will spend over six hundred hours on pre-trial preparation, six hundred in court hours, and seven hundred hours during direct appeal in state court. Most capital counsels are paid twenty to forty dollars an hour. That’s not the same in Alabama; they only make about three dollars and thirty-three cents an hour because they are restricted to a pay cap of two thousand bucks. That doesn’t seem fair.

New York just reinstated its Death Penalty Act in 1995. New york pays lead counsel in capital cases about one hundred and twenty-five dollars an hour and associate counsel gets one hundred. This pay is given as an incentive to entice above average attorneys to remain in the capital cases. On average they get paid $106,000 annually. In most other states the pay is not that good so there is generally younger, less experience lawyers working on these cases. Any person who has passed the bar examination and possess a license to practice can represent a client in a capital case. The success rate for capital cases is continuously dropping from seventy percent in 1983 to sixty percent in 1986 to forty percent in 1997 (Stummer 606-610)

Many citizens have a hard time dealing with the death penalty because they don’t believe that it is humane. They probably think of it as painful. Most people feel that lethal injection is the least painful so that is what they prefer. When Stephen McCoy was executed in 1989 it appeared that he had heavy chest pain, he was choking, gasping for oxygen and his back arched off the gurney. It only cost the taxpayers $86.08, much better than keeping him incarcerated which would cost a minimum of $30,000 annually. Another person executed said that it tasted like rubber. All public executions have been halted because the public enjoys them too much. In 1997 Pedro Medina was sentenced to the electric chair in Florida. I guess they sent too many volts to the chair this time because Pedro’s head burst into flames during the execution. Bob Bulterworth, a chairman of President Bush’s campaign jokingly said;

People who wish to commit murder better not do it in Florida because we may have a problem with the electric chair. (Lamarche 40)

A practically unbelievable story was one case in Houston; George McFarland was sentenced to death even though his lawyer slept through the majority of his trial. The lawyer failed to present evidence, cross-examine or to present a defense in McFarland’s case. George was one of three people that it has happened to. People have also been executed when their lawyers were drunk or have Alzheimer’s disease (Bright 27). This is a good example of why The Defunct Post-Conviction Defender Organization should still exist.

Many of the non-supporters of the death penalty can at least sleep better at night now knowing that DNA tests are making a difference. There have been people today who have been taken off death row because DNA has proven them innocent. I look at capital punishment as an issue of our National Debt. We have a problem with our debt and the more people that we can sentence to death is the less number of people that we have to care for in prison

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