One Way out Six Feet to Understand
By Moral Shock
For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check; yet crime persists. -ALBERT CAMUS, Resistance, Rebellion and Death
On July 20, 2012 James Holmes, a neuroscience university student who was top of his class, walked into a movie theater with full body armor. The young man proceeded in through the exit door and began his terror; he had brought a rifle, a shotgun, and a hand gun. His intentions were to kill innocent civilians who were enjoying their night at the movies. Holmes, the gunman, entered the movie theater and began to shoot randomly, and unprejudiced at women and children. After seventeen were dead and fifty-six were wounded the gunman (who was working on his doctorate degree) turned himself in and claimed to be the Joker (a nonfiction character from the Batman film). Lawyers now debate if they you should seek out the death penalty on this case.
Holmes had no criminal background whatsoever; he was a normal person who was working on his doctorate even receiving scholarships. The gunman had a promised future in the name of science, but decided to make ad dramatic change in his life. The question now is whether the prosecution should seek the death penalty? The case may drag on for years, but we may never hear a verdict because so much time will pass and the media and society will most likely lose interest by the time the verdict is delivered. The death penalty has been recently suggested in the case. Cases like these are the reason we seek the death penalty; when the crime is so heinous that it brings outrage to the community. But what about when the crime is not as horrible as the Aurora, Colorado shooting?
Photo courtesy of CNN
On July 23, 2012 three days after the theater shootings, an execution was halted for Warren Lee Hill by the Supreme Court. Hill was scheduled to be executed at the state penitentiary at Jackson. He was convicted twice for murder. The first murder was his girlfriend, and the second murder was on another prison inmate. Lawyers of Hill claim he is mentally disabled and the federal law prohibits states from executing the mentally disabled. The state claims the defense failed to submit the evidence that he was mentally ill. His lawyers claim that he has neurological impairment that made him mentally ill, but IQ testing claims that his IQ is too high for him to be categorized as mentally ill.
Photo courtesy of Georgia Department of Correction
My theory is that a person with a high IQ can have a social disability, simply because their mind might be more opened to knowledge than personal feelings. As people progress and get older, they began to feel new emotions and thoughts. Children with Autism and Asperger’s syndrome who can paint masterpieces can also struggle with pragmatic ability. People can be very intelligent but not know how to act socially or understand social mores. In order to avoid children growing up into adults without good social skills it is the important to help children at a young age. James Holmes and Warren Lee Hills are two different people, one with an education and one without, yet the educated one murdered 17 people and wounded 57 others. Lee had murdered two people, one was his girlfriend (which could have been a crime of passion) and the other could have been self-defense.
Do you think that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime? Why or why not?
Photo courtesy of Georgia Department of Correction
The University of Colorado committed a study in 2009 on whether the death-penalty caused a decrease in the murder rate, eighty-eight of the top criminologist agreed that it does not. Their conclusion was that it is basically just a myth. According to a survey of the former and present presidents of the country’s top academic criminological societies, 88% of these experts rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder (Radelet & Lacock, 2009). A person getting executed can shed light on the people who had contact with the executed, such as their prison mates. Their prison mates who they had friendship contact with, will feel the loss and the effects of the death-penalty. It may have a positive effect, or negative effect but it is well worth a try to influence inmates who have a chance on avoiding the death penalty.
Is the death penalty used in a fair and just way or is it being used in a discriminatory manner?
More white males are given the death penalty than any other race, since white males are the minority then if there is discrimination towards sentencing it is towards white males. White defendants are the minority of prison inmates, yet they are the most common to face the death penalty. Seventy-six percent of white defendants were given the death penalty, and fifty-six percent were executed; more than any other race. The death-penalty cannot be said it was use in a discriminatory manor, due to the fact that most of the justice system is run by individuals whom identify themselves as white. In fact, eighty-one percent of judges are white, eleven percent are African American, and only seven percent are Hispanic Americans (Pierce & Radelet, Louisiana Law Review, 2011).
In recent studies, in Louisiana, the odds of a death sentence were 97% higher for those whose victim was white than for those whose victim was black. (Pierce & Radelet, Louisiana Law Review, 2011). Therefore, one could say that there could be discrimination for the sentencing based on the victim’s race, ethnicity, and/or gender. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but it seems unlikely that such a skewed statistic would be derived from such a high ratio of 97% white victims to 3% black victims.
Do you think we should continue using it ?
The death penalty goes back to the 1800’s when society began to form a community where all of the people within a town believed a crime was committed that order had to be placed. When a heinous crime would be committed the accused would face execution; even without question or courts. Times have changed since then; we have a constitution now which protects citizens (including criminals) of their rights. Since the death penalty does not deter people from committing crimes it should just be an option for the offenders. We are so quick to execute, but when a person tries to kill themselves and they survive we shut them out of society and sometimes imprison them. Most of the times we imprison people who try to commit suicide in mental institutions.
Why discontinue giving the death penalty, people still commit crimes regardless of the consequences. It simply does not fit as an example to society, maybe the criminals. I feel it mostly smears what the American Justice System stands for. We talk about being the best country in the world, when in fact we have the worst education, justice, and prison system compared to other industrialized nations. In the United States five percent of the population in prison, and more inmates than any other country in the world! For the United States to use the death penalty it causes an injustice that can lead to the mentality of an eye for an eye. People who commit crimes are in a whole other psychological level; when they commit a crime they don’t think of the actions or consequences.
You can kill a man in the name of justice who killed another man, woman or child, but is it really justice to the system or are we simply give them a way out of their guilt? We are simply doing the criminal a favor by releasing them of their responsibility. I think a criminal suffers more with the thoughts of their actions, and we should let them suffer that way. Death-penalty is the courts way of showing offenders that they will go all the way, and that they have the power to kill. It is the justice system way of saying, “We don’t know what to do with you, but we got to get rid of you somehow.”
Do you think we should abolish it ?
If the murder of a human being is not allowed in society, why should we allow it in the courts? I find it pointless and useless. The death penalty does not deter people from committing crimes; therefore it should just be an option for the offenders. Despite the controversy around the death penalty some people continue to be falsely accused, executed, and proven innocent after their death. Another problem with the death penalty is that there is no perfect way of serving an execution, especially by electrocution. The sound of screams from the inmate shows that they are in pain. These miscarriages of Justice have led to many cases that have been exonerated after DNA evidence has found death row inmates not guilty of crimes, but where is the justice for the already executed prisoner? Whether I believe it is right or wrong; balance is needed in the system regardless of the involvement of the death penalty. Those executed also have family members, and the family members have to deal with the horror for the rest of their life.
There are cases where it’s acceptable to carry out the death penalty sentence such as for a serial killer, or a person who rapes and murders a child. Appropriately, most executions are given to inmates who have committed heinous crimes. Yet there is always that nagging question about whether or not that person actually committed the crime they are being accused of committing. The person will never come back after execution so if there is any doubt how can we follow through with such a permanent conviction? I approve of lethal injection, because it is quiet and fast. But, even then there have been several occasions when the procedure has gone bad and was injected into the tissue which caused serious pain to the convicted prisoner. In some states, like Arizona, the firing squad is still being used. It seems unjustifiable to give officers in the firing squad the legal right to kill a human being who is being killed for killing another human being.
In modern society it is unjust to give another human being the right to kill a person in the name of vengeance. Is it because of their criminal status that it makes it seem acceptable for certain circumstances to exist that should make it alright for one murder to occur and not another? But that’s what separates us from the animals, the only reason animals kill is to eat and protect themselves, whereas we kill to eat, protect ourselves, and for justice. After researching the subject and watching a documentary from British Broadcasting Corporation called The Science of Killing, it gave me a visual perspective of the inhumane torture that happens when trying to perfect the art of killing a human being. A small clip can be seen of animals being used to test cyanide chambers.
As I watched the effects of the animals and their death I began to ask myself, why death? More money is spent on finding ways to kill, than to rehabilitate the inmates. If I could replace the death penalty, I would replace it with a punishment of exile in the middle of international waters, and if caught back in the country while in exile they face automatic execution. In reality there is no alternative. Thirty-five states have executed 1300 death row inmates since 1976. That is a relatively small number compared to 12,996 murder victims in 2010 alone (FBI UCR, 2012). Every person who has come to terms with their mistakes should be able to choose their own death or have nature or God choose it for them.
Federal Bureau of Investigation.Expanded homicide data. Retrieved on July 14, 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded/expandhomicidemain
Death Penalty Information Center. (2012). Facts about the death penalty. Retrieved from: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf
NBC News. (2012). Retrieved July 23, 2012. Retrieved from: http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/07/23/12910830-georgia-halts-execution-of-death-row-inmate-warren-lee-hill?lite
Harlow, P., Payne, E. (2012). Retrieved July 24, 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/24/justice/colorado-theater-shooting/index.html?hpt=hp_t1
University of Colorado Boulder. (2009). Retrieved July 24, 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2009/06/16/death-penalty-does-not-deter-murder-according-new-cu-boulder-study