The surety of the death penalty proponent’s is a major issue as aside from Jesus, no one has ever come back from the dead after an execution. This is sad commentary on a vengeful, biased system and for a variety of reasons; first among them is the inescapable fact that it could never compensate for a family’s loss. There are other reasons the death penalty should be abolished asides from its hit or miss nature; and, most prominent among them is racism.[1] New research shows that at least 4.1 percent of defendants sentenced to death in the United States are innocent.[2]

A Change of Heart

In 1976, just six months after he joined the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens voted to reinstate capital punishment. In 2008, two years before he announced his retirement, Justice Stevens reversed course and in a concurrence said that he now believed the death penalty to be unconstitutional.[3] After more than three decades on the court and some 1,100 executions, Justice Stevens wrote that personnel changes on the court, coupled with “regrettable judicial activism,” had created a system of capital punishment shot through with racism, skewed toward conviction, infected with politics, and tinged with hysteria.[4]

Surely Goodness and Mercy

That absolvent character of Jesus appears nonexistent among many of his followers today. Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs Survey, conducted each May, shows that 66 percent of Americans find the death penalty “morally acceptable.” Among conservatives, those favoring the death penalty jumps to 81 percent, a number matched only by Republican Party members.[5]

In the United States, Christians are overwhelmingly in favor of the death penalty, which seems strangely incongruent in an overwhelmingly Christian country. Nearly 70 percent of Americans favor the death penalty despite its uncertain application.[6] Only 59 percent of Americans favored it in 1937 when Gallup first asked Americans about the death penalty.

States of Righteousness

In the past ten years, the number of executions in the U.S. has decreased while the murder rate has declined. Some observers argue the murder rate dropped because of the increase in executions; yet, during this decade, the murder rate in non-death penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in states with the death penalty.

For example, in 2007 the homicide rate in states with active death penalty statutes was 42 percent higher than that of non-death-penalty states.[7] For 2010, the average murder rate of death penalty states was 4.6 per 100,000 people while the average rate for states without the death penalty was 2.9.[8]

Louisiana leads the nation in murder rates at 11.2 per 100,000 residents, a position it has held for more than a decade and almost three times the national average despite having the death penalty. Following Louisiana are Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, New Mexico, Arizona, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Alabama, which all have the death penalty. Of the states with the highest murder rates, 16 of the top twenty are in the states of the old Confederacy or “Red” states.

Since 1976, the most religious region of the country, the South, executed more than 200 times the prisoners as the Northeast; yet, the murder rate in the South is 25 percent higher.[9] The South executed 1,057 prisoners while the Northeast only put four to death.[10] By region, the South ranks first in murder rates at 5.6 while the Northeast, the least religious region of the United States, the Northeast is tied for last at 4.2 with the West, another portion of the country with low religious participation.[11]

Currently, over two-thirds of the countries in the world—139—have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. In 2008, 93 percent of all known executions took place in just five countries—China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the United States.

Capital Punishment

While some research in the 1970s claimed to find deterrent effects in the death penalty, the studies received exhaustive criticism and ultimately discredited. A panel set up by the National Academy of Sciences and chaired by Nobel Laureate Lawrence R. Klein also examined the studies. The panel concluded “the available studies provide no useful evidence on the deterrent effect of capital punishment” and “research on the deterrent effects of capital sanctions is not likely to provide results that will or should have much influence on policy makers.”[12]

In a 1985 Gallup Poll, 62 percent of the respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Do you feel that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to the commitment of murder, that it lowers the murder rate, or not?” By 2004, the proportion of respondents who stated that the death penalty was not a deterrent doubled from 31% to 62%.[13]

Oops! Exonerations

On April 7, 2009, the Innocence Project of Texas was successful in obtaining the exoneration of Timothy Cole, the first person in Texas history formally cleared of a crime after his death. Cole died in prison while serving a 25-year sentence for rape. He maintained his innocence until the end, hoping that one day he would receive vindication and a pardon from the Texas Governor.

Cole’s case is unique in the annals of Texas legal history. Not only was it the first posthumous exoneration, it was also the first time a “Court of Inquiry” worked to seek justice for an innocent person. In addition, thanks to the bravery and compassion of the crime victim, Cole’s exoneration marked one of the greatest examples of a victim joining in the effort to exonerate someone falsely convicted of a crime in Texas.[14]

Since 1973, across the country 144 death row inmates escaped death after being exonerated of their crimes. It might seem that even one wrongful death would be enough to at least suspend the death penalty or scrap it entirely, but it hasn’t.

Out of 26 current and former death penalty states, five states account for more than with “red states” leading the pack with 56 exonerations. Those five states account for 53% of exonerations, which totals more than 21 remaining states.[15]

The Dirty 2%

Contrary to the assumption that the death penalty is widely practiced across the country, it is actually the domain of a small percentage of U.S. counties in a handful of states. Only 2% of the counties in the U.S. have been responsible for the majority of cases leading to executions since 1976. To put it another way, all of the state executions since the death penalty was reinstated stem from cases in just 15% of the counties in the U.S. [16] Out of more than 200 counties in Texas nine counties accounted 314 executions with Harris County accounting for 116 or nearly 40 percent of all the executions in the state since 1976.[17],[18]

Something to Hide?

Since 1973, 144 death row inmates were exonerated with the most recent occurring March 11, 2014.[19] Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Texas alone has accounted for nearly 40% of the nation’s executions. Just four states (Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida) have been responsible for almost 60% of the executions. The South has carried out 82% of the executions, the Northeast, less than 1%.[20]

Denomination and the Death Penalty

American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.—Since 1982, the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. has opposed capital punishment in the United States.[21]

Catholicism—U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeatedly called for the abolition of capital punishment in the United States in all circumstances.[22]

Episcopal Church—Since the 1958 General Convention, U.S. Episcopal bishops have maintained a position against the death penalty.[23]

Judaism—All of the major Jewish movements in the United States either advocate for the abolition of the death penalty or have called for at least a temporary moratorium on its use. [24]

National Council of Churches—The National Council of Churches, which represents 35 mainstream Protestant and Orthodox churches, has advocated for the abolition of the death penalty since 1968.[25]

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)—Since its first official statement on the issue in 1959, reaffirmed again in 1977 and 1978, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has opposed the death penalty.[26]

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations—The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has called for a moratorium on executions since 1961.[27]

United Methodist Church—In 2000, the United Methodist Church declared its opposition to the death penalty and encouraged its membership to advocate for the abolition of capital punishment.[28]

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod—In 1976, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod asserted, “that capital punishment is in accord with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.”[29]

National Association of Evangelicals—Since its 1972 and 1973 resolutions on the issue, the National Association of Evangelicals has continued to support the use of capital punishment in cases involving premeditated murder as well as crimes like hijacking and kidnapping where people are physically harmed.[30]

Southern Baptist Convention—In 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution in support of the fair and equitable use of capital punishment.[31]

 



[1] National Statistics on the Death Penalty and Race, Death Penalty Information Center, March 23, 2012, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/race-death-row-inmates-executed-197...

[2] Samuel Gross, Rate of False Conviction of Criminal Defendants who are Sentenced t..., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 28, 2014

[3] Adam Liptak,  Ex-Justice Criticizes Death Penalty, New York Times,  November 27, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/us/28memo.html

[4] Adam Liptak,  Ex-Justice Criticizes Death Penalty, New York Times,  November 27, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/us/28memo.html

[5] Frank Newport, Sixty-Nine Percent of Americans Support Death Penalty, Gallup News Service, October 12, 2007, http://www.gallup.com/poll/101863/sixtynine-percent-americans-suppo...

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] Regional Murder Rates, 2001 – 2010, 2012 Death Penalty Information Center, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-nationally-and-state#M...

[9] ibid

[10] ibid

[11] ibid

[12] Michael L. Radelet & Traci L. Lacock, Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates?: The Views Of Leading Criminologists, The Journal Of Criminal Law & Criminology, Vol. 99, No. 2,2009

[13] ibid

[14] Timothy Cole: A Tragic Story Begets Hope for the Future, The Innocence Project of Texas, http://ipoftexas.org/index.php?action=at-a-glance

[16] Death Penalty Information Center,

[17], Death Penalty Information Center,

[19] Kenneth England, The Innocence List, Death Penalty Information Center, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-list-those-freed-death-row

[20] Kenneth England, The Innocence List, Death Penalty Information Center, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-list-those-freed-death-row

[21] ibid

[22] ibid

[23] ibid

[24] ibid

[25] ibid

[26] ibid

[27] ibid

[28] ibid

[29] Religious Groups' Official Positions on the Death Penalty, The Barna Group, November 4, 2009, http://pewforum.org/Death-Penalty/Religious-Groups--Official-Positi...

[30] ibid

[31] ibid

 

Views: 170

Tags: Death, capital, chair, electric, firing, hanging, injection, lethal, penalty, punishment, More…squad

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Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 6, 2014 at 8:01pm

Sentient--I agree with everything you said, especially this:

"In places like Texas and Florida, where execution is a popular hobby, I get the feeling it's more about retribution than about simply removing the person from society."

I also believe that many think they are doing God's will. There are certainly enough verses in the Bible to support it. That combined with all the violence, revenge and murder, it is easy to see why this religious state carries out such sadistic rituals. Florida and Texas alone commit nearly 50% of executions in the US. Yes, I said commit because I believe executions are little more than state sanctioned murder. As a deterrent, it sadly lacking in effect as Texas and Florida have nearly the highest rates of murder in the country.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 6, 2014 at 7:49pm

I thought I'd put this out here so you can see who has abolished the death, when they abolished and how long it has been since they abolished it. You will see some countries that you probably didn't expect to be there. Nevertheless, we are the only industrialized country that has not abolished the death penalty. Now, why did we reinstate the death penalty in 1976?

Country Death Penalty Abolished Years Since
Venezuela 1863 151
Portugal 1867 147
Netherlands 1870 144
Sweden 1921 93
Iceland 1928 86
Denmark 1933 81
Switzerland 1942 72
Italy 1947 67
Finland 1949 65
Germany 1949 65
Austria 1950 64
New Zealand 1961 53
United Kingdom 1973 41
Canada 1976 38
Spain  1978 36
France 1981 33
Australia 1984 30
Romania 1989 25
Hungary 1990 24
Ireland 1990 24
Angola  1992 22
Greece 1993 21
South Africa 1995 19
Belgium 1996 18
Poland 1997 17
Ukraine 1999 15
Albania  2000 14
Turkey 2002 12
Mexico 2005 9
Comment by Sentient Biped on May 6, 2014 at 7:18pm

I've read that China has the highest # of executions.  I don't know how that compares with Texas per capita.

 

I get the feeling - I could be wrong about this - that in China, execution is not about retribution.  It's about removing people who have shown themselves to be counterproductive to the Chinese govt and culture.  There may be some deterrence in principle, although the fact that there is still corruption and there are still criminals despite a rapid trial and execution, suggests otherwise. In China, there is a saying "Kill the chicken, scare the monkey" which means, kill the less important, more disposable, animal, and the more important will obey.

 

In places like Texas and Florida, where execution is a popular hobby, I get the feeling it's more about retribution than about simply removing the person from society.  Even so, we seem to have more qualms about death, compared to the officially atheist Chinese government.  So we put the convicted person through a long process of imprisonment, appeals, re-appeals, re-re-appeals.  It's like we're saying, "are we SURE you want this person dead?  Are we really sure?  Are we really, really sure?

 

Is this because we have a greater fear of death?  Is it that, if we wrongly kill someone, we might be condemned to hell, so we are making it as much of a group effort as possible, to spread the blame thinner?  Is that why we are more likely to convict some types of people than others, because we consider them less human?   I use the word "we" advisedly, because I really don't want to include myself in that.

 

I think the most merciful death possible would be the fastest.  That too, seems to be the Chinese method.  Have them kneel on the ground, put a gun to the back of the head, and fire at point blank range.   A bullet into the brain seems quick, and seems less likely to be messed  up with various pseudomedical concoctions, mixtures, noose calculations, etc causing lingering death and botched, torturous demise.  Certainly, it seems quicker than the botched executions.  I don't know this, but I think death from a bullet to the brain is usually immediate. 

 

I'm not proposing we accept the Chinese way of justice.  I'm thinking about, that it seems more merciful than our own.  Which is kind of an indictment of our christian system,  which to me seems inhumane, unfair, and bigoted.

 

That said, Don, I agree with you that some people are heinous animals, and I don't see reason to grieve them.  But if I am better than they are, I think I should treat them humanely even if they did not do so to their victims.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 6, 2014 at 6:18pm
Down is close Judge Roy Bean country. We have a law pending that will allow carrying guns in the open. When I moved to Texas (company move) they told me I'd have to set my watch an hour. A friend from New York told I'd have to set it to 1865. Texas is so proficient at killing people that they are thinking about putting an Express Lane. For as many people executed here the murder rate is among the highest in the country, which happens to be our neighbor--Louisiana. So much for deterrent effect.
Comment by Luara on May 6, 2014 at 5:33pm

Don,

You are living in Death Penalty Central, there in Texas.  Do you have a handle on what is going on with that, from the attitudes you encounter from people around you?  I mean, what makes those Texans like the death penalty? 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 6, 2014 at 3:23pm
Although many of the people executed probably deserved no mercy. However, "an eye for an eye" justice does not bring back the dead. Nor does it offer much in the way of comfort to either family. By the way, the Scotsboro Boys were exonerated posthumously. I haven't felt an electric shock remotely like that although as a serviceman I did get a great shock while messing around with a magneto. White, black or maroon there is a better way--life imprisonment. Yes, it takes away the bloodlust, but people never consider that life in the penitentiary is no cakewalk. Once a man passes forty, the body begins its shut down phase. Testosterone levels drop, back problems, cancer, brittle bones, young men, loss of muscle, dimming of the mind, never able to walk free, stir crazy, failing bowels, heart problems, ulcers are common, loss of hearing, vision, general aches and plus a variety of other stuff.
Comment by David Maxwell on May 6, 2014 at 3:07pm

I’d be really interested in finding out is how much Protestants and Catholics outside the US support the death penalty. I say this because I tend to feel that Christianity in this country is far more savage and brutal than what is practiced overseas. For instance Europe, with the exception of Belarus and Kazakhstan, has completely abolished the death penalty. Belarus might be because of it’s Eastern Orthodox Catholicism (which comprises about 48% of the population) and Kazakhstan is largely Islamic (about 70%). In fact a web search shows something rather interesting, 20% of the world’s population still maintains the death penalty, countries that also seem to be of a very religious nature (including large parts of Northeastern Africa, All of the Middle East, most of Southern Asia including China, and the United States).

Now of course one could point out “What about China? They’ve supposed to be an atheist country”, which is undeniably true. But one also needs to take into consideration that it’s a government imposed form of atheism, not something more ambient, like that of Europe. That is to say, Europe’s atheism is quite likely a byproduct of it's education system, the level of education it's citizens receive and it’s more rational (dare I say, “liberal”) approach to humanitarian issues. China’s government imposed atheism is brought about by it’s nationalistic xenophobia, which I’m inclined to apply to American’s religiosity as well.

Comment by Sentient Biped on May 6, 2014 at 2:36pm

When I look at that picture, I see a bunch of white guys carefully securing the straps and adjusting the buckles, to fry a black man.   And maybe he's looking at them thinking, the same thing.

Has anyone ever been shocked by bad wiring or their own bad attempts at wiring.  I have.  It's incredible painful and jarring.  Multiply that a zillion fold, and keep the juice running until the victim is dead, and you have someone who was tortured to death in an incredibly cruel way.

Then, add to that he could well be innocent.  So putting myself into his shoes - impossible but I still think about it - here I am, about to be tortured to death by these white men who just had to find some random black man to sacrifice for the crime.  Im going to die, and these guys are about as calm as a boy playing with his ant farm.

Comment by Joan Denoo on May 6, 2014 at 2:21pm

Donald, I think we should be more aggressive in challenging the hypocrisy of the fundamentalist right. Sarah Palan is just one incident in which the left could have gone harder against her and challenged her claim of love, compassion, forgiveness and redemption. That was such a blatant outrage and I didn't read very much of a resistance. 

As to the white men strapping the black guy in the chair ... what did they expect from him, a Superman escape from the room? 

Pat, your reciting the cost of putting a person to death is one that should ring the bells of Republicans!. Perhaps the Christian Republicans are willing to pay the price for retribution. 

Having Northwestern Univerty Innocence Project is the very least a law school could and should do in the case of death penalties. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 6, 2014 at 1:38pm
Luara--The University of Michigan is deep in studies that take on the wrongful death issue. I think the Innocence Project started Northwestern University. I am also pretty sure that students from the school as a class assignment examined case after case to see where there might be a case where the conviction was shaky. Eventually, the succeeded in securing a prisoner's release.

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