All posts by Jamie Capach

A Stark Look at the Death Penalty

A Stark Look at the Death Penalty

Source: CriminalJusticeDegreeHub.com

Timeline

18th Century, B.C.: the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon codified the death penalty for 25 different crimes.
FACT: Murder was not one of them.

16th Century, B.C.: first death sentence historically recorded in Egypt.
The 7th Century BC: Draconian Code of Athens made death the penalty for every crime committed. Since then, draconian has come to refer to similarly unforgiving rules or laws.

399 B.C.: Greek philosopher Socrates was found guilty of “refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state” and “corrupting the youth.” and was sentenced to drink poison.

29 A.D.: Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem.

FACT: [You think Texas is tough?] Under Henry VIII of England, as many as 72,000 people were executed, mostly by hanging, the standard method of execution at the time.

#1: The first recorded execution in America took place in 1608, and was that of Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of Virginia, who was convicted of treason.

1930s: The Depression era in the U.S. saw a peak in executions (an average of 160 per year), was followed by a dramatic decrease in the 1950s and 1960s. No executions occurred in the US between 1967 and 1976.

1972: the Supreme Court effectively nullified the death penalty, and converted the death sentences of hundreds of death row inmates to life in prison.

1976: another Supreme Court ruling found capital punishment to be Constitutional.

U.S. Statistics

DEATH PENALTY STATES (32)

Alabama Arizona Arkansas California
Colorado Delaware Florida Georgia
Idaho Indiana Kansas Kentucky
Louisiana Mississippi Missouri Montana
Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire North Carolina
Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania
South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas
Utah Virginia Washington Wyoming
U.S. Gov’t: the Military

13 women have been executed in the U.S. since 1976.

 

Executions since 1976 by Method Used

Lethal Injection – 1177
Electrocution – 158
Gas Chamber – 11
Hanging – 3
Firing Squad – 3

Costs:

Cost of the death penalty in California has totaled over $4 billion since 1978:

$1.94 billion–Pre-Trial and Trial Costs
$925 million–Automatic Appeals and State Habeas Corpus Petitions
$775 million–Federal Habeas Corpus Appeals
$1 billion–Costs of Incarceration

$186 million: Estimation of the extra costs to taxpayers in the state of Maryland alone, for death penalty cases prosecuted between 1978 and 1999. Based on the 5 executions carried out in the state, this translates to a cost of $37 million per execution.

California was spending $137 million per year on the death penalty, whereas they were reported to only spend $90 million annually in 1988. It was estimated that a system that sentenced the same inmates to a punishment of life without parole would cost only $11.5 million per year.

$90,000: annual cost of confining an inmate to death row in California. With 700 inmates currently on death row in California, that comes to $63 million a year.

WOW: Since the number of executions in California has averaged less than one every two years since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, the cost for each execution is over $250 million.

In 1988, it was estimated that the costs of the death penalty in Florida were $3.2 million per execution. Based on the 44 executions carried out in Florida from 1976 to 2000, that comes to $24 million per execution.

Sometimes the innocent are set free:

130: Since 1973, the number of people that have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions.

Factors leading to wrongful convictions include:

Inadequate legal representation
Police and prosecutorial misconduct
Perjured testimony and mistaken eyewitness testimony
Racial prejudice
Jailhouse “snitch” testimony
Suppression and/or misinterpretation of mitigating evidence
Community/political pressure to solve a case

What is the purpose of a death penalty (thoughts to ponder)

Is the purpose of the death penalty to remove from society someone who would cause more harm?
Is the purpose to remove from society someone who is incapable of rehabilitation?
Is the purpose of the death penalty to deter others from committing murder?
Is the purpose of the death penalty to punish the criminal?
Is the purpose of the death penalty to take retribution on behalf of the victim?

10 Best Death Penalty Movies

“Paths of Glory” (1957)
“The Thin Blue Line” (1988)
“The Green Mile” (1999)
“Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman” (2005)
“Capote” (2005)
“Dead Man Walking” (1995)
“The Star Chamber” (1983)
“Shocker” (1989)
“True Crime” (1999)
“The Life of David Gale” (2003)

Sources:
http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/socrates.htm
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/execution/readings/history.html
http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/part-i-history-death-penalty#intro
http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf
http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/costs-death-penalty
http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-row-inmates-state-and-size-death-row-year#state
http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/NebraskaTestimony.pdf

KSC Symposium Panelists Offer Many Reasons to Abolish the Death Penalty

On November 7, 2013, Monadnock Citizens Concerned About the Death Penalty hosted a symposium session on Abolishing the Death Penalty in New Hampshire as part of Keene State College’s Eighth Biennial Symposium: Finding Your Place in the Evolving Commons. A panel of four, moderated by MCCADP member and KSC Professor Ockle Johnson, discussed the death penalty, presented reasons for its abolition, and responded to questions from the audience.

Ken Arnold's piece "Hang 'Em!"
Ken Arnold’s piece “Hang ‘Em!”

Before beginning the panel discussion, local artist Ken Arnold’s piece “Hang ‘Em!” was presented. His work represents the total number of death penalty executions in 2010 with nooses of different colors representing the ethnicity of those executed: 27 white nooses, 13 black nooses, and 4 brown nooses. Arnold shared a few remarks about his twine sculpture and how the work of advocates like members of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty have contributed to a decline in executions in subsequent years, though there is still much work to be done.

Peter Stevenson
Peter Stevenson

Peter Stevenson, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at Keene State College, spoke about four criteria that we as a society want our punishment to accomplish and how well the death penalty meets those goals.

Rehabilitation: There are no rehabilitative effects to using the death penalty. Stevenson added, “If you offered programming and services to inmates on death row, I think a lot of taxpayers would say that’s just a waste of resources for someone who we’re about ready to execute.”

Incapacitation: He argued that when it comes to incapacitation, the death penalty is very effective at removing an offender from society but isn’t at all cost effective. So far the State of New Hampshire has spent $5 million and counting on the Addison case, enough to imprison him for over 100 years. Life imprisonment without parole would be far more cost effective at incapacitation at $35,000 per year.

Deterrence: Stevenson spoke at length about deterrence and how it is often used as justification for the death penalty, especially by law enforcement. He highlighted two problems with the deterrence argument. First, deterrence is difficult to measure and as a result there are just as many studies that show no deterrence effect as there are studies that show only a slight increase in deterrence. Second, there is a societal assumption that offenders are rational actors who weigh the risk of capital punishment before acting, when in reality this just isn’t the case.

“To think that before an offender lashes back at a police officer, fires their gun,” Stephenson remarked, “that they’re going to go through this calculation through their head I think is quite misguided. We don’t always act that rationally.”

Retribution: What Stevenson saw at the heart of death penalty support was retribution, particularly in the name of slain police officers. While it may be effective retribution in the ‘eye for an eye’ sense, the scarcity and selectiveness of New Hampshire’s application of the death penalty doesn’t make sense.

“I really don’t think this is an effective punishment,” Stevenson concluded. “It doesn’t do really anything that we want it to do. Why use it?”

Rev. Mark Jenkins
Rev. Mark Jenkins

Rev. Mark Jenkins, Rector at St. James Episcopal Church in Keene, shared the story of Marietta Jaeger, whose daughter Susie was kidnapped and murdered in 1973 at the age of seven. Marietta went on to help organize Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing. Her belief in forgiveness during her journey as a murder victim family member led her to reject retribution through the death penalty. Rev. Jenkins shared a quote from Marietta’s personal story:

“Loved ones, wrenched from our lives by violent crime, deserve more beautiful, noble and honorable memorials than pre-meditated, state-sanctioned killings. The death penalty only creates more victims and more grieving families. By becoming that which we deplore — people who kill people — we insult the sacred memory of all our precious victims. That kind of justice would only dehumanize and degrade us because it legitimates an animal instinct for gut-level bloodthirsty revenge. My own daughter was such a gift of joy and sweetness and beauty, that to kill someone in her name would have been to violate and profane the goodness of her life; the idea is offensive and repulsive to me. Capital punishment degrades, dehumanizes and debilitates us as a human society.”

“That’s what I as a follower of Jesus believe that I have been told to do,” Rev. Jenkins added, “Love your enemies, Jesus said. Do good to those who hate you.”

He continued by telling the history of the Episcopal church’s evolution on the death penalty. While the Episcopal church has opposed the death penalty since 1958, they have not always been “captive to our better angels,” as Rev. Jenkins described. For many centuries the church was actively engaged in imposing the death penalty even as they followed of a man who himself was executed by the state for crime.

“We seemed to have lost sight of that,” he said. “Fortunately today many churches and other religions have found themselves coming to a renewed understanding of the real-world implications of our obligation to respect all human life and to always stand ready to forgive even the most heinous of actions.”

Rev. Jenkins concluded by sharing reasons to oppose the death penalty from a religious and moral perspective: concern for the sacredness of all life, inequities in the system, fallibility of our justice system, lack of evidence to support deterrence, and a subtext of retribution that is unacceptable in a civilized society.

“We talk about deterrence,” he added. “What we want is vengeance. He who seeks revenge digs two graves.”

Ray Dodge
Ray Dodge

Ray Dodge, a retired local police chief, spoke of his personal evolution on the death penalty. While he started his career believing in the deterrence effect of the death penalty, as he learned and experienced more he came to see that imperfections in our system and how much it is subject to judgment calls lead to injustice in how the death penalty is applied. Dodge described the tremendous amount of public and political pressure on those who make those judgment calls to solve a murder “in a half hour with two commercial breaks.”

He opposes the death penalty from a moral and spiritual perspective, citing his belief as a Unitarian in respect for all life. As a former police chief he doesn’t believe that someone’s life should depend on what is ultimately an imperfect decision made by another person. If a mistake is made and a case is pushed through the system, innocent people can be and have been executed. He also stated his concerns about the cost of the death penalty and lack of deterrence.

“I think when you look at the criminal justice system, as good as it is,” Dodge finished, “it’s good because when mistakes are made we can correct those mistakes. The death penalty destroys that safety net.”

Richard Guerriero
Richard Guerriero

Richard Guerriero, a former public defender in murder and death penalty cases, offered examples from his experience, including the Addison case and a Louisiana case in which a black defendant faced an all white jury. His client was convicted and only through legal maneuvering was he spared from the death penalty. Guerriero has also seen the other side of murder as a family member and friend of murder victims.

He continued with an overview of how the justice system handles murder and death penalty cases. Guerriero described the complexities of mitigating and aggravating factors and why it is so difficult for many lawyers to understand them and how the system works.

One of the problems that Guerriero identified with how the system works is that jurors are not required to make a decision based on aggravating factors outweighing mitigating factors. The jury can weigh them however they want as long as they follow the rules set by the court. There’s no real test for a reasonable doubt.

Another problem with the system is that jurors are intentionally selected to exclude anyone who opposes or could not consider the death penalty. A third problem is a lack of uniformity not only in how the death penalty is sought and applied from state to state but also in resources, funding, and support of counsel.

The event wrapped up with questions from the audience and an update on the N.H. Supreme Court decision on the Addison case from Richard Guerriero.