Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Matter of Life or Death

John Breckinridge shares the story of his journey from death penalty supporter to repeal advocate in the latest edition of Parable (click to read the full story).

John Breckinridge is a Catholic. He’s also a former Manchester police officer whose partner Michael Briggs was shot and killed in the line of duty. In the January/February 2014 issue of Parable, Breckinridge shares the story of how he went from speaking publicly in favor of the death penalty to testifying against it.

In 2008, while Michael Addison was on trial for killing Officer Briggs, the New Hampshire legislature established the Commission to Study the Death Penalty. Of his opinion of the death penalty at the time, Breckinridge wrote:

“I was infuriated! I watched Michael Addison kill my partner and now we were supposed to spend our money to feed this guy so he could read books, watch cable TV, and work out? We were supposed to take the risk that some judge 20 years down the road might commute his sentence? Let’s put him to death and get it over with! I testified to the committee to keep the death penalty.”

Yet after reading an interview with Bishop Libasci, hearing Sister Helen Prejean speak at Saint Anselm, and having the opportunity to speak with Sister Prejean, Breckinridge began a spiritual journey that challenged his position on the death penalty.

“As I struggled with my view on the death penalty, there stood Paul, imploring: ‘Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.’ (Romans 12: 17-19)”

A Matter of Life or Death (click to download PDF of full article)

A Stark Look at the Death Penalty

A Stark Look at the Death Penalty



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


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


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)