why do some people support the death penalty
БThereБs no nice way to kill someone,Б a man facing execution once told me, raising heavy eyes. From my work as a licensed death penalty investigator, I know this too, which is why
for executions doesnБt trouble me the way it might trouble others. Attorneys hire me to find out the truth. IБm the one who ferrets out long-lost witnesses, digs into dusty basements to unearth ancient records, and finds the evidence that exonerates, or Б more often Б explains. I love my job, because I am the one person who gets to understand why. Why do people do such terrible things to each other? Why is our country so enthralled with murder that we bookend one death with another? For many years, lethal injections were the popular way to execute people in the US. Lethal injections seemed humane, whereas gas chambers were too grotesquely evocative of the Holocaust, and guillotines just too French for a country that prides itself on provincialism. But there have been problems with lethal injections, as several recent botched executions of writhing, convulsing men demonstrated. spent his final moments writhing and thrashing in a scene that witnesses said was like a horror movie. Medical companies began refusing to supply the drugs, unwilling to be manufacturers of death. Enter, which on 23 March returned to the firing squad as an alternative, if no such drugs are available. For some, the firing squad has a certain second-amendment, bloody finality about it, with the punch of bullets on a backboard, and no end to the men who volunteer for the honour. But for others, it causes qualms. There is nakedness to the firing squad; it is an unequivocal act. Someone gets shot, obviously, and other people, most likely inmates, have to go in later and clean up the blood and brain matter. Even UtahБs governor, Gary Herbert, admitted it is Бa little bit gruesomeБ. This is why I think Utah is doing us a favour. One of the unexpected curses of lethal injection was that it cloaked executions with the veneer of medical legitimacy. Executions were depicted as painless, gentle Б even kind. Death lost its punch. The myth of the humane execution began with lethal injections. If doctors were willing to administer executions, the public began to think, then executions must be OK. Executions retreated behind a medical curtain, residing in the shadowland where the American public hides most death.
By bringing back the firing squad, Utah has brought executions from behind the curtain. They unholstered the gun. Executions are real again, and that means we can talk about them. I believe we need to start with why so many people support executions. Even in countries such as the UK, where capital punishment has been outlawed for years, still favour executions. I have sat with families of victims, and felt their terrible, all-encompassing pain wash over me. One cannot imagine such pain, and yet one knows it instinctively. It is our absolute worst fear. If one of my children was hurt IБd want revenge, too. I believe any starting point to discuss capital punishment has to honour this desire for revenge. It is deep, human and rooted in our impossible love for each other. Only then can we can talk about justice. We can talk about what law enforcement agencies need to do their job properly. We can talk about the flaws in capital punishment, including the 151 people exonerated while on death row in the US. Those are the ones who werenБt executed before they were proved innocent. We can talk about a financially driven prison industry. We can talk about how crimes still go unsolved, and what we can do to change that. We can talk about the needs of victims to be heard and seen and have their loved ones honoured. We can talk about creating a society where the names of victims are remembered more than the accused. Maybe we can even talk about what connects us Б our love for our families Б and perhaps about creating a society that prevents death instead of adding to it. Sometime soon, a person facing execution in Utah will stand in front of a firing squad, instead of having a lethal injection. They might be guilty. They might not. But they wonБt die nice. No one ever does. There is a better alternative: life without parole. In Oregon, we have the option of sentencing convicted murderers to life in prison without the possibility of parole. There are currently over 121 people in Oregon who have received this sentence. The death penalty puts innocent lives at risk. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States in 1976, 138 innocent men and women have been released from death row, including some who came within minutes of execution.
In Missouri, Texas and Virginia investigations have been opened to determine if those states executed innocent men. To execute an innocent person is morally reprehensible; this is a risk we cannot take. Race and place determine who lives and who dies. Those who kill whites are more likely to be sentenced to die than those who kill African-Americans. In Oregon, prosecutors from some counties are more likely to pursue the death penalty than others are. We pay many millions for the death penalty system. According to the Oregonian, in 1995 the trials for three Washington County murder cases cost more than $1. 5 million. One was sentenced to death. The two others, one of whom was found guilty of four murders, are not on death row. In 2000 a fiscal impact summary from the Oregon Department of Administrative Services stated that the Oregon Judicial Department alone would save $2. 3 million annually if the death penalty were eliminated. It is estimated that total prosecution and defense costs to the state and counties equal $9 million per year. Poor quality defense leaves many sentenced to death. One of the most frequent causes of reversals in death penalty cases is ineffective assistance of counsel. A study at Columbia University found that 68% of all death penalty cases were reversed on appeal, with inadequate defense as one of the main reasons requiring reversal. Capital punishment does not deter crime. Scientific studies have consistently failed to demonstrate that executions deter people from committing crime. Around our country, states without the death penalty have a lower murder rate than neighboring states with the death penalty. There is a better way to help the families of murder victims. Families of murder victims undergo severe trauma and loss which no one should minimize. However, executions do not help these people heal nor do they end their pain; the extended process prior to executions prolongs the agony of the family. Families of murder victims would benefit far more if the funds now being used for the costly process of executions were diverted to counseling and other assistance.
The death penalty is applied at random. The death penalty is a lethal lottery: of the 15,000 to 17,000 homicides committed every year in the United States, approximately 120 people are sentenced to death, less than 1%. Capital punishment goes against almost every religion. Although isolated passages of the Bible have been quoted in support of the death penalty, almost all religious groups in the United States regard executions as immoral. Mentally ill people are executed. One out of every ten who has been executed in the United States since 1977 is mentally ill, according to Amnesty International and the National Association on Mental Illness. Many mentally ill defendants are unable to participate in their trials in any meaningful way and appear unengaged, cold, and unfeeling before the jury. Some have been forcibly medicated in order to make them competent to be executed. Although the U. S. Supreme Court has decreed that people with Бmental retardationБ may not be executed, Oregon has not yet passed a law banning the execution of the mentally ill. The USA is keeping company with notorious human rights abusers. The vast majority of countries in Western Europe, North America and South America Б more than 117 nations worldwide Б have abandoned capital punishment in law or in practice. The United States remains in the same company as Iraq, Iran and China as one of the major advocates and users of capital punishment. We are the БState. Б When the БStateБ kills, we are participants. Would you choose to be the person that pulls the switch that snuffs out a human life? No civilianБs job description should include killing another person. Corrections personnel involved in executions, like our military, frequently suffer PTSD from having to kill. Perhaps there is a reason to have a defensive military, but prisoners pose no threat to the well-being of our citizens. There is no reason to place the mental health of our corrections workers at risk simply to pursue vengeance. Death Penalty Information Center ( FBI Uniform Crime Reports ( Death Penalty Focus ( The American Civil Liberties Union ( The National Association on Mental Illness ( Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (
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