Eagle Peak Editorial–Stop the Death Penalty in America

Editorial: End the Death Penalty in America

It’s been one year since the first Eagle Peak Quarterly appeared on the web. In honor of that occasion, we are offering our first editorial by publisher and editor, John Maberry. This first editorial is on the imperative to eliminate capital punishment in America. Why? Let’s first examine traditional pros and cons.

Perceived Pros Cons (and reality)
Retribution; an eye for an eye; justice Mercy; forgiveness; not man’s to impose
Closure for the surviving family members Doesn’t happen; a myth
Quicker, surer justice No, it’s much slower with legal appeals
Less expensive than life in prison Costlier: death row isolation/supervision and repeated legal appeals much higher
Deterrent—people won’t kill for fear of death Myth and contrary to psychology
Protect society from criminals Prison does that

What’s most compelling today? The probability that innocent people are being put to death.

 Executing innocent people? Perhaps few believe it happens or could happen. Yet, with the recent release of Anthony Ray Hinton from death row in Alabama, the number of people exonerated after receiving a sentence of death is now 152 since 1973! This number comes from the Death Penalty Information Center. (DPIC) In order to be on the organization’s innocence list, from which this number comes, individuals released must have:

been convicted, sentenced to death and subsequently either-

. Been acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row, or

b. Had all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row dismissed by the prosecution, or

c. Been granted a complete pardon based on evidence of innocence.

From 1977 through April, 2015, 1,404 persons were executed. During that period, 142 were freed. That is a 1-10 ratio of exonerations to executions. A startling statistic. The average time spent on death row was 11.2 years among those who were exonerated. So who can say how many of the 1,404 who were put to death were actually innocent?

Why might they be wrongly convicted? Misconduct by investigators, flawed forensics [the FBI has found after an audit that their hair analysis unit had overstated likelihood of DNA matches to defendants in 33 of 268 capital trials; ten of those defendants were convicted and executed. For more on this see this item], misidentification by eyewitnesses, perjury by other defendants given to grant immunity to themselves or a reduced sentence, etc.

DPIC lists 10 known possibly innocent people executed since 1976 in America, with details of their cases. There have also been a number of famous cases from well before the 1970s where people now known to be innocent were executed, some of which have received posthumous pardons. A scary and disturbing thought.

Might the response of capital punishment proponents be, “Oh, but we only execute those who were actually guilty?” or worse, perhaps they might say, “Well, if a few innocent people (who probably really are guilty of something) die in order to ensure that the  really evil people are executed, that is the price of justice.”

Are there other, more sensible counter arguments? Maybe, but we doubt it. If you still believe in capital punishment, keep this in mind the next time someone is given a death sentence in America.

Lethal injections (the nearly universal capital punishment method in America) are becoming nearly impossible: Pharmaceutical companies have stopped supplying drugs for lethal injections to state prisons. The leading pharmacy organizations have adopted policies precluding their members from compounding such drugs from precursors. So Utah has already voted to bring back the firing squad. All the other states that wish to continue executions also must bring back the firing squad, hanging, the electric chair or the gas chamber if they wish to continue executions. Will courts and public opinion approve?

Capital punishment is predominantly a Southern practice, heavily focused on certain jurisdictions. According to a study by DePaul University law professor Robert J. Smith, reported on in The Atlantic,

Of the 3,144 counties or their equivalents in the United States, just 29 counties averaged more than one death sentence a year. “That 1 percent of counties accounts for roughly 44 percent of all death sentences” since 1976. 

From 1972-1976, there were no executions in the US due to legal challenges before the US Supreme Court. Since then, of those 1,404 persons executed most were in the South (1,142), with Texas (522) the champion, if you can call it that.  Oklahoma and Virginia were #2 and #3 with 112 and 110 respectively. The most recent person released from prison was Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit. His defense attorney hired a one-eyed forensic investigator (really) who had difficulty using the microscope with his one “good” eye. Hinton allegedly killed people in two robberies. But the ballistics for the guns used in the crime, it later turned out, did not match one another, nor the gun that Hinton allegedly used. This first became apparent more than 15 years ago; but the state, like most, did not want to admit they were mistaken. Eventually they did.

The editor will confess to having been opposed to the death penalty since his teenage years. Wisdom accumulated over decades since confirms that youthful opinion.

Deterrent? Laughable“Oh, I won’t kill that guy because I might be executed if caught.”

Retribution? Right! An eye for an eye? OK, but which punishment is more severe, a life in prison or a quick death? The only reason death isn’t quick is because of legal challenges.

Death costs the state less? Wrong! Death row inmates cost more than those in lifetime confinement because they are isolated in special units and the state must pay the legal costs of appeals by defendants that continue for years.  

Karma? The killer created it; executing him/her eradicate it? Maybe, but if not, upon rebirth the person will be back at it again. While incarcerated, the killer does have the chance for self-reformation that will make him/her a better person in a future life rather than someone who repeats the same offenses.

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