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The Death Penalty, Right or Wrong?

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The Death Penalty, Right or Wrong?

Fear of death discourages people from committing crimes. If capital punishment were carried out more it would prove to be the crime preventative it was partly intended to be. Most criminals would think twice before committing murder if they knew their own lives were at stake. As it turns out though very few people are executed and so the death penalty is not a satisfactory deterrent. Use of the death penalty as intended by law could actually reduce the number of violent murders by eliminating some of the repeat offenders. More timely enforcement of the death penalty would help to reduce the crime problem by instilling a sense of respect for the law in that sentences are more than words on a page.

The death penalty has always been and continues to be a very controversial issue. People on both sides of the issue argue endlessly to gain further support for their movements. While opponents of capital punishment are quick to point out that the United States remains one of the few Western countries that continue to support the death penalty. The deterrent effect of any punishment depends on how quickly the punishment is applied.

Is making the prisoner suffer by being in jail for the rest of his life is more torturous and inhumane than execution? Let us look at some of the methods of execution used in the past. Through the centuries people have been stoned to death, boiled in oil, skinned alive, crucified, roasted over fires on iron beds, pulled apart with horses, had their heads cut off, been hanged, been drawn and quartered, sawn in half, and broken with a wheel. (Hickman, 2003, p. 174)

Hanging was the most widely used form of execution in the United States until the

middle of the twentieth century. Other forms of execution used in America include the electric

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chair, the gas chamber and, the current method of choice, lethal injection. (Hickman, 2003, pgs. 175-176)

There are currently 38 states that allow the death penalty. These are their methods of execution:

Electrocution: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia.

Firing Squad: Idaho, Utah.

Gas Chamber: Arizona, California, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina.

Hanging: Montana, Washington.

Lethal Injection: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Okalahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming.

Washington DC and twelve states have no death penalty. They are: Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. (Demographics, 1996, pgs. 2-3)

At the end of 2001, 37 prison systems had 3, 581 prisoners on death row. Fifty one of them were women. Between 1977 an 2001, 11% of the prisoners on death row were executed. (Capital Punishment 2001) But we must remember the death penalty is irrevocable. A prisoner discovered to be blameless can be freed; but neither release nor compensation is possible for a corpse.

In 1992, Roger Keith Coleman was executed in Virginia despite widely publicized doubts

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surrounding his guilt and evidence that pointed to another person as the murderer Ð'- evidence that was never submitted at his trial. Not until late in the appeal process did anyone take seriously the possibility that the state was about to kill an innocent man, and then efforts to delay or nullify his execution failed. Coleman's case was marked with many of the circumstances found in other cases where the defendant was eventually cleared. Were Coleman still incarcerated; his friends and attorneys would have a strong incentive to resolve these questions. But because Coleman is dead, further inquiry into the crime for which he was convicted is extremely unlikely. In 1990, Jesse Tafero was executed in Florida. He had been convicted in 1976 along with his wife, Sonia Jacobs, for murdering a state trooper. In 1981 Jacobs' death sentence was reduced on appeal to life imprisonment, and 11 years later her conviction was vacated by a federal court. The evidence on which Tafero and Jacobs had been convicted and sentenced was identical; it consisted mainly of the perjured testimony of an ex-convict who turned state's witness in order to avoid a death sentence. Had Tafero been alive in 1992, he no doubt would have been released along with Jacobs.41 Tafero's death is probably the clearest case in recent years of the execution of an innocent person. (Manderson, 1999, pgs 57-59)

The idea of putting another human to death is hard to completely imagine. I know it must be painful, dehumanizing, and sickening. Many people will tell you that they are in favor of the death penalty. It is what some criminals deserve. An eye for an eye is what some say about the death penalty. I wonder if they would feel the same way if they had had to witness one of these executions:

April 22, 1983. Alabama. John Evans. After the first jolt of electricity, sparks and

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flames erupted from the electrode attached to his leg. The electrode then burst from the

strap holding it in place and caught on fire. Smoke and sparks came out from under the hood. Two physicians entered the chamber and found a heartbeat. The electrode was reattached to his leg. More smoke and burning flesh. Again the doctors found a heartbeat. Ignoring the pleas of Evans's lawyer, Russ Canan (202-393-7676), a third jolt was applied. The execution took 14 minutes

and left Evans's body charred and smoldering. (Radelet, 1995, p.1)

March 13, 1985. Texas. Stephen Peter Morin. Had to probe both arms and legs with needles for 45 minutes before they found the vein. (Radelet, 1995, p.1)

Often times, jail sentencing does not do justice to murder. Sometimes, crime is so cruel that there is no realistic punishment for it. There are too many victims out there that have suffered and their attacker received a painless life sentence. Painless, when comparing to the horrifying murders that happen everyday. So many murderers are

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