Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The death penalty: Part Two

Well the last post didn't have the amount of responses I was hoping for. I would still love more debate in the religious community on the death penalty since it seems church goers are reliable voices in favor of it to a degree that I don't understand. Here are my main reasons for being against it, they aren't backed up by any stats. Just a few articles, quotes, and interactions that help articulate my feelings on the matter.

1. Support for the death penalty seems to be about vengeance rather than justice.  One of the most fervent supporters of the death penalty I know fondly refers to a Ron White comedy bit where the comedian speaks of Texans putting the death penalty in the fast lane. Which is interesting because Texas is going to feature prominently in another one of my points. But for this point I just want to talk about the glee that accompanies this mindset. Let's just look at the mindset of that statement. In essence it shows pride in one's state for killing more people. Considering the attitudes of many supporters of the death penalty how they often have this sort of reaction, I can tell justice is the furthest thing from their mind. Here's a quote from a Matt Taibbi blog that I think captures the mindset of the death penalty's strongest supporters:

"Years ago a friend of mine in the media told me a story about an experience he had covering the execution of John Wayne Gacy in Joliet, Illinois. You won’t find anyone in the world who’d have been sad to see serial child murderer in a clown suit like Gacy die, but this reporter friend of mine said the crowd outside the prison on execution night freaked him out almost as much as Gacy had. There were something like 400 people outside the gates at Joliet and there were people selling commemorative t-shirts and pounding beers and chanting (“Kill the Clown!” was a popular one) all night.

At the moment of truth the crowd cheered and my friend turned to interview a scraggly-looking twenty-something with thinning long hair whom he described as looking like a too-old version of the Todd Ianuzzi mean-teenager character in Beavis and Butthead. The guy was into his second six-pack and smiling goofily like he’d just gotten a half-price rub-n-tug from a Thai massage parlor. He says to my friend: “You’re not against capital punishment, are you?”

“I’m not against capital punishment,” my friend says. “I’m against enjoying capital punishment.”

I’m with my friend on this one. As far as I see it, there are three positions on capital punishment. There’s being against it. There’s being for it. Then there’s putting six-packs of beer in a cooler and driving to a hideous prison complex in the middle of the night with four hundred strangers to cheer like fans at a baseball game for the execution of some fat old child killer. Dude, if that’s what you call recreation, you’re either dangerously bored or seriously f****d up."

While I won't say that I know many people that would take it that far, I have met plenty of people whose support for it is a less tacky version of that.

2. Seeing the guilty punished by death isn't worth the potential for innocent loss of life.

For any Texas residents who are going to be voting for governor, I ask you to consider this little tale which has Gov. Perry's fingerprints all over it. Seems a fellow named  Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of arson and executed because of a fire that killed his three young children. While not the only evidence brought against him, the damning evidence was a police inspection after the fire which it was said pointed to arson. Much of this evidence seems to garbage according to experts in fire investigation. Perry never replied to Willingham's appeals.

In 2009  Texas Forensic Science Commission was due to hear from a nationally recognized fire expert when Perry yanked three of the members and replaced them with new appointees. I won't say that Willingham was for sure innocent (he certainly doesn't sound like an angel), but it's cases like this that are filled with such uncertainty and odd behavior by elected officials that I can't give a full throated endorsement of the death penalty. The Commission is proceeding according to recent articles but only time will tell whether Perry's actions tainted its objectivity.

The way I look at it, the guilty are still being punished if there is no death penalty and more time is also given for science and evidence to potentially free the innocent. Here in the Natural State, the West Memphis 3 case is a good example of science catching up. New fiber evidence points to a stepfather of one of the slain boys and way from the three men now in prison, one of whom is on death row. Jury notes also show that a recanted confession by one of the three convicted men was wrongly considered in the deliberations during the trial of the other two. The case of  Damien Echols, the only one of the three on death row, is being considered by the Arkansas Supreme Court on September 30. The hearing will be viewable online here.

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