A sentence to death, a punishment as old as time. In the United States, it exists as some sort of mob-rule vengeance palliative, justified by the "eye for an eye" Old Testament ethos. But there are laws in the States that allow for execution even when vengeance-for-murder isn't involved - e.g., punishment can be meted out to a businessman (called a "drug kingpin"), a "traitor" (remember the Rosenbergs?), or an unwanted fetus. America®: makers of collateral damage, home and abroad.

The death penalty is possibly the most indefensible barbarism still practiced in the U.S. Forgetting the fact that estimates identify at least one-fifth of all death row inmates as innocent. Forgetting that a person committing the same action as the government paid worker would be charged with murder in the first degree. Forgetting all the people who care for the death row inmate and are hurt when he or she is executed. The death penalty is still wrong.

When arguing in favor of an action, in this case executing a convicted murderer, the burden of proof is upon the proponent to establish that action is necessary. So therefore, what does executing a murderer accomplish?

The first argument pro-deathers offer is that the death penalty reduces crime. Accepting this as true (ignoring the fact that it has not been proven that the death penalty reduces crime any more than simply removing those criminals from society permanently does), the concept of killing one group of innocent people (usually poor and/or black) to help reduce the deaths of another group (usually rich and/or white) is simply repugnant to me and I would hope to anyone else.

The second argument offered is usually a small quote from the Bible that is offered as “An eye for an eye.” All debates over translation and context aside, and also ignoring that this reference would imply that all rapists should be raped, all thieves stolen from, and all jaywalkers run over by a taxi, the United States has a simple concept called “separation of church and state.” What this means is that a Bible verse cannot be cited as a foundation for a law that will affect Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, Atheists and any other number of religious affiliations who might not believe in that God handing down our laws.

If any reasonable argument could be offered for the legitimacy of the death penalty, I would hear it with open ears, but until that time, the argument of “Why not?” is a somewhat hollow reason to put a person to death.

US States without the death penalty:

Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, District of Columbia

US States with death penalty, their method of execution, and number executed:

Alabama, electrocution, 30
Arizona, choice of lethal injection or gas, 22
Arkansas, choice of lethal injection or electrocution, 26
California, choice of lethal injection or gas, 11
Colorado, lethal injection, 1
Connecticut, lethal injection, 0
Delaware, choice of lethal injection or hanging, 13
Florida, choice of lethal injection or gas, 59
Georgia, electrocution, 37
Idaho, lethal injection or firing squad, 1
Illinois, lethal injection, 12
Indiana, lethal injection, 11
Kansas, lethal injection, 0
Kentucky, lethal injection, 2
Louisiana, lethal injection, 27
Maryland, choice of lethal injection or gas, 4
Mississippi, lethal injection, 6
Missouri, choice of lethal injection or gas, 61
Montana, lethal injection, 2
Nebraska, electrocution, 3
Nevada, lethal injection, 11
New Hampshire, lethal injection or hanging, 0
New Jersey, lethal injection, 0
New Mexico, lethal injection, 1
New York, lethal injection, 0
North Carolina, lethal injection, 34
Ohio, choice of lethal injection or electrocution, 15
Oklahoma, lethal injection or firing squad, 75
Oregon, lethal injection, 2
Pennsylvania, lethal injection, 3
South Carolina, choice of lethal injection or electrocution, 32
South Dakota, lethal injection, 0
Tennessee, choice between lethal injection or electrocution, 1
Texas, lethal injection, 339
Utah, choice between lethal injection or firing squad, 6
Virginia, choice between lethal injection or electrocution, 94
Washington, choice between lethal injection or hanging, 4
Wyoming, lethal injection, 1

Both the US Federal Government (default method is lethal injection but can be determined by the state the crime was committed in, 3 executed) as well as the military also have the death penalty.

All states with multiple execution methods either default to lethal injection or allow the convicted to choose between the options. In some states, the method(s) other than lethal injection are there just to be able to proceed with executions if lethal injection is suddenly deemed unconstitutional or for some reason impractical.

I am trying to keep this as up-to-date as possible though some of the numbers are probably a little off.
Last Updated: 2005-03-01

Imagine that you find yourself arrested for a murder that you did not commit. The murder was brutal, horribly brutal. But you didn't do it. But the prosecutor needs to find someone guilty from pressure from the public and the governor. Somehow, they still find you guilty. Next thing you know, you're sentenced to death. Oh, did I mention you're too poor to afford a real attorney, you're just stuck with what they gave you?

As you sit in that chair, ready for that lethal injection, does it matter how few innocent people are put to death? Does anything else matter other than that you are being murdered by the state to make the public happy?

If you are willing to let a few innocent people be executed just so some people can have revenge - not justice, revenge - you'd better be willing for yourself to be one of those innocent people. Is it fair to say "a few innocent people is a small price to pay, as long as I'm not one of them"?

I am not totally against the death penalty. I think it should be used when a person has: a) overwhelming evidence to their guilt; not circumstantial, not questionable, but foolproof evidence, and b) strong evidence that the person will kill again. Correction: since the original authoring of this writeup, my perspective has changed. I have reached the point I am unable to support putting someone to death for any reason whatsoever.

One innocent person is one person too many. Especially because that person could be you.

Actually, because of all the legal fees, death penalty costs the tax payers a lot more money than to keep the offender in prison for life. So the excuse that killing criminals off is not actually a valid excuse. Also, what a lot of people don’t know is that most serious crimes that normally get death penalty, such as rape and murder will never get parole if they do get life in prison. Parole is given, usually, after one third of the sentence has been served, and rape and murder usually get five or six LIFE TIMES. Therefore they would not get parole until ATLEAST one life sentence has passed, thus the parole in this case is merely word play. Killing a killer? Now, does that really make sense? The judicial system should PROTECT the citizens from criminal, which is what it does by putting them in jail. But killing them? Two wrongs don’t make it right. The youngest person to have ever been executed was seventeen years old, they had to put phone books so her head would reach the helmet.

We should set an example, not continue with the bloodshed. Have you ever watched a video of someone being put to death? My second major is Criminal Justice – I have watched quite a lot of them. There is nothing sadder when hearing the speeches given by the families who lost a loved one. But it is equally sad to what someone’s eyes as they receive that fatal shock of electricity. It is scary to watch someone die. How can we grow to be a more humane society is we punish murder with murder?

I'm not really sure how I'd feel about an ideal death penalty: one that was applied fairly to everyone, rich and poor, black and white; one that never got an innocent man killed; one that was administered in a clean, painless, humane way.

Think of it this way for a moment: where does the buck stop?

Morally speaking, the death penalty is unjustifiable at best, and a monstrous imposition on the part of the state - it makes its employees take human lives in its name - at worst.

You see, morality does not concern itself with context. Stealing is wrong, no matter how hungry you are. Lying is wrong, even to save your life (Christian martyrs exemplify this ideal in western society, I think). And killing is wrong even when it's for self defense - let alone for some vague concept of public revenge.

Anyone who takes a life is guilty of the same crime - taking what they have no power to give back. You can call it murder or you can call it the law, or even just deserts - but the upshot of taking a human life remains the same.

Retaliation is never the productive way of resolving a conflict. Violence begets violence. These ideas are so familiar to us that they seem like meaningless platitudes, but we ignore the guiding truths behind them at our peril, both on the personal and the macro-social scale.

In the 24 years since the Supreme Court authorized the resumption of capital punishment, over 620 convicted murderers have been executed. Not one has subsequently been proven innocent, despite the intense scrutiny these cases draw from foes of the death penalty. It would be a great boon for groups intent on eliminating the death penalty to find that an innocent person has been put to death, yet, even though they look diligently, they do not find this to happen. When you see someone saying how "these people have repeatedly been found innocent" or somesuch, they're talking about the fact that many people are found innocent during the multiple levels of review that each death penalty case goes through after the jury decides in the case. This is entirely different from people being executed and then found innocent.

The fact that DNA fingerprinting provides greater accuracy in determining the perpetrator of a crime decreases the possibility that an innocent person would be executed. Because of this type of evidence, it is less possible that a person duly convicted might be innocent. If no one was being found innocent on death row, etc. would we all automatically assume that no innocent person has been executed?

When a person is given a death sentence, the case goes through multiple levels of review. It is not merely that the jury in the case decides the fate of the person, many others review the case and determine if there is any doubt in the guilt of that person. Consequently, a death sentence is the least likely to be the result of error or caprice.

* - According to the Boston Globe. Also, if you go to the websites of the FBI, the Department of Justice, or the Bureau of Justice Statistics (part of the Department of Justice), you cannot find one instance of any mention of any person found innocent. The situation is the same at the Death Penalty Information Center. Even if you go to the website of critics of the death penalty, such as the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, where you would certainly expect to find such information in their "fact sheets" (because it would certainly boost their case), you can find no mention of anyone ever found innocent after being executed. For instance, one of their facts is that "twenty three (23) innocent people have been mistakenly executed this century." That is the truth, however, that's this century, which is not after the Supreme Court authorized the resumption of capital punishment. There were no multiple levels of review in 1908, when it was not an organized and structured process, and it could have just been some county sheriff in Alabama, with no review of the case. You would think they would use a fact a little more solid than that, if it existed.
I could spout out statistics (such as the state governments spend about $3.2 million on each death row inmate, compared to about $535,000 for a life sentence), but the discerning everything2 reader can find those on his own.
My story is personal: I always wondered what would happen if a close friend was murdered. Would I still be pro-life? What if the crime was so cold-blooded that it had no excuse?

Tragically, I found out last Saturday.

My friend was brutally murdered.(In the twenty years since 1973, at least 48 people were put on Death Row, and were innocent)She had spent her entire life helping the under-priveledged youth of our city, from her job as a low-salary inner-city school teacher, where she was constantly threatened and she saw signs of domestic violence in many of her pupils:scars,burns,worse.

She acted: calling the police, at danger of backlash to herself and danger of phyical violence. She stayed late at school, working hours with troubled kids. As if this wasn't enough, she worked countless hours, every Sunday, creating out of almost nothing a vibrant and active Youth Group, a place where many desperate loners could have, if only for 2 hours on Sunday, a place where they were at home.(A black man who kills a white person is 11 times more likely to receive the death penalty than a white man who kills a black person.) A friend of mine, and hers, once asked me to deliver her a letter. Not remarkable, except that she was one of the two adults he trusted as he was recovering from an attempted suicide.

But she didn't stop there: she created a summer camp for young immigrant children, most of who had a radically different faith from her and who lived in poverty, and gave them American friends and a chance to acclimate to the often breakneck speed of American culture.

Her entire life: devoted to helping the troubled. Finally, she adopted one of her troubled teens, who had moved from Vietnam. She tried her best to raise him, devoting her life and trust in her one greatest act of caring. 9 days ago, her foster child, in his late teens/early twenties, murdered her. After repeated run-ins with the police and her family, he had been banished from the house. Yet a week later, she was willing to take him back in, to spend the day with him, to talk to him.

I tell her story here, not to praise her, though she is certainly worthy of it, but to make a point: she was certain in her pro-life convictions, certain that there was hope for all human life, up until the very end. I grappled with the question, why? But there was one thing certain in my mind. She would have wanted her killer to live, to earn a chance at redemption, if not out of prison, and least in his heart.
And yes, now I can say with certainty that I feel the same way.

Facts courtesy of theelectricchair.com

Following is a list of countries that abolished or retained the death penalty.
Source: Amnesty International, 29 March 2001

Abolitionist for all crimes
Countries that abolished by law the death penalty for any crime.

Andorra, Angola, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote D'ivoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic), Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia (Federated States), Moldova, Monaco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City state, Venezuela

Abolitionist for ordinary crimes only
Countries that abolished by law the death penalty for ordinary crimes (such as murder). The death penalty is sought for exceptional crimes, such as crimes under military law (e.g. treason), or under exceptional circumstances.

Albania, Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Cook Islands, Cyprus, El Salvador, Fiji, Israel, Latvia, Mexico, Peru

Abolitionist in practice
Countries that retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes, but have not executed anyone during the past ten years, and are believed not to carry out any executions. This list also includes countries that made an international commitment not to use the death penalty.

Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Congo (Republic), Gambia, Grenada, Madagascar, Maldives, Mali, Nauru, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Togo, Tonga, Turkey

Countries that retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

Afghanistan, Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Chile, China, Comoros, Congo (Democratic Republic), Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Christopher & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, South Korea, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia (Federal Republic), Zambia, Zimbabwe

I have always been averse to the death penalty for quite inexplicable reasons; it merely seemed absurd to me. But then last night, Camus said it for me:
An execution is not simply death. It is just as different from the privation of life as a concentration camp is from prison. It adds to death a rule, a public premeditation known to the future victim, an organization which is itself a source of moral sufferings more terrible than death. Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated can be compared. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life. (1957)

Not to mention of course, that such a punishment is useless. You cannot bring back the victim's life by killing their perpetrator, and I highly doubt that the death penalty ever stops anybody capable of murder, from murdering. I presume a fair proportion of people who are committing crimes severe enough to warrant the death penalty, are doing so because life holds little value for them. When it has gotten to the stage where you are murdering people compulsively, you've got to be pretty empty. Either that, or slightly mad, and if you are mad, well punishment's just not the same. Death would likely be a welcome gesture, to end the struggle and the pointlessness and the absurdity of living. There must be far more efficient punishments, than merely an end, a relief.

Well, I hate to get on to a bit of a trivial subject (certainly not life and death, but you might think it was in the South due to the love of college football), but the death penalty also refers to the NCAA penalty against schools with major rules violations in which the school not only loses scholarships, but is actually prevented from competing in a sport for at least one full season. This happened to Southern Methodist University back in 1987, and is commonly referred to as the death penalty, as it effectively kills your program, and will likely set any college program back at least 15 years. Note that SMU was a major power before the penalty, and they are just now getting decent teams (though they still are not the powerhouse they once were).

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