This webpage is dedicated to the innocent victims of murder, may they always be remembered
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Putting to death people judged to have committed certain extremely heinous crimes is a practice of ancient standing, but in the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century, it has become a very controversial issue. Changing views on this difficult issue led the supreme Court to abolish capital punishment in 1972 but later to uphold it, with certain conditions.
My state of New York is a state that practiced capital punishment since its colonial days, then abolished it in 1965. But now, as of 1995, the death penalty is back in the books in accordance to Governor Pataki's campaign promise. As a staunch supporter of the death penalty, I consider this to be a good thing for my state and its citizens.
Indeed, restoring capital punishment is the will of the people, yet many voices are raised against it. Heated public debate centers on questions of deterrence, public safety, sentencing equity, and the execution of innocents, among others. I have listened and read the arguments opposing the death penalty and I find that they are not at all convincing. Here's why:
One argument states that the death penalty does not deter murder. Dismissing capital punishment on that basis requires us to eliminate all prisons as well because they do not seem to be any more effective in the deterrence of crime.
Others say that states which do have the death penalty have higher crime rates than those that don't, that a more severe punishment only inspires more severe crimes. I must point out that every state in the union is different. These differences include the populations, number of cities, and yes, the crime rates. Strongly urbanized states are more likely to have higher crime rates than states that are more rural, such as those that lack capital punishment. The states that have capital punishment have it because of their high crime rate, not the other way around.
In 1985, a study was published by economist Stephen K. Layson at the University of North Carolina that showed that every execution of a murderer deters, on average, 18 murders. The study also showed that raising the number of death sentences by one percent would prevent 105 murders. However, only 38 percent of all murder cases result in a death sentence, and of those, only 0.1 percent are actually executed.
On occasion, circumstances have led to meaningful statistical evaluations of the death penalty's deterrent effect. In Utah, for example, there have been five executions since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976:
Gary Gilmore faced a firing squad at the Utah State Prison on January 17, 1977. There had been 55 murders in that state during 1976. During 1977, in the wake of the Gilmore execution, there were 44 murders, a 20 percent decrease.
A decade later, on August 28, 1987, Pierre Dale Shelby, who in 1974 forced five people to drink liquid drain cleaner, kicked a ball-point pen into the ear of one, then killed three, was executed. The count for January through August was 38 murders, a monthly average of 4.75. In the aftermath of the Shelby execution, there were 16 through the months of September to December, a monthly average of 4.0.
Arthur Gary Bishop, who sodomized and killed a number of young boys, was executed on June 10, 1988. For all of 1988, there were 47 murders. During January-June, there were 26; for July-December, the tally was 21, a 19 percent difference.
In the wake of those three Utah executions, there have been notable decreases in both the number and the rate of murders within the state. The figures are there but abolitionists have chosen to ignore them.
During the temporary suspension on capital punishment from 1972-1976, researchers gathered murder statistics across the country. Researcher Karl Spence of Texas A&M University came up with these statistics, in 1960, there were 56 executions in the USA and 9,140 murders. By 1964, when there were only 15 executions, the number of murders had risen to 9,250. In 1969, there were no executions and 14,590 murders, and 1975, after six more years without executions, 20,510 murders occurred. So the number of murders grew as the number of executions shrank. Spence said:
The Honorable B. Rey Shauer, Justice of the Supreme Court of California, has said:
Edward Koch, former mayor of New York City, said:
So capital punishment is very capable of deterring murder if we allow it to , but our legal system is so slow and inefficient, criminals are able to stay several steps ahead of us and gain leeway through our lenience. Several reforms must be made in our justice system so the death penalty can cause a positive effect.
There are many examples of how the death penalty deters murder, most haven't even been listed on this webpage. But here is an example of how the use of consistent executions have dramatically improved certain societies.
In the 1800s, in English occupied India, there was one of the worst gangs of murdering thieves the world has ever known, the Indian hoodlum band known as the Thuggees. Through the course of their existence, dating back to the 1550s, the Thuggees were credited with murdering more than 2,000,000 people, mostly wealthy travelers. The killer secret society plagued India for more than 350 years. The Thuggees traveled in gangs, sometimes disguised as poor beggars or religious mendicants. Sometimes they wore the garb of rich merchants to get closer to unsuspecting victims. One of their principles was never to spill blood, so they always strangled their victims. Each member was required to kill at least once a year in order to maintain membership in the cult. But they killed in the name of religion. The deaths were conceived of as human sacrifices to Kali, the bloodthirsty Hindustani goddess of destruction. It came to pass that the Thuggees began to kill using pickaxes and knives. According to legend, the Thuggees believed that Kali devoured the bodies of their victims. The story goes that once a member of the society hid behind a tree in order to spy on the goddess. The angry goddess punished the Thuggees by making them bury their victims from then on.
The ruling British government worked very hard to stop the Thuggee religion and its murderous practices. Between 1829 and 1848, the British managed to suppress the Thuggees by means of mass arrests and speedy executions. Indeed, rows and rows of Thuggees were left hanging from the gallows along the roads by the dozens. The most lethal practitioner of the cult of Thuggee was Buhram. At his trial it was established that he had murdered 931 people between 1790 and 1840. All had been strangled with his waistcloth. Burham was executed in 1840. Appropriately enough, he was hanged until he strangled. In 1882, the British government deemed the problem solved with the hanging death of the last known Thuggee. Good riddance.
Back then, the British weren't as morally confused as they are now. Not only had they the insight to tell the difference between crime and punishment, but they also respected their moral responsibility to defend public safety by diligently countering barbarism, even in their colonies. If the British were anything back then like they are now, they would have been content to sit around on their hands reveling on how "civilized" they are to allow such and evil cult like the Thuggees to exist and terrorize the public. -gladly sacrificing public safety and social tranquility for some self-absorbed sense of delicacy. Most likely, the Thuggees would still be around today and for many centuries more to plague India. The Indians have a lot to be thankful for since the British eliminated that scourge over a century ago. They wouldn't have the nerve to effectively counter such barbarism these days.
Abolitionists claim that there are alternatives to the death penalty. They say that life in prison without parole serves just as well. Certainly, if you ignore all the murders criminals commit within prison when they kill prison guards and other inmates, and also when they kill decent citizens upon escape, like Dawud Mu'Min who was serving a 48-year sentence for the 1973 murder of a cab driver when he escaped a road work gang and killed a storekeeper in a 1988 robbery that netted $4.00. Fortunately, there is now no chance of Mr. Mu'Min commiting murder again. He was executed by the state of Virginia on November 14, 1997.
Another flaw is that life imprisonment tends to deteriorate with the passing of time. Take the Moore case in New York State for example.
In 1962, James Moore raped and strangled 14-year-old Pamela Moss. Her parents decided to spare Moore the death penalty on the condition that he be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Later on, thanks to a change in sentencing laws in the 70s, James Moore is eligible for parole every two years!
If Pamela's parents knew that they couldn't trust the state, Moore could have been executed long ago and they could have put the whole horrible incident behind them forever. Instead they have a nightmare to deal with biannually. I'll bet not a day goes by that they don't kick themselves for being foolish enough to trust the liberal sham that is life imprisonment and rehabilitation. (According to the US Department of Justice, the average prison sentence served for murder is five years and eleven months.)
Putting a murderer away for life just isn't good enough. Laws change, so do parole boards, and people forget the past. Those are things that cause life imprisonment to weather away. As long as the murderer lives, there is always a chance, no matter how small, that he will strike again. And there are people who run the criminal justice system who are naive enough to allow him to repeat his crime.
Now consider the case of Leroy Keith, a recidivist killer who became a major embarrassment to opponents of capital punishment. In 1934 Keith appeared at Warren, Ohio. There he walked up to a man named Frederick Griest as he was sitting behind the wheel of his parked car and shot him dead. Then he opened the car door, tumbled the slain man onto the pavement, and drove away in the vehicle. For that crime he was sentenced to death. And appeal resulted in a retrial. Again Keith was convicted and again he was sentenced to die. Another appeal resulted in the sentence being reduced to life imprisonment. On March 7, 1956, Keith was paroled. He was then given a government-mandated job in Youngstown, Ohio, with the Department of the County Engineer. He lasted there for three days before vanishing. On November 21, 1956, he turned up on North Howard Street in Akron, Ohio, where he walked up to a parked car and shot the driver, Coburn von Gunten, dead. He then dumped his body in the street and was about to drive off in his newly aquired car when near by police officers intervened. Keith then engaged the police in a gun fight and managed to escape.
Around the same time Keith also became the prime suspect in a grocery store robbery at Uniontown, Ohio, in which two people were shot to death.
When Ohio became too dangerous for him, Keith headed to New York City. He arrived in the Bronx and survived by robbing liquor stores and gas stations. On December 19, 1956, he joined three other men for the purpose of robbing a taxi. The foursome hailed a cab and were picked up by a drever named David Suro. When Keith pressed a gun to the back of Suro's head and demanded money, the man deliberately crashed his vehicle into a police car. The thieves jumped out of the disabled taxi and fled in different directions. Leroy Keith paused long enough to shoot the cab-driver dead. Then he engaged police in a running gun battle through the crowded streets. Finally, five bullets brought him down. He survived his wounds and was charged with capital murder. He didn't get off with a prison sentence or parole this time. On July 23, 1959, his reign of terror ended when he was put to death.
This is why for people who truly value public safety, there is no substitute for the best in its defense which is capital punishment. It not only forever bars the murderer from killing again, it also prevents parole boards and criminal rights activists from giving him the chance to repeat his crime.
I have also heard cliched arguments about the futility of combating violence with more "violence," that you can't fight fire with fire. Now I know that there is a difference between violence and law enforcement, or punishment. Law enforcement and punishment is to crime as water is to fire, where fire-fighters spray water on a burning building with such force that the flames have no choice but to back down. But the rate that we're executing murderers is analogous to trying to quench a bonfire with an eye-dropper.
Another cliched argument is the phrase: "Violence doesn't solve anything." Thus labeling capital punishment as a form of violence in order to rationalize that short-sighted clich that has no foundation in the real world. I like the way a quote from Robert A. Heinlien's Starship Troopers puts it: "The idea that "violence doesn't solve anything" is a historically untrue and immoral doctrine. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. People that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms."
Another cliched argument is the question:
Still another cliched argument abolitionists use is that we should value ALL human life, even the most violent and discpecable ones. That philosophy indicates that there is nothing more to humanity than the physical traits that identify our species. I say they are wrong. There is an entire spiritual aspect to humanity that they tend to completely ignore. Anybody can be physically human. All that is, is an accident of genetics. It is the spiritual aspects of humanity that actually define who and what we are. Being human on a spiritual level means having compassion and respect for all that is good and decent. Murderers display none of those traits. Our spiritual traits is where our true differences lie. Allowing one's physical traits to hold more weight than his spiritual ones is the foundation of racism. When a culture develops the moral structure to recognize humanity as more a spiritual thing than just some physical thing, they will have no excuse to allow, tolerate, or preserve evil and barbarism just because it hides inside a physical human shell.
And a final cliched argument is that executing a murderer won't bring back his victim. That is not the point of executions and it never was. Justice is not about bringing back the dead. It is not about revenge either. Justice is about enforcing consequences for one's own actions to endorse personal responsibility. We cannot expect anyone to take responsibility for their own actions if these consequences are not enforced in full.
There are those that state that capital punishment is unfair to people of other races, classes, or mental abilities. I say that these aspects are not an issue. Murder has no color, class, or IQ A murderer is a murderer. When a loved one is killed, I doubt anyone could take comfort in the fact that the perpetrator had a low IQ, was black instead of white, or poor instead of rich. Ernest van den Haag wrote:
Patrick A. Lanagan, senior statistician at the Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics has studied the system in its entirety, and reports:
Also, doesn't the fact that the death penalty is optional make it seem more prone to racial discrimination? It has been called racist since a prosecutor can seek a death sentence against an African-American for a capital crime but not a white person for the same offense. I never hear prisons called "racist" because they are mandatory for many crimes. If the death penalty were the same way, race would be a non-issue and the courts would be forced to concentrate only on the crime committed, as it should be.
For capital punishment to be applied equally to every criminal, rich or poor, black or white, it must be mandatory for ALL capital cases.
There's a claim that it is more expensive for the state to execute a criminal than to incarcerate him for life. That is not entirely true. Life without parole prisoners face, on average, 30 or 40 years in prison while the annual cost of incarceration is $40,000 to $50,000 a year for each prisoner or more!
Also, death penalty costs reside mainly in appeals costs. Life without parole prisoners get the same appeals and should be considered to bear the same costs.
And if the death penalty is abolished, abolitionists will turn to eliminate life without parole as well and will drive the appeals costs higher than death penalty appeals since there is no execution to end the process of a life without parole prisoner.
Lastly, the cost for justice does not have to be so high for the execution of murderers. If we only allowed appeals that are relevant in proving one's innocence and eliminated the many more that are used merely as delaying tactics, it would save millions in taxpayer dollars.
Abolitionists claim that the death penalty is un-constitutional by quoting the eighth amendment which forbids "cruel and unusual punishment." "Cruel and unusual" has never been defined by our founding fathers, but let's examine the issue anyway.
One cannot call executions unusual since they've been going on since the beginning of recorded history. And a punishment is only cruel if it exceeds the crime. We don't allow executions for jaywalking, pickpocketing, rape, or even attempted murder. Only a murder can justify an execution in our society since it fits the crime, and we strive to make the execution as swift and painless as possible on top of that.
The fifth amendment states:
Former Justice Marshall McComb of the California Supreme Court wrote in 1972:
As for the penal system accidentally executing an innocent person, I must point out that in this imperfect world, citizens are required to take certain risks in exchange for relative safety. After all, far, far more innocent lives have been taken by convicted murderers than the supposedly 23 innocents mistakenly executed this century. One US Senate report stated this position this way:
Also, the death penalty isn't the only institution that require that we accept risks in exchange for social benifits. We, in fact, mindlessly use far more dangerous institutions that take the lives of innocents by the hundreds every day, like the three or four tons of lethal metal we call automobiles for example. After all, how can we accept the average 45,000 person a year death toll in this nation due to car wrecks for our personal conveniences when we can't accept the few risks of wrongful executions for the sake of defending public safety?
Following the lines of that logic, we not only would have to sacrifice our vehicles, we would have to sacrifice the personal conveniences of using electricity and fire because of the lives they cost by accidents. We would have to go back to living in caves like Neanderthals because of our fear of taking risks for social benefits.
To enjoy the privilege of using cars, airplanes, or any other device that improve the quality of our lives, we accept the risks and deaths that are caused by them completely in order to reap their full benefits. The same concept applies for the death penalty only on a far lesser scale. As long as we're entitled to recklessley endanger hundreds of innocent lives for our personal convieneinces, then surely we sould be allowed to take on lesser risks to defend public safety. Every institution that is of great benifit to society always contain risks so that we may enjoy a better world. The death penalty happens to be the least dangerous of them, yet it is focused on with the most paranoia. Such an attitude is completely irrational.
Syndicated columnist Charley Reese stated:
Our tendency to treat enormous human death tolls as though they were less tragic than smaller ones match former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's unique, and accurate insight on human nature when he stated:
Some might ask me: "What if it were YOU who were to be wrongfully executed for a crime you didn't commit?" (This is where I'm supposed to be seized by paranoid terror.)
To answer that question, I would have to consider which is more important to me, my personal safety, or the common good. Common decency and ethics demand that I place the common good far above my personal safety. Therefore, I am morally obligated to take that risk. To do otherwise would be selfish of me, not to mention cowardly.
Another weapon used to fight capital punishment is the Holy Bible, the source of all morality. Christians claim that we have no right to play God by pointing out the 5th commandment in Exodus 20:13 which states: "Thou shall not kill" But if one translated directly from the original Hebrew version, it is: "Thou shall not MURDER."
They also point out the story when Jesus Christ saved a prostitute from being stoned by quoting: "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone." I do not believe that story was ever meant to protect murderers. To say otherwise is to imply that the crime of murder is no more serious than our petty misdeeds, which devalues life. Murder is a crime which stands alone on its own level of atrocity which makes our imperfections look negligible in comparison. The message that Jesus Christ gives is for individual citizens, not for the civil authority for which the Bible gives a separate set of instructions for. The fact that the people who run the courts have not committed murder themselves is enough for them to put the murderer to a swift death.
Some religious people argue that since we cannot create human life we should not take it. If you accept the premises of religion, then not only can we not create human life, we cannot destroy it. We can only destroy the flesh that temporarily houses the immortal soul. What happens to the soul is God's business, no one else's.
So I find all biblical interpretations against the death penalty to be frivolous, at best, because no where does the Bible repudiate capital punishment for murder. In fact, it is the one crime in the Bible for which no restitution is possible. (Num. 35:31, 33) Christians who oppose the death penalty in deserving cases tend to subordinate the justice of God to the love of God. But it is because humans are created in God's image that capital punishment is not only permitted by the Bible, but approved and encouraged as well. (Genesis 9:6)
Paul, one of Christ's disciples, in his hearing before Festus, states:
Christ Himself regarded capital punishment as a just penalty for murder when He said to one of his disciples after he tried to kill a soldier who had come to arrest Jesus: "...all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matt. 26:52) He also advocated the death penalty for people who cursed their parents. (Matt. 15:4)
When Jesus faces Pontius Pilate, Pilate says to Jesus: "Do You not know that I have power to crucify You..?" Jesus replies: "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above." (John 19:10-11) Jesus reminds Pilate that the use of the death penalty is a divinely entrusted responsibility that is to be justly implemented. In Jesus Christ's crucifixion, one of the criminals crucified next to Jesus said: "...we receive the due reward of our deeds...Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." Jesus replied: "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:42-43) That pardon did not extend to eliminating the consequences of his crime.
And in Romans 13:3-4, it states: "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil...Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does no bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil." So God has given the state the power of life and death over its subjects to maintain public safety.
Also, in Exodus 21-12 it states: "Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death." This is religious evidence that one need not be God to exact a fitting punishment for the crime of murder. Not only that, but the Bible also condones the death penalty for rapists, (Deut. 22:25) kidnappers, (Ex. 21:16, Deut. 24:7) adulterers, (Lev. 20:10) even homosexuals. (Lev. 20:13) So whoever uses the Bible to condemn capital punishment risks hypocrisy.
Lastly, the death penalty fits in very well with Christian beliefs if one considers Christ's crucifixion. For man's sins were so great, that only an execution could atone for them. Without atonement for one's sins, forgiveness and redemption become cheap and meaningless. Christ demonstrated just that when he died on the cross for us.
The statements above do not reflect any religious beliefs on my part. I'm agnostic. This is to counter the false claim that there is no Biblical support for capital punishment.
On a final note, how can murder be taken seriously if the penalty isn't equally as serious? A crime, after all, is only as severe as the punishment that follows it. As Edward Koch once said:
As the flagship of democracy, it is the United States responsibility to demonstrate that public safety is not some trivial privilege, but an unalienable human right for every decent citizen. Therefore, the USA should set the example that every civilized nation has a moral responsibility to defend the safety of their decent civilians at least as diligently as they defend national security with an army.
As aptly pointed out by Donald Atwell Zoll, Professor of Political Science at Arizona State University:
While I believe that prompt and consistent executions would have a deterrent effect, there remains one great virtue, even for infrequent executions. The recidivism rate for capital punishment is zero. No executed murderer has ever killed again. You can't say that about those sentenced to prison, even if you are an abolitionist.
(Death Penalty and Sentencing Information in the United States - a site by JFA (Justice for All) which endorses capital punishment.)
(Capital Punishment: Give us Liberty and Give Them Death!!! -the World Wide Web's Newest Pro Death Penalty Webpage!)
(JUSTICE NOW!!! The Pro Death Penalty Web Pages. -another pro death penalty web site maintained and run by an individual like myself.)
(Does God Support the Death Penalty? -a link that presents a religious view of capital punishment.)
(Australia and Capital Punishment. The Facts! -an Australian Pro Death Penalty Webpage.)
(Crimestrike! A Primer: Capital Punishment in the United States! -the title says it all.)
(Impeach Judge Nixon! -a website dedicated to the impeachment of one of the many judges responsible for the deterioration of our criminal justice system.)
(Death Penalty and Execution News! -the latest in execution news across the country and the world.)
(Texas Execution Statistics! -some information of all the executions that took place in the USA compared to Texas since 1976.)
(USA Executions by Year and State! -information of the executions that took place in the US by state and year since 1976.)
To make comments send email to:
Wesley Lowe at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rochester Institute of Technology
Content Last Updated: [01/15/97].