Many people will agree that the criminal justice system in the United States is nothing less than a joke. Why is it that a criminal can kill someone, wait for about a year before going on trial, plead an excuse such as "being under the influence of drugs," or "temporary insanity," go to jail, serve time in that prison, and be released? Obviously, there are many aspects of the trial procedure which allow for an individual to clarify his actions and intents. For some cases, this is beneficial, as a death may be purely "accidental." On the other hand, many people, the criminals and the lawyers, take advantage of the leniency of the justice system in the cases of death, clearly making their lives potentially better, while the victim has no choice but to face the consequences of the other's actions. As a result of such attitudes and actions of our society, I feel that the death penalty must be strictly used and enforced so that violent crime can be deterred, and so that a stronger sense of morality (as paradoxical as it seems) and security can be achieved in this country.
In olden times, the biblical notion of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" was a guideline for punishment. Obviously, less democratic methods of government were in power in earlier eras (and still are in some areas of the world), and such punishment was used not only to enforce the rules, but also to create an aura of fear and loyalty toward the governing body.
Today, in the United States at least, the justice system does not base itself on such a quality. Rather, this nation was founded on the freedom to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Because the nation began with those ideals, there is no absolute delineation between one person's freedoms and those of another. What makes person X happy may infringe on the freedom of person Y. The laws and the courts determine what exactly those infringements are. Because of the flexible nature of the nation's laws and the nature of its people, person X can charge person Y for a wide variety of things which upset him, no matter how relatively trivial they are.
It was never intended that fear be ever-present in our society. Slowly, however, fear has worked its way into many sectors of the nation, including the ghettos, the suburbs, and college campuses. This is partly due to the remedial (in contrast to redemptive) nature of the judicial system. Instead of punishing a criminal in a manner corresponding to the suffering of the victim - particularly in cases of assault, battery, attempted murder, or rape - the perpetrators are often put in jail for a determined period of time and then evaluated for release. Do the prisons and correction facilities foster stronger morals or teach them why what they did was wrong? Few seem to, despite some of their titles as correctional facilities.
Rather, many prisoners more or less take up space, often doing manual labor for the government, and taking part in recreation activities. Many of the prisoners are serving sentences in excess of ten years for murder. Is it really worth it to keep these people there -- especially when those imprisoned have committed blatant acts of murder? Is it more of a punishment to expose a murderer to a long life of potentially hellish prison conditions than to execute him in the first place? For the sake of argument, let us ignore the cost of incarceration, which is estimated at $30,000 per year, as well as the fact that the prisons are overcrowded.
However, it should not be overlooked that often, criminals are given suspended or shortened sentences because prisons are crowded.
Fundamentally, it is unfair for a person to take someone's life without just cause, and merely go to jail for it. Take the case of Shon McHugh. He killed another human being. McHugh was reportedly under the influence of alcohol and/or marijuana. He and his two friends accosted Yngve K. Raustein '94 and Arne Friedheim G. The rest of the story is history. If someone does something, he is obligated to do so responsibly, and realize and handle the consequences. Assuming the report to be true, McHugh was under the influence. Anyone that smokes, drinks, or takes drugs ought to realize that he is responsible for his behavior afterwards. McHugh stabbed Raustein. By carrying a knife, McHugh took the responsibility of arming himself, and by using it, McHugh shouldered the accompanying responsibilities.
Did McHugh realize the potential implications that smoking, drinking, and brandishing a weapon before doing so that evening over a year ago? Before he set out that (or any other) night, he, like any other human being, should. If that person can't handle the responsibility, then he shouldn't begin in the first place. Put another way, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."
McHugh was tried as a juvenile (he was not yet sixteen years of age at the time of the incident) without a jury. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison. He is scheduled to serve time in the juvenile prison until he is twenty-one, and then he will be transferred to the adult prison. Twenty years of prison is a rather weak sentence. Especially considering his attitude throughout the incident and in the courtroom. He reportedly bragged to his friends that night how he thrust the blade all the way through Raustein's body. In court he said that Raustein impaled himself.
What kind of demented attitude and lack of respect toward human life is this? What is spending twenty years in prison going to do for McHugh? For our society? Is McHugh going to be effectively counseled during his sentence? Will anyone care after him at all in the humanistic sense? Will he realize the magnitude of his actions? Even if any of this happens, the fundamental issue is this: He acted irresponsibly; he killed someone.
Period. He deserves what he dished out to his victim - death. Alongside the "eye-for-an-eye" rule has always been the Golden Rule -- "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Criminals seem to forget this second rule: I can't imagine that criminals would want to be subjected to their own crimes.
Another case reveals the atrocities of human behavior. On Oct. 11, a 15-year-old Rochester boy killed his parents and his 11-year-old sister with a handgun. According to The Boston Globe report, Gerald McCra stole his grandfather's handgun, murdered his mother in the kitchen, and then his father and sister who were in the car, ready to depart for a birthday party. All were shot in the head. McCra then drove the corpses to the nearby woods. When the police came, McCra "led them from a bloody hallway to two windows broken from the outside, suggesting that burglars had entered the house."
So far, no trial dates or conditions have been announced. Even then, what good will a trial do? McCra is known to have a history of misbehavior and bad family relations. Nothing can be done to bring back his mother, father, and sister. McCra obviously acted in an irresponsible manner. Although it may (and probably will be) argued that McCra is too young to know what he was doing, that no one would have guessed that he would have done something this extreme, that he can still be reached out to, it seems silly to pursue such arguments. He killed three human beings. He was related to them. It is said that he had problems with them. He is reportedly under treatment for hyperactivity and his medication apparently is charged as contributing to violent behavior.
If he is not sentenced to death, he will probably be issued a sentence similar to McHugh's - go to jail for a long time, if not the rest of his life. Is it worthwhile to keep anyone in jail for sentences of such duration? McHugh and McCra will undoubtedly be subjected to the harsh realities of prison life, and what kind of future will be ahead of them if they are released in twenty or thirty years? Quality of life after prison is not the issue though. It is terribly inefficient (in fact, wasteful) to incarcerate someone for so long. Current conditions are not the issue either. The simple issue is this -- these criminals murdered their fellow human beings. Although there are many cases in which the death penalty is of questionable use (e.g. domestic violence, self-defense), some scenarios definitely warrant the expedient use of the death penalty.
By buckling down on such discipline, several things may happen. First, criminals will get what they deserve in the context of this piece.
Secondly, justice will be better served for the victim. Someone from Baker House (where Raustein lived) said that since McHugh was found guilty and will serve twenty years in jail, "Justice is served." To me, for justice to be served completely, McHugh would have to be walking with a friend and attacked the same way he attacked Raustein. That way, he can experience the same emotions, fears, and results that Raustein may have experienced. I feel that all such criminals should experience what they put others through. Obviously, this is not at all feasible. The use of the death penalty would come closer to equalizing the issue than current jailing practices do.
Of course, there is the argument that these people deserve another chance, that they are still good for many things. I believe that they have already had their chances. If people followed the Golden Rule and thought about whether or not they would want the same thing to happen to them, much crime would probably not occur. By punishing people quickly and seriously, potential criminals may think again before committing a crime. Awareness of the consequences is not to be interpreted as a fear, but rather, as a more effective way to deter people from the life of crime, whatever its form.
Copyright 1993 by The Tech. All rights reserved.
This story was published on Friday, October 22, 1993. Volume 113, Number 51
This article may be freely distributed electronically, provided it is distributed in its entirety and includes this notice, but may not be reprinted without the express written permission of The Tech. Write to email@example.com for additional details.
After Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death for the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Bud Welch, who lost his daughter in the explosion, wrote in Time magazine that he didn't oppose the death penalty for Mr. McVeigh - at first.
The majority of Americans don't share Mr. Welch's opposition to the death penalty. Since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, 417 death row inmates have been executed. Thirty-eight states now allow the death penalty. Colorado recently held its first execution in over 30 years, and a number of other states - including Connecticut, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Ohio - are poised to do the same next year.
Massachusetts, however, will not be joining that list - though it came close. One lawmaker, state Rep. John Slattery switched his vote to a "no" just as a death penalty bill was about to pass on Beacon Hill. That was enough to kill the legislation, at least for now.
Mr. Slattery's motivation bears examination. He said the murder conviction of Louise Woodward, the 19-year-old British au pair accused of killing a baby in her care, swayed him. Ms. Woodward's conviction was later reduced to manslaughter by the judge, and she was never in danger of the death penalty. But Slattery said the trial made him freshly aware of how mistakes can be made in the justice process - by prosecutors, judges, and juries.
Indeed they can, and that's one enduring argument against a penalty that allows for no later adjustment in the scales of justice. There are others, including the high costs of death rows, the disproportionate numbers of blacks executed, and the scant evidence that executions deter crime. And there's Mr. Welch's reason.
No one would argue that the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing, or of the Unabomber murders, or of dozens of other heinous crimes don't deserve severe punishment. That's why we have life sentences without parole. But vengeance and killing, sanctioned by the state, don't reach for a higher sense of justice and healing. Just the opposite.
© Copyright 1997, 1998 The Christian Science Publishing Society.
All rights reserved.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The problem is, Old Sparky apparently is broken, but rather than fix it, perhaps the'state should consider putting it into retirement.
Known as Old Sparky, Florida's electric chair appears to have a malfunction. It was noted for the second time during the March 25 execution of convicted killer Pedro Medina. When the switch was thrown, a short caused flames to shoot several inches out of the mask being worn by Medina.
Naturally, the prison medical specialist immediately announced that it did not cause any undue pain for Medina, who was supposed to be already dead by the time the names were noticed.
This is the second time this has happened. The first time was in May of 1990, during the execution of another convicted murderer, Jesse Tafero.
Many decades ago, the common death penalty was hanging. Then, one by one states eliminated that method in favor of the electric chair. It was more humane, they determined.
Recently, states have taken another step, and changed the execution process to the use of a lethal injection. Again. they say it is more humane.
Yes, without question, there are many people who would prefer the complete elimination of all types of death sentences. Their point of view, and well taken, is that no one should have the right to take another's life.
Unfortunately, there are some, such as Medina and Tafero, who apparently don't support this. They kill. Then, try to convince friends and family members of the persons who were murdered that the death penalty is wrong.
Most of them demand an eye for an eye, and fully approve of the death sentence.
But whether or not to continue that form of punishment is a question which is not going to be answered easily or in the near future.
What must be determined however, is that the state should not become involved in repairing or replacing Old Sparky. Toss it out, put it in a museum, or blow it to kingdom- come. But let's eliminate it, and if the death penalty must. continue, use the lethal injection method as do the majority of other states.
Four medical examiners have concluded that Pedro Medina felt no extraordinary pain when he was executed in Florida ,s electric chair last week. Two of those experts conducted their examinations on behalf of Medina's lawyers.
Medina's death became an issue because during the course of the electrocution a foot- long blue-and-orange flame shot up for six to 10 seconds from the mask he was wearing, sending smoke into the execution chamber and the visitor seating area.
A LAWYER FOR the state office that represents death row inmates has asked Gov. Lawton Chiles to halt two executions scheduled for April and to stop signing death warrants.
There is no reason to do this. The pathologists agree that Medina did not suffer any more than other executed inmates. Apparently what caused the flame was a corroded copper screen in the headpiece.
Carrying out an execution or being an official witness at one is, by definition, a grisly duty. Dying in the electric chair may be near-instantaneous, with consciousness wiped out in a flash, but it is still a horrible way to end a life.
Well, it is designed to be repellent. That's no accident. It need not be tidied up for the benefit of those in the visitors' seats.
There is no reason to abandon the electric chair in favor of lethal injection simply because of what happened to Pedro Medina. Executing a murderer is not like having a veterinarian put an aging, sick pet out of its misery. It is not even like the suicides that Jack Kevorkian has assisted. It is society's outraged response to dreadful, heinous acts.
There are two executions planned for this month. Consider the cases:
April 15, Leo Alexander Jones is set to be executed. He was a part-time pool hall worker in Jacksonville who became angry in 1981 about being charged with resisting arrest for a traffic infraction, and he vowed to "kill a pig." A week later, Jones was lying in wait when Officer Thomas J. Szafranski came down the street in his squad car, responding to a domes- tic disturbance. Jones shot him dead with a 30-30 Winchester rifle. Police found. the gun under Jones' bed.
April 29, Gerald Eugene Stano is sched- uled to die in the electric chair. Stano has confessed to 41 killings. He was sentenced to death in 1983 for the murders of three Volusia County women. He has also been sentenced to life in prison for six killings, dating-back to the1970s. Described as utterly without. a conscience and completely remorseless, Stano has admitted killing females who ranged in age from 12 to the mid-50s.
ONE LAWYER representing Stano argued in 1986 that he should be spared in order to be studied. "We need to know more about why serial killers like Mr. Stano do what they do," Sam Bardwell told the governor and clemency board.
Back in 1983, the parents of one murder victim spoke eloquently about justice for Gerald Stano: "Life in prison is not sufficient punishment.
Gerald Stano should be sentenced to death. He could then experience the fear and helplessness that all his victims felt when he chose to end their lives."
For almost three-quarters of a century, the method of execution in Florida has been the electric chair. But after two mishaps - one in 1990, the other on Tuesday - it is imperative that the state enter the next millennium with a more modern, humane method.
'Old Sparky' the nickname for Florida's electric chair, has malfunctioned twice in seven years. Instead of routinely electrocuting its occupant, the 74-year-old chair has also set fire to two men being put to death.
The results have been the same - death. But the means are once again in question. When foot long flames shoot from an inmate's head during an execution, questions rightly surface as to whether the death was torturous.
Officials aren't sure whether 39-year-old murderer Pedro Medina suffered additional pain.
No doubt it was a gruesome sight for witnesses. There will almost certainly be calls to change the system. We urge legislators to act responsibly.
No one can be certain how much pain is felt by those who experience the death penalty. After all, none of those who have paid the ultimate price for their crimes have been able to tell of it.
There are theories that the most painless execution is by way of the guillotine. But the thought of heads literally rolling in Florida is out of the question. Over history, civilized societies have steadily moved toward less barbaric ways of ridding the population of those deemed undeserving of further life. People today shudder at the thought that crucifixion was once an accepted execution method. Beheading people via axe or guillotine, are likewise viewed as barbaric. Firing squads are pretty much outmoded, as are hangings.
A number of states have switched to lethal injection executions. But Tuesday's reaction by legislators to the fire at Florida State Prison in Starke suggests that most are satisfied with status quo. Death by electrocution, we believe, will someday, be deemed just as barbaric as earlier methods.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Bob Butterworth warned, "People who wish to commit murder, they better not do it in the state of Florida because we may have a problem with our electric chair.
We deplore Buttenworth's insensitivity. Also, the attorney general does not seem to understand that the death penalty does not deter murder. The death penalty is primarlity a form retribution and rendering justice. Those who have witnessed executions are some of the most vehement opponents of the death penalty. But we submit that were those same people to witness the torture and murder of helpless victims, the death penalty might not seem severe enough.
The costs of long, drawn out appeals that keep inmates living on death row for years, generally exceed that of sentencing a murderer to life without chance of parole.
According to the Department of Corrections, the average length of stay of death row prior to execution is 10.2 years.
But there are some inmates who stay much longer. A local example is Ian Lightborne who was convicted of raping and murdering Nancy O'Farrel in Ocala in January 1981. Lightborne was tried and found guilty on April 25, 1981. His trial and conviction were swift, but his execution has been stayed several times. He continues to live on death row 16 years later.
Those who have been sentenced to death (381 inmates are now on death row) have been convicted of committing premeditated murders. But Florida needn't stoop to the level of brutality carried out by murderers. This newspaper supports the death penalty, but it is time to implement a more humane method of execution.
Regardless whether condemned killer Leo Jones was given a fair hearing, there is no rational basis for his argument that Florida's method of execution is unconstitutional.
It is true, as Jones notes, that the electric chair's headpiece caught fire March 25, causing flames to shoot from under the mask of Pedro Medina. But the problem has been fixed - and even if it had not, that in itself would not violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishments."
Jones' lawyer, based on the accounts of non-medical witnesses, says Medina was still breathing after the voltage was sent through his body and therefore he probably suffered. But the attending physician testified he died instantly.
After a weeklong hearing, Circuit Judge A.C. Soud of Jacksonville ruled the Jones execution could go forward.
Jones' lawyer, however, complained to the Florida Supreme Court that he had been given voltage charts too late to be of any use and that Soud improperly had refused to grant a delay so his expert witnesses could appear.
Prosecutors insist the attorney should have requested the material sooner - and Soud acted reasonably in relying on the testimony of a medical expert who was there, rather than theories based on the impressions of lay people.
I it will take legal experts to determine whether the hearing was fair. We certainly are not capable of doing that.
But it does not seem unreasonable to rely on the opinion of the attending physician when drawing a medical conclusion. Even if the condemned man does experience some pain in his execution, pain is a natural part of dying. It is the body's way of telling a person that something is wrong.
More than 100 years of Supreme Court precedent is on the state's side.
In the 1879 Wilkerson case, the high court said only torture and other "atrocities" - such as burning at the state, crucifixion or breaking on the wheel - would be cruel and unusual.
In the 1890 Kemmler case, it clearly said electrocution was constitutional.
It also said hanging was permissible in that decision. When done properly, hanging is a quick and painless way to die. But when botched, death can be considerably slower and far more painful than an electrocution.
The court further clarified the Eighth Amendment in the 1910 Weems case, saying it was unduly cruel to chain somebody in prison from 12 to 20 years for merely entering a false statement in the public record. It further explained, 67 years later in the Coker and Eberheart cases, that a sentence had to be "grossly disproportionate to the offense" to be unconstitutional.
Jones was convicted of gunning down a local police officer in a 1981 ambush. The death penalty does not seem excessive for intentionally taking another person's life, even if there is some evidence that the perpetrator - like his victim - might conceivably feel some pain during his final moments.
We have an addendum to Friday's editorial advocating replacing Florida's electric chair with lethal injection to carry out the death penalty.
A letter from attorney Ellis Rubin reminded us of a point we missed in our argument. As Rubin wrote: "If there are to be executions, let the suggested method and results be ratified as the new, civilized approach to the death penalty. Death by lethal injection is the only way that vital organs can be preserved and made ready for transplantation."
In his letter Rubin cited the case of Daniel Faries, sentenced to death by the Dade Circuit Court. At the request of Faries, in 1992, Rubin asked the court to execute Faries by lethal injection so that when he gave up his life his organs could be passed on to others to compensate for the death he caused.
Had the court agreed, up to five persons could have been recipients of Faries' heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, corneas and other transplantable organs.
The court refused to grant Faries' request. He was killed by the state, and so were the opportunities for new lives that he could have been passed on to very sick people who have no other hope than an organ transplant.
What a waste. Not only were Faries' organs needlessly destroyed, his compassionate wish to compensate for his terrible crime was denied by the state.
Yes, organ harvesting could create opportunities for massive abuse of prisoners' rights. No way should the state be given an opportunity to turn death row into a reservoir of organs for harvest.
But there are ways to safeguard against abuse. The key is to keep the decision to become a donor voluntary, without any coercion. The wish to become a donor must be seen as an opportunity for restitution the convict is free to accept or reject.
If we must put people to death for their crimes, let us not take away the last opportunity they have to do good for society.
Giving them this option could mean their salvation.
(Florida Corrections Commission)