Best argument against the death penalty

I read this horrible article in the New York Times a few days ago and haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.

The gist of the article is that two men were convicted of murder by arson many years ago. Subsequent inquiries into both cases determined that the methods used by the investigators of both ‘crimes’ were faulty, and that the very evidence used to exonerate one man on death row was the same used to condemn the other.

The report [complied by a panel of private arson investigators and released in Austin, TX] says that prosecution witnesses in both cases interpreted fire indicators like cracked glass and burn marks as evidence that the fires had been set, when more up-to-date technology shows that the indicators could just as well have signified an accidental fire. In one case, the signs were accepted as proof of guilt, the report said; in the other, they were discarded as misleading.

One man on death row was recently exonerated and pardoned based on this faulty evidence and was paid $430,000 by the state as compensation for wrongful imprisonment. The other condemned man didn’t fare as well. He was put to death by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004 after appeals to everyone imaginable had failed.

In what has to be one of the great understatements of all time, on learning of the report of his innocence, the executed man’s stepmother said:

“I’ve known it all along. I wish it could have happened before he was executed.”

Because the time from condemnation until the actual execution takes so many years, I don’t believe the death penalty has much deterrent value. And, just as I know there are innocent people in prison, I know there have got to be innocent people on death row. Some of these innocent people have been executed as will be innocent people in the future. If it is determined that an innocent person has been imprisoned, then that person can be released and compensated in some small measure by the state for his years of incarceration. There is no compensation for the executed, no matter how unjustly they were condemned.

I guess it’s all a part of my libertarian bent.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Best argument against the death penalty

  1. Gotta agree with you on this one. I’ve been against the death penalty ever since I can remember. I’ve even been to a couple vigils/demonstrations at San Quentin.

  2. Capital punishment has always been one of those things I have trouble reconciling with a country like the USA. Hope there are a lot more like you who are seriously questioning its value in any fashion in the fight against crime. Time for the States to stand up and remove this blight on human rights from it’s law. Cheers

  3. Though the Court TV movie version stars a Hollywood cast including Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon, the Off-Broadway production of The Exonerated I was fortunate enough to attend featured several of the former death row inmates about whom the play was based. Sitting, listening to people who had been sentenced to die for crimes they did not commit was staggering.

  4. There are only 2 definite conclusions that I’ve reached concerning the death penalty.

    First, that if I was certain that someone committed murder in a heinous fashion, they deserve the death penalty.

    Second, it is a fact of life (or should I say death) that some innocent people are going to be executed and that some guilty people will never be caught.

  5. I completely agree. I just think the whole thing is fundamentally flawed, and the dealth penalty is just a bad idea.

  6. ..everything is fundamentally flawed ?
    If everything is, which of course it isn’t as well you know or at least should know, than there’s no point in stating it.
    Thats quite absurd.
    Smacks of the inherent idea that Christian sinfulness is engrained within and without.
    Or the Hindu idiocy that its all downhill after the moment of conception.
    Gadzooks lass take a look around you.

  7. The problem is not the penalty, it is the system. If we accept the system then we have to accept the outcome. The “innocent” man was found guilty therefore he is “guilty”, reguardless of if he commited the crime. So says the system. Don’t fight against the death penalty, fight for a better system so we KNOW the guilty are being put to death.

  8. Dr. Eades, thank you for writing this essay, because it’s time for influential Americans to speak out on this issue. As a Canadian, I’m appalled that the U. S. still has the death penalty at all. Virtually every recent study has shown that it has no deterrent power. That whole theory was based on an absence of facts as well as on several false assumptions, irrational biases, and outmoded information. Nor does it have anything to do with justice, but is merely about institutionalized vengeance. Current and ongoing scientific developments, such as DNA evidence, are turning up more and more examples of persons wrongly convicted and even executed.

    For these and other reasons all developed countries have long since abolished the death penalty, and yet their murder rates are considerably lower than those in the U. S. England’s murder rate, for example, is one tenth that of America’s. How can proponents of the deterrence theory account for that?

    We’ve had several cases in Canada in the last twenty years in which individuals were convicted of murder on false evidence, including perjured testimony from witnesses. After a dozen or more years in prison, they have been exonerated and released. Our government has sought to compensate them as best it can. It’s difficult enough to compensate an innocent citizen for the loss of 12 or 20 years of freedom, but how do you compensate one who was wrongly executed? Of course you can’t.

    I’m glad my country scrapped the death penalty several decades ago. It’s not justifiable on any grounds, except the psychology of lynch mobs. Remember those? Remember the old saying that it’s better that one guilty man go free than that an innocent one be punished? And how can society ask a doctor to officiate at an execution when it contradicts the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm?” If killing an innocent person constitutes murder, as it certainly does, what do you call it when when people collectively kill an innocent human being? I call it collective murder, and everyone who goes along with it is guilty. I’m glad I don’t have to live with that. I have enough on my conscience.

    The Governor of Illinois has had the wisdom to put a moratorium on executions there. The rest of the states should at least follow his example. But really, the whole country ought to get rid of it permanently. It does no good, and we are now seeing that it does considerable harm to some unfortunate citizens, whose only crime may have been an inability to afford a legal “dream team.”