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South Dakota is set to execute only its second inmate in the last half century. Tonight, the state will put Eric Robert to death by lethal injection. Robert was serving a prison term for kidnapping when he killed a prison guard during a failed prison escape.

Robert's case is a tough one for people like myself. When you're a staunch enemy of the death penalty, it's easy to argue certain strong and emotional points. You argue from the position of the innocent. That is, if we put people to death, we will inevitably kill some innocent people. We also argue that the death penalty does not deter anything. Instead, it is institutionalized revenge. We argue economics, noting that the death penalty is a significant cost burden even when compared to life imprisonment.

Eric Robert's case challenges all of those things. Most importantly, it makes clear why all of the "easy" arguments against the death penalty need to cower in the face of the more important and more difficult arguments.  

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The easiest way to argue against the death penalty is by pointing out the statistical certainty of innocent life-taking with a widespread death penalty. Supreme Court justice William Brennan said in 1994:

Perhaps the bleakest fact of all is that the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent.
A total of 69 people were released from death row on the basis of proven innocence between 1973 and 1997. Experts estimate the roughly six to eight percent of the people on death row are actually innocent. For every 1,000 people we put to death, between 60 and 80 are innocent. This fact is sobering on its own.

But Eric Robert was not innocent. He admits to striking a prison guard in the head and covering that guard's mouth with plastic wrap.

We also like to argue from an economic angle. It can cost more than $1 million to prosecute a death penalty murder case when all of the appeals and writs are finished on the state and federal level. As a society, we spend a tremendous amount of money that might otherwise be put into education or social programs.

But Eric Robert's death penalty case will not be expensive. His guilty plea was entered last April and he never appealed. In fact, he wanted to waive the mandatory state review of death sentences that the state has put in place. When compared to other death penalty cases - where inmates can spend decades working on appeals and innocence efforts - Robert's case will cost very little.

Perhaps the best policy arguments come on the basis of deterrence. Reports consistently show that the death penalty is not a successful or sufficient general deterrent to crime. We know what the numbers suggest and they are almost always in our favor.

But Eric Robert claims clearly that he will kill again. He lacks the empathy or remorse that even the most hardened criminals usually have. Amber Hunt's Associated Press report notes:

Months later, Robert told a judge that his only regret was that he hadn't killed more guards.
So how do we deal with this kind of case? And why should we? One of my professors is a nationally respected and internationally cited authority on the death penalty. Professor David Dow - who teaches at both the University of Houston Law Center and Rice University - has represented more than 100 death row inmates. He has written numerous books and articles on the subject. He even started the Texas Innocence Network, a post-conviction indigent defense initiative aimed at freeing those people who legitimate claims of actual innocence. I have been lucky enough to study under Dow and work with his the TIN. Professor Dow regularly argues that these are exactly the cases a death penalty enemy should fight. When you argue only from a place of innocence, he notes, you are forced to seek refuge in the shadowy corners when guilty people are put to death.

Dow and others have argued that the death penalty is even wrong in those cases. And he's right, but it's a far trickier argument to make. The economic argument is enough to stir even the hardest heart in an age of shrinking state budgets and rising fiscal strife. The argument from innocence will shake the shakable because, believe it or not, many of the formerly pro-death penalty do have hearts. The deterrence argument even has friends within the criminalization community. But where do we turn when those argumental friends are taken out of our collective warchest?

In a recent video spot promoting his latest book (The Autobiography of an Execution), Dow asks viewers to engage in a thought experiment. He asks them to think about the people they love and cherish the most. He then asks the viewer to picture some person hurting their loved one. "Hold on to that image," he implores. He admits that he understands the desire to kill that person. It's a natural, human inclination. Then he turns the experiment somewhere extraordinary. He asks the viewer to think about the same loved one and imagine them committing an unthinkably violent murder on someone else. Now, the tables are turned. Now, few people would think that their loved one "deserves" to be killed.

The arguments stretch further and can head more esoteric and much more philosophical. Dow argues that some basic assumptions must be challenged to undermine the death penalty. The machinery of death, as Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun called it, often gets it wrong in America. In order to believe in the death penalty, you have to make what I would call naive assumptions about the infallibility of justice. New York Times journalist Dahlia Lithwick wrote this in a review of Dow's book:

Cops fudge the truth. They coerce false testimony. Court-appointed lawyers sleep through trials. They miss deadlines. They fail to put on exculpatory evidence. Juries believe every word uttered by “expert” witnesses who opine on defendants they have never met. Jurors evade responsibility by hiding behind the other jurors. Judges evade responsibility by hiding behind jury verdicts, and appeals courts hide behind the trial courts. The Supreme Court can hide from a case by refusing to take it. Elected judges, particularly in Texas, must deliver convictions. Federal judges named to the federal bench because they are pals with a senator overlook deeply flawed trials. And by the time Dow comes into a case, the law will sometimes not permit him to help his client.
In the case of Eric Robert, it might not seem like there is any reason to keep the inmate alive. Justice advocate Bryan Stephenson once noted that he defends criminals because, in his mind, every man is something more than the worst thing he has ever done. Eric Robert wants you, the court, and everyone else to believe that this isn't true. Robert argues that he is a killer. He's a criminal with no value left on this planet. In fact, he argues for his own death. His case could almost be called a state-assisted suicide.

This point is where society must step in and change its focus. What allows a man to reach such levels of despair and personal depravity where he argues for his own death? What events must happen in order for a man to reach the point where he laments not killing more people? Professor Dow often argues that the real injustice happens well before a man is strapped to a lethal injection chair. The real injustice happens along the way, where we as a society miss dozens of chances to intervene. If society really cared about these people, we would have saved them from abusive parents, terrible schools, poverty-striken neighborhoods, and the brutality of a prison system that produces more criminals than it incarcerates. We don't do that, though.

Professor Dow noted in a popular Ted talk that with few exceptions, he could write the biography of every man on death row. Each has a set of horrid circumstances or experiences that led to this point. In some cases, that leads men so far down the road that the conventional death penalty opponent can no longer cling to his most cherished arguments. But cases like Eric Robert's are exactly the type that we must take on. Because these cases show what can happen when society focuses on the outcome and not the process. When society lowers itself to the level where killers can convince the government to join them in killing, we have a fundamental problem. Instead of encouraging life at those places where we might intervene, we are left to clean up the pieces on the back end. We are left with cases like Eric Robert's, where the worst parts of our society are on display at every turn. From the killer to the system that couldn't help him to the state that will put him to death, we are left to witness a true American tragedy.

For those who are interested in Professor Dow's book, "The Autobiography of an Execution," you can find it here. This post is not necessarily intended to promote the professor's work, but people who found this article interesting would certainly find this and other of Professor Dow's works interesting.

Originally posted to Coby DuBose on Criminal Injustice, Race, and Poverty on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 02:24 PM PDT.

Also republished by South Dakota Kos and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Hope (11+ / 0-)

    someone from Community Spotlight sees your diary.  Well written and argued.

    Thanks

    "If you tell the truth, you'll eventually be found out." Mark Twain

    by Steven D on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 02:32:14 PM PDT

  •  I'm more afraid of the 'upstanding citizen' who (6+ / 0-)

    takes the job of administering the lethal injection than I am of any inmate.

    What kind of sick fuck does that?

    Paul Ryan has risen to prominence because he thinks that poor people should suffer and he doesn't mind saying so.

    by VictorLaszlo on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 02:35:00 PM PDT

    •  I thought about this last night (7+ / 0-)

      I have no answer for your question, and I guess each person's motivation is different. I can see how a person might believe they are making the world safer, or playing a part in justice. I view my role in the fight for justice a little bit differently.

      My only takeaway from that internal discussion was that I could never, ever have such a job. I would rather be unemployed and homeless. And that's not a joke.

      "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

      by Grizzard on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 02:37:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Indeed (8+ / 0-)

      This is what ultimately turned me against the death penalty.  Could I personally sit on a jury and vote to end someone's life?  No.  So how could I ask someone else to do this in my stead.  I don't even think I could take a life in self-defense, or if I managed it it would scar me for life.  All the other arguments are just window dressing on the fact that I don't have faith in the humanity of my fellow man.

    •  DP is part of police culture (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      4Freedom, marina, susanala

      The "justice" system sometimes takes lives, it's a toxin.

      I didn't see all of Democracy Now coverage about Troy Davis, but the protestors out side the prison -- at some point, after the Supreme Court 4 hour delay but before the execution -- suddenly the protestors were sound-harrassed by a fleet of police cars horns blaring, circling the prison, AND HELICOPTERS.

      All the police that were involved with that harrassment -- it seemed some sort of death-cult ritual, and they were so adreneline filled to be part of it.

      It's poison, and we must be rid of it.

      Giving birth (giving life) should be a gift not an obligation or women and poor people are 2nd class by definition

      by julifolo on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 10:47:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  killing to say "killing is wrong" is never (28+ / 0-)

    right.

    when my 70 yr old friend was beaten to death so the two men could take the new truck he had for 3 days, i was so angry - i thought, "i could give the injection myself" - until i realized that bob had spent his life helping EXACTLY the kind of two young men who killed him.  i am sure, in his last hours as they took him to the atm before striking him with that rifle butt, he was trying to talk to them - to get through to them - to change their lives.

    they turned themselves into the police several months later - not captured - turned themselves in. they said they were "tired of running..."  but i really wonder if something bob said to them finally got through.

    then i realized that HIS belief was that every life was worth something - even those two who killed him... and i realized i was dishonoring him by wanting revenge instead of justice.

    that was when my belief was tested - i had always been anti-death penalty until bob's murder - and what he left as his legacy is an even firmer belief that the death penalty is ALWAYS wrong!

    thank you, bob bechtel - you are missed... yet, you STILL are teaching!

  •  thou shalt not kill; simple as that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kvetchnrelease, 4Freedom

    Odd how some Christians don't have a problem disobeying this commandment.  Thou shalt not kill; there are no exceptions for killing killers, are there!

  •  If an adult wants to commit suicide... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, raincrow

    ...at what point don't you stop them from doing so??

    In general, we try and intervene if we think that the state that leads them down the path of suicide is impermanent (e.g. they are good candidates for therapy).  Many don't want to intervene if the state that leads them down the path of suicide is permanent (e.g suffering from incurable disease).  

    Does "spending the rest of one's life in jail" qualify as a permanent condition?  Does it matter (for purposes of the suicide choice) what got them there -- the shitty life prior to their crime -- IF there's nothing that would ever get them out of jail?

    Personally, if I found myself serving life in prison for some heinous crime I did commit, I'd want the option of suicide.  I might or might not take it, but I'd want the option.

  •  I don't see it as a difficult argument to make. (9+ / 0-)

    The government shouldn't execute people.  Period.

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 04:04:04 PM PDT

    •  If only it were so easy (9+ / 0-)

      What you're making is not an argument. It's a statement. And it's one that many people disagree with.

      Why shouldn't the government execute people? That is the question that has to be answered. More aptly, that's the question that has to be argued. And it can be argued from a multitude of angles.

      What you have to understand is that people believe that the government inherently has the right to execute people. They believe this because it is something they have grown up with. The death penalty is an institution in some places. It's similar to taxation to these people. The government can do it because they have always done it. It's on us to argue the moral, ethical, economic, and practical reasons why this should not be the case.

      Personally I think the strongest moral argument is that society should not lower itself to the level of the killer. An eye for an eye means that we are just as repulsive, and we place just as little value on life, as the killer himself.

      In my estimation, the strongest argument overall to be made to the reasonable death penalty supporter is the argument from innocence. Most normal people do not support the killing of innocent people. And if you can demonstrate with near statistical certainty that this policy kills innocent people, you can win over many of these individuals.

      The strongest argument must include all of these elements. Because they all move and persuade different parts of death penalty establishment. Assuming that the other side is as rational, moral, ethical, or logical as you is a recipe for stagnation. If they held your simple (and frankly, correct) view that "the government shouldn't kill people, period!" they would already be on our side. But they're not. Because they don't.

      "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

      by Grizzard on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 04:15:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, let's look at two sample cases: (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        eyesoars, tytalus, ZoBai, raincrow, 4Freedom

        Case A: Gary Ridgway" is convicted of killing 49 women, mostly prostitutes whom he'd picked up.  Although convicted in a death penalty state, he gets life in prison.

        Case B: Aileen Wournos, a prostitute with a terrible history of abandonment and abuse beginning in childhood, is convicted of killing 7 men who had hired her for sex work.  She gets the death penalty and is executed.

        I think the question of innocence is interesting and has an appeal on a case by case basis.  

        But it's clearly an accident as to whether even the guilty receive the death penalty.

        You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

        by Cartoon Peril on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 07:40:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not entirely an accident (4+ / 0-)

          Randomness is a huge factor.

          But race plays a role, as well. You're much more likely to go to the chair if you kill a white victim. Many people say this is because juries are more likely to give the penalty when they identify with the victim. And most juries are comprised of mostly white people. So there's that.

          "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

          by Grizzard on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 07:55:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Ridgeway pleaded guilty (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          4Freedom

          and this allowed him to avoid the DP. Wournos contested her trial. That's the main difference in the disparity in sentences as usually happens in the criminal justice system(s) in our country. If you cooperate, you tend to get a lesser sentence then if you fight them tooth and nail.  A better example would be two people who both contested their cases, claiming innocence and one of them was executed while the other got life.

          •  No, Wuornos pleaded guilty. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            raincrow, 4Freedom

            Ordinarily, she would have gotten a life sentence. The notoriety of her murders and her lack of likability probably resulted in the death penalty for her.

            I could have been a soldier... I had got part of it learned; I knew more about retreating than the man that invented retreating. --Mark Twain

            by NogodsnomastersMary on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 08:00:07 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Nope (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              raincrow, 4Freedom

              a Jury convicted her first. She may have plead guilty to other murders.

              ghway prostitute Aileen Wuornos was found guilty of first-degree murder on Monday in the slaying of the first of seven men she admitted killing.

              A circuit court jury of seven women and five men deliberated for one hour and 31 minutes before returning its verdict against Wuornos, once described as the ``Damsel of Death.`` Prosecutors had said they would seek the death penalty.

              http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/...
      •  easier (6+ / 0-)

        We the people should not kill.

        This isn't a question of deterence or cost or any of that.  It is a question fo whether we are killers ourselves.  Once we've decided we're willing to kill by voting for people who pass laws to kill others, we are killers ourselves.  At that point, we're merely haggling over methods.

        Never believe your own press, never drink your own KoolAid

        by Mindful Nature on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 10:19:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Choose strongest argument, yes. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        susanthe, john07801, raincrow, 4Freedom

        I give my money and volunteer for The Innocence Project because I believe we will change minds and hearts based only on the argument of innocence.  The other arguments don't seem to work.  

  •  Good diary. I don't see a problem with death (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dr Swig Mcjigger, raincrow

    penalty for a guy like this but I'm probably in minority here.

  •  I have several problems... (6+ / 0-)

    with the death penalty, but the main one I have is very simple: Human Error (not to mention corruption).

    I have a few relatives who never fail to make the argument that some people "deserve to die" (i.e. murderers). It's true that some people who are executed are guilty of the crimes for which they are executed. One could argue all night about whether or not Ted Bundy, for example, deserved to be executed.

    I say forget him. Forget the others like him. What about the innocent people who have been executed in the name of "justice"?

    There is no way - and never will be a way - to be completely certain in every death penalty case that the person being killed is guilty. And as long as there is a possibility that an innocent person will be executed, I can't support the death penalty.

    If someone is wrongly convicted and given a life sentence, their life sentence can be reversed. You can never give an exonerated person back the years of their life that they spent in prison, but at least they are still living!

    The same can't be said of the death penalty. There is no way to bring back the dead.

    I have close relatives who were victims of violent crime. I understand the impulse to say you want to flip the switch yourself. Ultimately, however, the difference between me and the people who harmed my relatives is that I couldn't do it. I could never harm someone physically or take a life, and I can't support state sanctioned murder.

    I subscribe to Blackstone's Formulation:

    "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."

    It's more like the Cleavers adopted Eddie Haskell and are now regretting it bitterly ~ Charlie Pierce on Paul Ryan

    by AuroraDawn on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 08:42:58 PM PDT

  •  No more death penalty! (8+ / 0-)

    I hope Prop 34 gets the votes in California in spite of the polls.

    Countries with death penalty

    States with death penalty

    Death penalty by state

    Death penalty abolitionist countries

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 08:45:10 PM PDT

  •  My (15+ / 0-)

    father was Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Robert R. Rose, and he advocated many times in his career against the death penalty. If he were alive and reading your posting, he would have said "Bingo!" at this money quote:

    When society lowers itself to the level where killers can convince the government to join them in killing, we have a fundamental problem.
    Dad's basic argument was precisely that--when the state gets into the business of revenge, it has lowered itself to the position of a vengeful mobster.

    Great post. I wish Dad could read it.

  •  With apologies, I agree with the outcome (7+ / 0-)

    of your argument (and professor Dow's), but not the premises.  Well - of course the state killing innocents is a travesty, but in the end pro-death penalty people, by definition, allow for that possibility.  And yes: killing is wrong - but then, since there are obvious exceptions to that ironclad truth, literal-minded people wind up confused and making reductio ad absurdum rebuttals of self-defense and other such conflating concepts.

    Rather, I think there is a more essential argument to be made in a "justice" system employing a death penalty against its own citizens.  That is:  no people should invest the state with that authority, since it ultimately means that the people are not sovereign.  Putting someone away and throwing away the key is not the same as ending a life, since that extinguishes the most absolute font of all rights, and presumes that governments can be properly invested that power.  That is simply too much power to grant to government.  I think this is an ultimately powerful, and hopefully winning, Constitutional argument against this long-outdated barbarity.

    Thank you for a very thoughtful post.

  •  He's dead (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    http://www.usatoday.com/...

    The debate goes on.

    CA has a chance to prevent this sort of thing.

    If he wasn't sure he'd be executed for what he did, would he have done it?

    The is a profoundly sad moment.

    I must be dreaming...

    by murphy on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 09:15:02 PM PDT

  •  I understand the revenge impulse well enough (6+ / 0-)

    and I can't honestly claim I'd have an enlightened attitude if someone murdered anyone I care about, but acknowledging my own human fallibility doesn't change what I know to be true both morally and rationally: That capital punishment is not only murder, but cruel, cold-blooded, and cowardly murder by people who have put their own sensibilities above the life of another human being - exactly the crime that is supposedly being punished.

    At what point does a conspiracy to commit murder rise to the standard of "due process"?  What's the minimum number of people who need to be in on the conspiracy before it becomes a legitimate function of law?  And who holds them accountable when they inevitably kill an innocent person?  Who calls for the blood of the judge, the jury, the politicians who fail to exercise their clemency prerogatives, and the prison staff who carry out the murder when the target is discovered to have been innocent?

    Just because you have the power to do something doesn't mean you have the right, and that's a fact that needs to be said over and over, always.  You don't have the right to invade and conquer other countries just because they're weaker than you.  You don't have the right to kill people because they're in your way, or because you hate them, or because you want their stuff.  And when someone does something like this and is caught, rendered helpless to defend themselves against your justice or injustice (as the case may be), you don't have the right to kill them to make yourself feel better.  And if you are not among those who personally cared about the victims, your rights are even more circumscribed, because then the only thing you're asserting by wanting to kill them is your own sense of power and superiority - a glorified thrill-killing.

    Unless and until we get a system where something has to actually be risked in order to assert the power to kill another - where the judge, jury, and everyone involved can be held accountable if they kill an innocent person - this isn't even consistent as a revenge-based system of morality, because these people all place themselves beyond the reach of revenge even while asserting it.  

    There is almost nothing more evil than an execution, and if a person without the impunity of the state killed someone in the way the state executes people - locking them away in dank cell with the threat of death constantly hanging overhead and a sadistic process of false hopes dangled in front of them before they're finally cut down in front of an audience of gawkers, they would almost be guaranteed to be sentenced to death as a "cruel, vicious, monstrous killer."  And that they would be - as is anyone who supports capital punishment in the absence of a personal trauma to excuse being blinded by rage.

    Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

    by Troubadour on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 02:06:30 AM PDT

    •  Well-stated (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour, Oh Mary Oh, raincrow

      You've argued this central point as well as anyone I have seen. The existence of the death penalty troubles me everyday. I hope I live to see it gone from every state.

      Our arguments are getting sharper. With the right sort of political activism and a bit of luck, we can push this horrid policy to history, where it belongs.

      "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

      by Grizzard on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 02:16:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Nope (0+ / 0-)

      "That capital punishment is not only murder, but cruel, cold-blooded, and cowardly murder by people who have put their own sensibilities above the life of another human being - exactly the crime that is supposedly being punished."

      Call it murder if you want but the rest is bull.
      This is a clear case of society's version of self defense. If someone is trying to kill to you or your loved ones, you have the right to defend yourself.  This man is out to kill parts of society, the only way to be sure he cant is to kill him first. Self defense.

      The self defense argument can be applied to the rest of your argument as well. Juries, Judges and Executioners are all assumed to be acting in good faith that they acting as societies self defense mechanism.  Its a travesty when its not but you do not have to be right to claim your actions were in self defense.

      •  Where do you draw that line? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Joe Hills Ghost

        When is one guy "dangerous" and the other guy not? This guy clearly understands what he needs to say in order to get the death penalty. And his unwillingness to do anything to fight for his life shows that he wants to die. Whether or not his words indicate any future intentions can be argued until the end of time.

        Society should not kill. Not in this systematic kind of manner. When you argue that "well, this is the kind of guy," you open up the door to a scale that keeps sliding back.

        This is not self defense. There are arguments to be made that guards should be allowed to carry guns when they are around him. And that he should be isolated from the rest of the prison population. And locked up in the highest security facility we have. Then, when he directly threatens a life, killing him would be self defense.

        This is vengeance masquerading as self defense.

        "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

        by Grizzard on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 04:09:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes it is self defense (0+ / 0-)

          To a reasonable person it seems very likely he will kill again. I doubt you even really doubt that.

          Im going to pick apart your third paragraph cause its just crazy

          1)"There are arguments to be made that guards should be allowed to carry guns when they are around him" Holy shit batman this ones massively out there. Even prison guards are the last people on this planet that just want to be walking around with guns on them in a prison.

          2)"And that he should be isolated from the rest of the prison population. And locked up in the highest security facility we have"
          Even on death row with enough dedication he can and will kill people.

          3)"Then, when he directly threatens a life, killing him would be self defense."

          Smart Guy In jail :  Gets Knife
          Smart Guy In jail :  Supprise attacks and stabs someone and kills them
          Smart Guy In jail :  drops knife and does not fight prison guards any more.

          Rinse. Repeat. There is NOTHING you can do within your paradigm to prevent this guy from killing as many people as he wants.

          NOTHING.

          So ya maybe there is an argument out there to be made against the death penalty but yours fail to address the self defense of society.

          •  Meh (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Joe Hills Ghost

            You can't just say - "he'll kill again! It's so obvious!" without making the argument for why. And no, "any reasonable person thinks that" is not an argument. You think that. And you want it to be the default position, but that doesn't make it so.

            You've offered no evidence for why that is the truth, other than to say you think it is so obvious that no explanation is necessary.

            But this guy has been on the planet for 60 years or so. He's killed a total of one human being. That killing took place in the course of an attempted prison break - i.e. the incapacitation of his victim actually served a purpose to him beyond just cold-blooded killing.

            Frankly - this view that the guy is a killing machine is unfounded. All we have is a very depraved statement to the judge. That statement could have been made by a person who recognizes now that he'd rather be dead than in prison. And his statement makes it more likely that the government will help him kill himself. We do have evidence that he finds prison unbearable, since he attempted an elaborate escape.

            So where's this evidence that this guy is certain to kill again? Where's your pattern. He's far less depraved than most killers who kill out of vengeance, hate, or a host of other motivations. In the grand scheme of murders, his at the very least served a purpose. That's a far cry from the guy who kills just to kill.

            It could be argued that he would try to break out again. But that's where the strictest security comes into play. As a non-murder inmate not on a life sentence before, I can't imagine he was under the strongest security the prison had to offer. There is nothing that I've read that suggests he committed any violent acts in prison before this one.

            And it might also be argued that this guy, wanting to die, will attempt to kill people until you finally put him to death. That problem, too, is solved by the abolition of the death penalty. Without that option on the table, that "suicide by government" option is no longer a motivation.

            So tell me - based upon what is this guy "certain" to kill again? Because if you believe he is certain to kill again, then you probably believe most murderers will kill again. In which case, you're for the death penalty in a lot more cases than just this one. Because, taking away the totality of the circumstances, his murder and its motivation just isn't that far up the scale when compared to other murders.

            And without this "certainty," the self-defense argument unravels.

            "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

            by Grizzard on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 05:33:08 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Im not a lawyer (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Dr Swig Mcjigger

              and this is not a trial.

              If you you honestly doubt this guy is a deadly threat to everyone around him thats your own problem.

              Others do not otherwise the guy would not have been put to death. You know the whole reasonable doubt part of the jury thing.  Its kinda how things work.

              Your random scenarios how maybe maybe omg maybez he would not do it again omgz. Convince noone.

              •  You are making the claim (0+ / 0-)

                so the onus is on you to prove it.

                If you believe this guy is "certain" to kill more people, then you believe that about almost every 1st degree murderer.

                Is that the case? If not, how is he different?

                "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

                by Grizzard on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 08:47:39 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  No not its not (0+ / 0-)

                  I am not your mother father or a lawyer. This is an internet discussion form. Something along the lines of "Well hold these truths to be self evident".  If you troll around claiming prove to me that water turns into ice. People just lol and walk on. Rightfully so.

                  Dont know if this is true or not but lets assume youve got a kid. Would you invite this guy into your house to stay the night with your child in the next room? No? Ya thats what I thought the guy is a threat period.

                  Personally all first degree murders? Ya. I have no problem executing them all. Minus the few that did it as some kind of valid revenge/ psychotic break. (Ie some person kills the murderer of their child, nephew etc) But than again I think that person should get off entirely.

                  But I realize my opinion is a little different than the average Joe. The middle ground is execution of those who are imminent threats to the world around them. Its pretty evident to all but the most hardened denialists out there who those are.. Just a small clue a guy who claims he wants to generically kill more people...he is one of them.

                  •  Great point (0+ / 0-)

                    "Would you invite the guy into the house to stay with your child?"

                    Sounds like a perfectly relevant question in the death penalty context.

                    So you're cool with systematic government killing. Is there anything else we should know, or are we free to move on now?

                    "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

                    by Grizzard on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 01:39:06 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

  •  and why end the misery of confinement (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    Just as an argument to those that aren't convinced by "Thou shall not kill" and if revenge is your goal.

    "HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE" , bumpersticker on a burning Subaru

    by tRueffert on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 05:01:45 AM PDT

  •  As someone who'd happily inject the lethal mix... (0+ / 0-)

    ...for this horrible person, I'd suggest the following line of argument for you:

    It takes a certain institutional and physical infrastructure to execute people in some minimally acceptable manner.  We're already diluting that infrastructure immensely because of our federal system--consider the absurdity of South Dakota, with its fewer than a million people, running a death penalty operation even though it's only relevant once in a blue moon.  Then consider how many cases are the "easy" ones from a humane perspective: the contested-guilt ones, the mitigated-guilt ones, and of course the huge majority of cases where we have a punishment, life imprisonment, that's as much a deterrent and impediment to future crimes as you can imagine.  So we're left with these extremely rare cases, where guilt is obvious, where there are no mitigating circumstances, and where the perpetrator is already serving the maximum term of incarceration. i.e. there's no additional penalty we can levy apart from death.  For those cases it's OK to just throw up your hands and say we can't run a death penalty operation (x whatever number of states even want to have one) for such a tiny number of people.  In other words, set moral philosophy aside and just make the pragmatic case.  It's fine.

    Romney '12: Berlusconi without the sex and alcohol!

    by Rich in PA on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 06:15:39 AM PDT

  •  When I was 11 years old, a friend of mine was (9+ / 0-)

    kidnapped, raped, murdered, dismembered, and left on the side of the highway.  Needless to say, it was traumatic for me.  His killer (a friend of the boy's family) was quickly caught, convicted, and sentenced to death.  the evidence was overwhelming.  I remember being so angry and wanting that motherfucker to feel nothing but pain and anguish.

    16 years later, I (now an adult) sat stunned as I read on CNN that he had finally been put to death.  People think that you'll feel happy.  That justice has has prevailed.  I didn't feel any of that.  All I felt was sadness.

    I didn't agree with the death penaly then and I still don't.  I understand the desire for vengence.  I understand the postion that animals such as these do not deserve to live.  And I agree with all of the positions against the death penalty (i.e. possibility of executing the innocent, not a deterrent, expensive, etc.) but ultimately, I just don't feel that any government should have the power to take someone's life unless it is to prevent an immediate threat to others.  Anything else is just revenge.  Do we really want our government to be in the business of meting out vengeance?  I don't.

    "Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself." - Robert G. Ingersoll

    by Apost8 on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 06:29:30 AM PDT

  •  With respect (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joe Hills Ghost

    to your intentions, one case does not "challenge" the arguments against the death penalty. An anecdote or single data point does not make an argument. The fact is that with the death penalty, innocent people get killed. Period. The entire point of the argument is that individual circumstances and individual cases don't matter, because you're looking at the policy as a whole. For that matter, the same is true of the cost argument.

    There's absolutely no need to wring hands about a single case, because single cases do not matter in terms of setting the policy.

  •  I don't know what this says about me... (0+ / 0-)

    But I can certainly understand the viewpoint of a prisoner whose only regret is that he did not kill more of his guards.

  •  The problem with the death penalty is that the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raincrow

    evidentiary threshold is far too low.  In cases like Eric Robert's - where the defendant has admited guilt and has only expressed regret about not killing more people - I think you are on the outskirts of acceptable enforcement of the death penalty.  Not because I think revenge is a good idea.  But because Mr. Robert is getting perilously close to the point where I think he no longer has any desire to conform to basic societal tenants like "don't kill people" and that has been documented to a level that starts to approach beyond an unreasonable doubt. The only reason I would hesitate is that I haven't seen evidence that he would go out of his way to kill again if he thought he had the chance.

    Examples of people I would support the death penalty for include Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Adolf Hitler, Ratko Mladic, etc.  People who have clearly demonstrated that their purpose in life is to harm others.  People who have so divorced themselves from the social contract that there is no reasonable hope of reintigration into society.  

    Even people like Mr. Robert may be redeemed.  Maybe not to the point where we let them out of prison.  But if a prisoner's very reason to exist is based on trying to kill those unfortunates that have the bad luck to be near them it is not fair or reasonable to ask fellow inmates and gaurds to risk their lives.

    "If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people." -Tony Benn (-6.38,-6.36)

    by The Rational Hatter on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 12:33:05 PM PDT

  •  I still like my medical ethics prof's proposal: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    murphy, Joe Hills Ghost

    You empanel 6 citizens from the state's jury pool as blind participants in lethal injection executions. You pay to transport them to and from the prison. Six citizens stand at a bank of buttons, along with the state's executioner. At the appointed hour everyone pushes their button. A computer runs a random-number routine that chooses a number from 1 to 7, and the corresponding button's circuit closes, administering the lethal injection. None of the 7 will ever know which of them has actually done the deed, only that they are collectively responsible.

    The prof then asked us: "How long do you think the death penalty would remain legal?"

    !! Four more years !!

    by raincrow on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 01:27:38 PM PDT

  •  Cases like this exhibit the only acceptable use (3+ / 0-)

    I realize I am probably in the minority here, but to me this case exhibits some of the only acceptable use of the death penalty.  Part of the basic premise of any anti-death penalty argument is that these individuals are locked away from society and are no longer able to do it harm.  After all, one of the most basic functions of any government is to protect its citizens.  If a government cannot do that, it ceases to be legitimate.  

    So part of the argument against the death penalty, at least from my perspective, is that we have an option of locking them away for life.  They cannot harm society any more and thus government has accomplished its task without resorting to state sanctioned murder.  

    But in cases like this, that fundamental argument breaks down -- in this particular case, a guard, who was just doing his job, lost his life.  Even punished by the state with permanent exile and loss of all other freedoms, Robert was still a threat to some members of society, and indeed expressed that his only regret was not being able to kill more guards.  Faced with that statement, giving him the death penalty now becomes almost an issue of protecting the other guards and other inmates from this man.  At some point, we have to consider that killing him may be the only way to keep other lives safe.  

    I do not support the death penalty in most cases, but I do think that society has a right and a duty to protect its citizens, and in cases like this, or in cases where drug lords or gang leaders are still able to run their criminal enterprises from within prison walls (thus still endangering the public at large), there is an argument that society has exhausted all other options and has no choice but to act in such a way that will guarantee that the individual in question can no longer harm others.  

    A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy.

    by Guy Fawkes on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 01:35:35 PM PDT

  •  I've always been opposed (8+ / 0-)

    to that "easy out" in death penalty opposition.  I think you have to be comfortable arguing that you oppose the death penalty even for people you know are guilty.

    And I have no trouble what so ever with this argument.  Never have.  (That's why the film "Dead Man Walking" is such a good "test").

    I don't think that a democratic state should ever execute anyone in the name of the state, that goes against what democracy should stand for.  Incarcerate for life, but don't execute.  Not in the post 19th century world at least.  

    Not even war criminals.  That's the one distinction that  should set democracies apart in the modern age.  

    Execution is a fundamentally anti-modern notion.  That it has held over so deeply into the modern era tells you how powerful the notions of (crime and) but mostly punishment play upon the human psyche.  

    Execution is too easy, on a moral level, on a philosophical level, on an operational level.  Democracies exist to both bring out the best in human beings and also to challenge them, to their very cores.  Executions bypass those challenges.

    /personal soapbox.  

    Thank you for the great diary, however.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 02:02:17 PM PDT

    •  Thank you. I wish I could have stated what (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      a gilas girl

      you said so clearly, but am grateful for your words.

      I am adamantly opposed to the death penalty because I think it's barbaric and morally wrong. My sleep-deprived brain can't make the case you made.

      There are many adoptable cats and dogs being rescued around the country. You can save a life by adopting one.

      by 4Freedom on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 05:20:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I've always had trouble with the idea of (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joe Hills Ghost, a gilas girl

      a government unnecessarily killing.  Not killing in WW2, to defend our allies, or even in Afghanistan, in an attempt to prevent a future Sept. 11th (whose outcome will not be known for decades; not really the place for this post).

      But when you have an individual perpetrator in custody and under state control, they are rendered harmless (there is a very legitimate question about risk to correctional staff in there, a risk that Eric Robert plainly posed and probably continues to pose).  Although I have no problem at all with LWOP, so long as proper appeal and post-conviction proceedings are provided, there's something that bugs me about the government killing people needlessly.

      I'm not usually a religious voter but on some level I see it, to me personally, as bordering on an issue of church v. state - when a government decides that it has the right to end the life of a person already in custody and rendered essentially harmless, it feels like it usurps the role of fate/the universe/G-d/the flying spaghetti monster - let them rot in prison for the rest of their lives and leave the retribution to a potential higher power.

      I still haven't really reconciled my response to capital punishment with my zealous belief that government is far too entangled with religion today.  Perhaps because, to me, execution feels not like a judicial sanction but instead an arrogant assertion of Divine infallibility.

      "The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, you can begin to distance yourself from anger." - The Dalai Lama

      by auron renouille on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 07:41:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I agree this is a good example (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dr Swig Mcjigger

    this is the kind of status upon which the death sentence should be decided.

    However I clearly stand on the opposite side of the fence as you.

    This man has and will contribute no value to society, AND he has by his own actions relinquished any sympathy that we should afford a human.

    He wants to escape and he wants to kill people.
    His mere existence is a threat  to you, I and any good person on this planet.

    Ignoring the huge legal costs artificially put in place, killing this man would make the world a better place.  

    But initial reaction will be to cringe to replace killing with "magically disappeared"

  •  Make no mistake, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Grizzard, Joe Hills Ghost

    the death penalty in the U.S. has nothing to do with justice, and is only secondarily about revenge. Part of conservative values have been used to promote the revenge aspect to angry right wingers, encouraging them to further misunderstand the purpose of the criminal justice system. The system as it is conceptualized in our laws was never intended to be about payback for victims. That is what the civil system is for. Nonetheless, the conservative revolution has almost entirely stricken this original intention from the public consciousness, to the point now that most Americans see criminal trials as being contests between victims and perpetrators, with the state providing a free attorney to seek a pound of flesh for the victim.

    As it was originally conceptualized, the victim had little to do with the criminal trial. It was never intended to be the victim's "day in court." It was not intended to deliver "satisfaction" to them, or to provide them with a sense of having achieved revenge. The criminal system was intended to be a contest between the society as a whole and the perpetrator for purposes of addressing a very narrowly defined infraction and the interests of the society as a whole, as well as the rights of the perpetrator. Why, you ask, is this the correct approach? Why am I so stupid as to think victims have no rights? Do I not care about victims? Forget me! The point is that victims do have rights -- it is only that there is another system designed to achieve their revenge. That is the civil system. That is where the victim has their day in court and gets "satisfaction."

    We are moving forward with our new found misapplication of criminal law, and we continue to ignore the fact that justice is rarely achieved because the system was not designed as a "payback for victims" system. That is why justice never quite seems to be achieved according to most Americans -- either the sentence is "too light" (victim not happy enough with perpetrators' punishment) or "too severe" (penalties are applied unevenly across races, etc.).

    The reason things are this way is because of something few people take into consideration. That is that all victims are not innocent. Sometimes victims are involved in causing the very crimes they fall victim to, and often they aggravate the circumstances. The victim is thus not a party to the criminal suit, because the victim may not be innocent or worthy of any "satisfaction." The society as a whole, though, has an interest in addressing the perpetrator's acts in a reasonable and fair way.

    This "pound-of-flesh-for-the-victim" approach appears to be the only way Americans intend to view it, though, so they will continue to be disappointed with the results of the misuse of the courts. But that is only part of it. The "payback for victim" approach is not why the powers that be allowed us to abandon reason in criminal justice and begin our "payback" method. They wanted the death penalty for another purpose -- terror. Almost all murders of police or law enforcement officers are met with death penalty charges. The government wanted this to maintain its power and its control of the population. An assault on one of the King's men is an assault on the King. Let it be known those who harm the King's men will certainly die.

    Of course, this approach to government -- terror -- is unconstitutional, so it is best buried in the popular theme of payback for victims.

    What would make the system work is to get the issue of money out of it. Allow the civil system to impose penalties that sting to pay back perpetrators for victims, and get the victim payback out of the criminal process. Not only would the system then work as intended, but it may even grow, and have to be funded!

    Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't.
    Mark Twain

    by phaktor on Wed Oct 17, 2012 at 12:50:43 AM PDT

    •  The civil remedy is usually inadequate (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      phaktor

      Many, if not most criminals, are either indigent or close to it.  These people are judgment proof in the sense that a successful plaintiff cannot collect on the judgment, so this does nothing to help the real victims. Even when the can recover something, money can usually do little to replace what was lost for them. I am sure Fred Goldman would rather have his son alive and OJ in prison than be chasing O.J.'s football card shows around. There are also cases where the victim had indicated that he or she will hurt the victim, his or her friends or family and the community at large. I think a rape victim, for example, should be allowed to make a victim's impact statement come sentencing time, to have hear concerns about her or someone like her being assaulted again.

      •  This is why I (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dr Swig Mcjigger

        said the civil system should be changed so that it can deliver something that stings the defendant -- even a poor defendant. It terrifies rich people. They keep their noses very, very clean and consult with experts at all times on how to stay out of the civil defendant's chair. If the system could do the same to the poor, then it might work. For instance, it works quite well with all the uniform child support stuff. The court awards damages and sets the amount to be paid, and the defendant either finds a job and a way to make the payments, or goes to jail. It is ripe with abuse, of course, but if you can do it to poor fathers, then you should be able to do it to anybody. Miss a payment -- contempt ruling and jail time. No hearing. No questions. Just pay or stay, whether you have it or not.

        I agree there may be a place for a victim impact statement, but it is not the overarching purpose of the trial, and should not be the only concern in punishment. Like I say, not all victims are innocent, but that does not exonerate crimes by the perpetrator. Also, if the victim is particularly innocent and worthy of sympathy, it is really an unfair disadvantage to the defendant unless it can be shown the defendant knew the person was "perfect." The criminal process is about the relationship between the perpetrator and society, and the meaning of the perpetrator's behavior to society -- not just the victim. It is not about the relationship between the perpetrator and victim. For instance, their are certainly victimless crimes, and we don't have any problem with stomping defendants on those charges. By the "payback" theory, all these defendants should go free.

        Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't.
        Mark Twain

        by phaktor on Wed Oct 17, 2012 at 01:32:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  thank you, Grizzard (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ivorybill, Grizzard

    Thank you for writing about a difficult, very important issue: the execution of the guilty.

    I don't have the energy to share all my reasons for believing that the death penalty is inherently wrong. So I'll just provide a few knee-jerk reactions to the comments here.  Let me preface this by saying that I was a capital defense attorney and I represented clients at every stage in the process, from trial to appeal to post conviction to habeas corpus to clemency petition.

    Some folks here have expressed their belief that the death penalty is wrong because every once in a while an innocent person is sentenced and executed. I'll not argue numbers, but the majority of condemned are guilty. Others have argued that the death penalty is justified because every once in a while a prisoner poses an ongoing risk of killing again. And again, the majority don't, if for no other reason than the high level security provided in their incarceration. The majority of condemned do not kill again.

    I had to retire for health reasons. Defending capital cases takes a high toll on one's physical well being. One reason is the appalling injustice one witnesses with: police and prosecutors who lie and cheat and withhold exculpatory evidence (with impunity and without any repercussions when caught); juries who convict based upon outrage and revulsion rather than cool reason; judges who use their knowledge of and power over the process to block the defense and support the prosecution; appellate judges who exercise intellectual dishonesty to ignore precedent and reject valid issues; and finally politicians who deny clemency based solely upon selfish, petty considerations (will this hurt my re-election?).

    Any honest woman or man who works within our "justice" system has moments, or entire careers, when they reel from the lies, idiocy, injustice and corruption that permeate this huge machine we've built to try to cope with the theft, violence and injury that humans  commit upon each other. All the faults and imperfection in this system crystallize and soar when humans sit in life-or-death judgments over other humans.  

    Depending upon this system to adequately protect society or exercise justice is like depending upon a pro football team to win every game. Even with millions of dollars in support, years of training and the best intentions, the team is gonna lose some games.

    Does the rare example of a prisoner who may kill again justify the existence of a huge, ill-working apparatus to kill humans under color of law? Especially when the vast majority of prisoners can be and are incarcerated in maximum security facilities that effectively prevent this from happening?  Does it justify thousands of people killed by the government, including a few who were innocent?  

    The power to end a life is far too great to be trusted to mere humans.

    Work and pray, live on hay, You'll get pie in the sky when you die." The Preacher and the Slave, by Joe Hill, 1911

    by Joe Hills Ghost on Wed Oct 17, 2012 at 06:02:57 AM PDT

    •  Thank you for your thoughts (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joe Hills Ghost

      I think you've hit the nail on the head. One theme I keep seeing is that people who have been inside from the machinery - from people like Professor Dow to yourself - is that the experience creates a realistic view of the system.

      I'm a baby lawyer. Not even through with school yet. But I've done some innocence work, so I've been exposed to the harsh reality of a guy who has spent 12 years in prison, only to now have his ex-wife send me an affidavit saying she made the whole thing up. I've read the stories of men who were sent to prison for life on the basis of very circumstantial evidence and very bad lawyering from their court-appointed guy. It's easy to see that this system, if not broken, is very imperfect.

      Thank you for your work. I'm always impressed and inspired by those people who can go up against this rigged game every single day. I know it has to be a thankless job, especially on days when you aren't "successful" (depends how to define this word).  

      "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

      by Grizzard on Wed Oct 17, 2012 at 08:53:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  and thank you (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Grizzard

        I'm so glad you are aware of and sensitive to the world you will enter after law school. I'm proud of students and new lawyers like you. It's especially telling that you would (eloquently) tackle such a dangerous issue--the execution of the guilty.  You are looking the beast in the eye.

        I was inspired by and hoped to emulate people whom I consider to be true heroes, Millard Farmer, Bryan Stevenson, Stephen Bright, and all the other early defenders in the post-Furman/Gregg death age. Any one of them could have been wealthy, "successful" lawyers, yet they devoted their brilliance and passion to trying to save the most despised, damaged members of society.

        I walked in the shadows of giants. I am a better person for the experience.  

        Thank you, Grizzard, for choosing the hard path.

        Work and pray, live on hay, You'll get pie in the sky when you die." The Preacher and the Slave, by Joe Hill, 1911

        by Joe Hills Ghost on Wed Oct 17, 2012 at 09:26:16 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  My big problem with the death penalty (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Grizzard

    As you say, it's hard to feel sympathy for this murderer, and I don't.  I'm sorry, but in this case, I think the world will be much better off without this guy.

    Nevertheless, I would love to see the death penalty done away with, for three reasons.  The first two are the ones everyone brings up: executing the innocent and the expense.

    But I don't see my third reason brought up very often.  And it's this:  I am disgusted by cowardice and hypocrisy.  And nothing is more cowardly and hypocritical than the way we execute prisoners in this country.

    If you'll recall, once upon a time, we executed prisoners by hanging.  The gallows was the sole method of executing civilians for well over a century.  And then we got creative.  We started executing prisoners with the electric chair and the gas chamber.  Finally, we moved to lethal injection.  Each step was meant to be more humane to the prisoner, so much more kind than meeting your maker at the end of a crude rope.

    Bullsh*t.

    There is nothing "humane" about being strapped into a metal chair, with a shaved head, waiting for a killing shock to course through your body.  Nothing "humane" about seeing the cyanide vapors rise into the chamber around you, knowing your very next breath will be your last.  Nothing "humane" about dying strapped to a gurney, your last view of your loved ones seen upside down as you crane your head backwards.

    No, these changes were never meant to make it easier on the prisoner.  They were meant to make it easier on the AUDIENCE.

    You see, a funny thing happened when 20th century people watched a hanging.  Sometimes it wasn't a clean neck break.  Sometimes the prisoner slowly strangled to death, shitting himself.  Sometimes the prisoner's head was ripped clean off, spraying the surroundings with blood.  The funny thing was that people who saw this started to get a negative opinion of the death penalty.

    Well, we can't have that, can we?  So they moved to other methods.  But seeing a prisoner twiching and smoking in the electric chair, or spasming and choking in the gas chamber, had much the same effect.  So much so that the death penalty was, for a time, declared "cruel and unusual" by the Supreme Court.

    Then someone got a bright idea!  Why don't we just put them to sleep?  You know, like unwanted dogs!  Why, nothing is more painless to watch-- excuse me, "humane" than that!

    So that's what we do.  And it makes me want to puke.

    If you can't stomach the thought that you are ending a person's life, then you shouldn't be ending that person's life.  And the government shouldn't be making it easier not to think about it by coming up with increasingly more contrived ways to kill someone.

    No.  In my book, if you want to kill someone, then goddammit, you'd better own it.  No contraption that allows you to pretend the victim isn't suffering.  No "only one of the buttons works", so everyone can believe they weren't the executioner.

    The only honest method of execution would be as follows.  The prisoner is led to an area and kneels.  The victim's next of kin is given a gun and has 10 seconds to shoot the guy in the back of the head.  If he fails to pull the trigger, the sentence is commuted.

    Now, of course that's stupid.  But that's the only honest form of the death penalty I can come up with.  And the fact that the method would have serious problems is, in my book, a huge reason for getting rid of the death penalty altogether.

    ------RM

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