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More articles by PZ Myers can be found on Freethoughtblogs at the new Pharyngula!

Texas has state-sanctioned murder

Category: EvilPolitics
Posted on: September 30, 2009 11:12 AM, by PZ Myers

The story of Cameron Todd Willingham (via Digby) ought to be read by everyone. Willingham seems to have been a kind of Texan dumbass, an uneducated, wife-beating piece of work, but he was also the father of three children, who he, by all accounts, loved. Those kids died in a house fire. Forensic 'experts' declared the fire an arson, Willingham was arrested, tried, and convicted of murder, and was executed.

Only problem: he didn't do it. The fire experts were good ol' boys who were operating on folklore and fairy tales about how fires propagated; real experts have looked at the scene and since declared that it was an accidental fire. Nobody killed those little girls, but their father was killed for their deaths.

That's not the most disturbing part of the story to me. You have to watch these videos of Judge John Jackson (he was prosecutor in the case, and is now a judge). He openly admits that the evidence for arson was weak, and that he looked at the circumstances to determine Willingham's guilt. Those circumstances? Willingham was a low-class ruffian with tattoos of skulls who like heavy metal music. Therefore, he was probably a satanist. Therefore, he probably killed his children.

I'm not joking. That was the basis for this smug cracker's determination of guilt, that led directly to his execution. Why not just criminalize tattoos and Metallica? It would make it easy to round up the riff-raff and exterminate them.

The state of Texas murdered an innocent man, and we can see the whole chain of incompetence, bigotry, and cowardice that led to the tragedy, from this ass of a prosecutor to Governor Perry, who refused to heed the evidence of malfeasance. Why aren't all of them being impeached or fired, and facing criminal charges in a court of law? Is it because they don't have any tattoos and listen to patriotic tripe from Lee Greenwood, Brooks & Dunn, and Tim McGraw?

End the death penalty everywhere. Drum the red-necked blundering boobs out of office, at the very least.

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Comments

#1

Posted by: Kobra Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:43 AM

I tend to support the death penalty (for people like Timothy McVeigh, that is). However, it was clearly not appropriate in this situation. It's also very clear that the power of capital punishment should not lie in the hands of the ignorant. State-sanctioned murder, indeed.

#2

Posted by: James Sweet Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:44 AM

Willingham was a low-class ruffian with tattoos of skulls who like heavy metal music. Therefore, he was probably a satanist. Therefore, he probably killed his children.

Sounds familiar.

#3

Posted by: Pygmy Loris Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:44 AM

Cases like this are why I don't support the death penalty in practice. One innocent person executed is one too many, and we know Willingham was hardly the only innocent person Texas (and other states) executed.

#4

Posted by: Kobra Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:46 AM

I also have to say that I'm unsurprised that this happened in Texas.

#5

Posted by: Trug Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:52 AM

I've always been a little iffy on whether or not the death penalty is or isn't a bad thing. Provided that the courts are doing their job and a case is truly proven without a reasonable doubt, I think death is prefferable to life in prison. I'm not comfortable paying for the well being of someone who is a convited murderer for the rest of their lives. All of this is, of course, entirely dependent on whether or not the crime was worthy of death.

But then you see crap like this, and you have to wonder whether the judicial system really is up to making life and death decisions for people. So I'll continue sitting on the fence on this issue. Stupid Texas...

#6

Posted by: Pygmy Loris Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:53 AM

I tend to support the death penalty (for people like Timothy McVeigh, that is).

Yeah, I can support cases like McVeigh where there's overwhelming evidence that he committed mass murder. There are too many iffy cases that get to the execution chamber though. My biggest beef is with the states that resist investigations using modern DNA evidence that may exonerate some people on Death Row. I simply can't understand why someone wouldn't want to use every available method to make absolutely sure they're executing someone who's guilty.

#7

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:53 AM

I'm sorry, but in my opinion, the death penalty is nothing more than eye-for-an-eye biblical justice. I've long been against it... and no, don't present me with scenarios about "would I feel that way if my daughter were raped and murdered"... Yes... I would. The worst thing I could do to dishonor my daughter's memory in such a case would be to recant what I always taught her: That all human life is valuable, and there is no reason to ever lower yourself to accepting the devaluation of human life under any circumstances.

#8

Posted by: daveau Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:54 AM

For once Illinois is ahead of the curve on this issue, embarrassing as it otherwise is. I am against the death penalty; I don't think killing solves anything. Ever. However, if our country allows it, it should be kept out of the hands of incompetents. It's not the kind of thing you can just apologize for later.

#9

Posted by: Trug Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:54 AM

Dammit, convicted, not convited... Wish this thing let you edit posts.

#10

Posted by: CalGeorge Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:55 AM

This has been happening throughout our history. Howard Zinn describes what happened to Sacco and Vanzetti:

The case of Sacco and Vanzetti revealed, in its starkest terms, that the noble words inscribed above our courthouses, "Equal Justice Before the Law," have always been a lie. Those two men, the fish peddler and the shoemaker, could not get justice in the American system, because justice is not meted out equally to the poor and the rich, the native born and the foreign born, the orthodox and the radical, the white and the person of color. And while injustice may play itself out today more subtly and in more intricate ways than it did in the crude circumstances of the Sacco and Vanzetti case, its essence remains.

In their case, the unfairness was flagrant. They were being tried for robbery and murder, but in the minds, and in the behavior of the prosecuting attorney, the judge, and the jury, the important thing about them was that they were, as Upton Sinclair put it in his remarkable novel Boston, "wops," foreigners, poor workingmen, radicals.

Here is a sample of the police interrogation:

Police: Are you a citizen?

Sacco: No.

Police: Are you a Communist?

Sacco: No.

Police: Anarchist?

Sacco: No.

Police: Do you believe in this government of ours?

Sacco: Yes; some things I like different.

What did these questions have to do with the robbery of a shoe factory in South Braintree, Massachusetts, and the shooting of a paymaster and a guard?

http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/1589

#11

Posted by: Trug Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:59 AM

@ #7:

I can understand not buying into the death penalty on the basis of human dignity, and I don't buy into the whole "well if it was YOU" argument either.

But what is an acceptable alternative in the really clear cut cases, like McVeigh? Lock them up like an animal for the next 50-60 years? It might not be an apt analogy, but when you have a rabid animal that just can't be trusted around other animals and people, it needs to be put down. You can't just shut it away for the rest of its life, that would be inhumane as well.

So yes, the death penalty is not ideal. But what do we do instead?

#12

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:59 AM

It's also very clear that the power of capital punishment should not lie in the hands of the ignorant.

Then you can't support the death penalty, because that's the only way it can ever be done.


It is already necessary to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, to impose any sentence. There is no higher standard of evidence. And at this highest standard of evidence, there are still going to be innocent people executed.

It is not possible to have a justice system without wrongly convicting some innocent people. At least with life sentences, there is the possibility of freeing some of those innocent people later. The death penalty guarantees we will execute some of them instead.

#13

Posted by: Chiroptera Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:00 PM

I understand that the risk of executing innocent people is an important factor, but for me it's not the reason why I oppose capital punishment. Even if it were possible to set up a system where no innocent person whatsoever would ever be executed, and even if it can be shown that murder rates would decrease if capital punishment were instituted, I would still oppose it.

The taking of a human life, no matter who that life is or what that person has done, is such a serious matter that under no circumstances should we be allowing the deliberate killing of another human being who poses no imminent threat to others.

That's my opinion, anyway.

#14

Posted by: Brownian, Most Vicious & Petty of Pharyngulites Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:00 PM

I tend to support the death penalty (for people like Timothy McVeigh, that is).

Yeah, I support the death penalty for people we know are guilty and deserve it like I support betting the family car when you know you've got a better hand than the house.

#15

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:05 PM

I'm not comfortable paying for the well being of someone who is a convicted murderer for the rest of their lives.

So you'd rather pay more money to kill people.

#16

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:08 PM

But what is an acceptable alternative in the really clear cut cases, like McVeigh? Lock them up like an animal for the next 50-60 years?

As an alternative to ending his life? Period? Yes... absolutely.

It might not be an apt analogy, but when you have a rabid animal that just can't be trusted around other animals and people, it needs to be put down.

It's not remotely close to an apt analogy... and I think you already know that since you qualified it...

So yes, the death penalty is not ideal. But what do we do instead?

So you're telling me of all available options, killing someone is EVER the better? Sorry... never going to get me to agree on that one.

#17

Posted by: Kobra Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:12 PM

@15: How much of the cost of the death penalty comes from litigation?

#18

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:13 PM

The taking of a human life, no matter who that life is or what that person has done, is such a serious matter that under no circumstances should we be allowing the deliberate killing of another human being who poses no imminent threat to others.

That's an important point for Chiroptera make... protecting your own life and the lives of other persons in imminent danger of being killed themselves, is not the same as issuing the death penalty to a person locked up behind bars that is not an immediate threat to anyone.

#19

Posted by: CalGeorge Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:15 PM

"... it needs to be put down. You can't just shut it away for the rest of its life, that would be inhumane as well."

"It"? Are we to believe that it's more humane to kill someone than to let them live? That makes no sense.

I don't feel threatened by a criminal locked up in prison and I don't want to see anyone executed to satisfy my craving for vengeance. It doesn't solve anything.

#20

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:16 PM

How much of the cost of the death penalty comes from litigation?

Does litigation not occur in non death-penalty cases? Otherwise I fail to see your point... it's an apples to apples comparison.

#21

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:17 PM

@15: How much of the cost of the death penalty comes from litigation?

A lot. And the alternative is to reduce the already inadequate safeguards against wrongful conviction.

#22

Posted by: Iris Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:17 PM

I had mentioned the original New Yorker piece on another Texas thread here: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/09/why_are_texans_so_unpatriotic.php#comment-1902070

Seriously, what do Texans think will happen when they think so little of science education that they are willing to do things such as putting creationist lunatics in charge of their state science standards?
 

 In mid-August, the noted fire scientist Craig Beyler, who was hired by the commission, completed his investigation. In a scathing report, he concluded that investigators in the Willingham case had no scientific basis for claiming that the fire was arson, ignored evidence that contradicted their theory, had no comprehension of flashover and fire dynamics, relied on discredited folklore, and failed to eliminate potential accidental or alternative causes of the fire. He said that Vasquez’s approach seemed to deny “rational reasoning” and was more “characteristic of mystics or psychics.”

Gee. Who could have seen this coming?
 

#23

Posted by: Kobra Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:18 PM

@20: I'm wondering where they got such a significant dollar amount to apply to death penalty cases. The first thing that comes to mind is litigation. The second thing that comes to mind is, "God damn the lethal injection chemicals must be overpriced."

#24

Posted by: Eamon Knight Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:19 PM

The "How would you feel if it was your spouse/child/parent who was the victim?" argument is indeed bullshit. Sure, in such a case I might very likely feel vengeful rage -- I might even wish I could take down the killer myself, with my bare hands.

Should I get to? Should the state get to, on my behalf?

Simply stating the question reveals that it really is about revenge, not justice.

#25

Posted by: Trug Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:19 PM

@ 15:

Whoa, I had no idea that it cost more money to put someone to death than lock them up for decades. I stand corrected. Very much surprised, but corrected.

@ 16:

While my analogy might not have been perfect, I still don't feel comfortable with someone being left in a state where they can still cause harm. Again, I'm not talking about every murder/rape/whatever case here, I'm more worried about the self-confessed whackos out there. McVeigh, Manson, etc. I can't see what value there is in their lives when they are perfectly happy to end the lives of others.

And no, I'm not saying death is always the better option. I was just trying to find out what options you would consider to be fair for someone guilty of what we consider a capital crime. I'm not trying to pick a fight or anything, just interested to see things from your point of view.

#26

Posted by: Kobra Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:20 PM

@21: Yeah, to hell with that.

#27

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:24 PM

Trug, there is no legal framework that can find a Timothy McVeigh guilty without also finding some Cameron Willinghams guilty. You need to get that fantasy out of your head before we can have a serious discussion.

#28

Posted by: Lynna, OM Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:27 PM

I saw the interview with the Judge (former prosecutor) in which he not only mentioned the tattoos of skulls, but also the heavy metal posters in Willingham's home. "That kind of person" would set a fire to kill his kids, was the Judge's conclusion, and he was neither embarrassed by that, nor afflicted by self-doubt. He stated that he was certain that the sentence was correct, and that he was certain that Willingham was guilty. This was *after* he was shown the correct and scientific analysis of the fire. The judge was incapable of absorbing new information. I think his head was full of the "Satanism" verdict.

What's also interesting about this story is that the reconstruction of the house (and its furnishings) in order to scientifically observe it burning again cost a bundle of money. How many defendants could afford to pay for such a reconstruction to prove their innocence? We depend on people like prosecutors, investigators and judges to keep up with current technology, but in this case we can see that they don't bother to keep up, and that they refuse to change when they are proven wrong.

#29

Posted by: Trug Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:28 PM

@ 19:

The "it" you are quoting is a reference to a rabid animal, not a person.

As to whether or not death is more or less humane than locking a person away from society for the rest of their lives, I really don't know if I could give a straight yes or no on that one. It would depend on the circumstances every time. Would death ever be a "good" thing? Almost certainly not. But sometimes needed? Perhaps.

#30

Posted by: Kobra Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:31 PM

@29: "Would death ever be a "good" thing? Almost certainly not."

Context aside: Euthanasia.

#31

Posted by: set_abominae Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:32 PM

There is a huge comment thread about this from a couple weeks ago on Skepchick. Check it out here: http://skepchick.org/blog/2009/09/ai-thinking-critically-while-you-rea/

Bottom line though guys: Death penalty is not right. With our current legal system that just needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt that someone is guilty, we are executing people who are *actually* innocent. You cannot reverse this if someone is later found innocent. To the victim, the killer being locked up for life is pretty much the same as the killer being dead. Seeking the death penalty is just grotesque vengeance. Abolish it.

#32

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:32 PM

I still don't feel comfortable with someone being left in a state where they can still cause harm.

And I don't feel comfortable with a system that will ever wrongfully end someone's life. And as long as the death penalty is in effect and humans are making the call, that will forever continue. Period. And I feel that that concern far outweighs the concern of the likelihood that a violent criminal, once incarcerated, will be able to do deadly harm to more people. Again, it's just my opinion, and I'm not trying to pick a fight either... I just vehemently disagree with your viewpoint on this... especially this statement:

I can't see what value there is in their lives when they are perfectly happy to end the lives of others.

That's an awfully broad brush to paint with, and I'm not sure I'd ever be comfortable making any judgment on the value of a person's life, under any circumstances, to the point of devaluing it completely.

I was just trying to find out what options you would consider to be fair for someone guilty of what we consider a capital crime.

Well, you brought up Manson... was he put to death? No... he was sentenced to death before California found the death penalty to be unconstitutional... and I think his life-long incarceration has been an apt punishment, and has given us a chance to learn from the mind of a really deranged person... perhaps help us identify some of the traits and behaviors that could point out an equally dangerous person before they commit serious crimes... are you telling me that killing him on the spot would have been a better solution?

#33

Posted by: TechSkeptic Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:32 PM

I dislike the death penalty for a number of reasons, as have been mentioned above. But the typical "what if your daughter was raped and killed" line of argument is answered by me in two ways...

1) my emotional, personal response to personal experience has nothing to do with how we should govern ourselves as a community.

2) I don't believe in hell. I do not believe that we are sending the bad guy off to an eternity of suffering. I'd much rather him break rocks until a ripe old age of 100.


I just wish they actually broke rocks.

#34

Posted by: Glen Davidson Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:35 PM

At least he wasn't an atheist. Then he'd really have deserved it ;)

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

#35

Posted by: Trug Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:36 PM

@ 27 Strange Gods,

Yes, I agree. There is no way to set up a legal system that would only catch the truly immoral bad people and all the innocent people would be set free.

I'm more discussing the philosophy of why a death penalty isn't necessarily an evil thing. As to putting it into practice, well, I think the Texas article is a pretty good summary of where it can go wrong. Sorry if that was unclear in my previous posts.

#36

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:36 PM

@29: "Would death ever be a "good" thing? Almost certainly not."

Context aside: Euthanasia.

Fair point... perhaps the better way to state the question would be: "Would it ever be a good thing to deal death out in judgment as punishment? Almost certainly not."

#37

Posted by: Hairhead Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:37 PM

I went through a lot of soul-searching over the death penalty, primarily because if anybody killed my father, mother, brother, wife, or child, I would want them DEAD. And I would, if I had the opportunity, kill the murderer myself. Without remorse. And if that murderer were in prison, getting three squares a day, tv, and exercise, I would be eating my heart out with rage.

So I took the thoughts further: if I were to kill, become a killer, wouldn't the family of person I killed have the same rights as me -- to kill? And if so, where would it end?

I'll tell you where it would end: Afghanistan, and all those other countries where "blood feuds" last for centuries, dozens, if not hundreds of people get killed, and societies cannot progress to law-based rule because old hatreds and tribalism will not cede supremacy.

I gave up, then, the fantasy of revenge in favour of staying a member of, and supporting the continued existence of, a civilized, law-based society. Not without some reluctance.

Then I found another reason to be against the death penalty.

A Canadian police reporter wrote a book called (I believe) The Thin Blue Line, about policing in Canada, specifically Vancouver. Now, this was a right-wing guy, who wore a hard-case moustache, looked like a cop, thought like a cop, sympathised with the cops.

But.

In one chapter he answered the question about the death penalty and wrote (I am paraphrasing here): "I have been a police reporter for over twenty-five years. I have seen all manner of human scum and all of the terrible, terrible things they have done. I have watched the police work hard under terrible suspicion and under threat to catch and convict thse animals. But under no circumstances can I support the death penalty. I have seen the system up close, I have seen it work, and seen it not work. And there are simply too many ways that mistakes been made, by the accused, by the police, by the forensic workers, by the defense lawyers, by the prosecutors, by the judges, and by the juries, to trust anyone's life -- even the life of a scumbag -- to this very imperfect (but the best we have) system."

That clinched it (uncomfortably) for me.

So though I do hate child molesters, murderers, wife-beaters, sadists, kidnappers, and all those others, I cannot in good conscience support the death penalty when, first, it is not civilized, and 2) we simply to do not have the tools to ensure that the penalty can ever be fairly meted out.

#38

Posted by: RogerJH Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:37 PM

What do you expect in a country where the majority belong to a religion that worships someone suffering and dying on a cross? When death is glorified and worshiped, life is cheapened.

In most developed countries, the death penalty was abolished decades ago. About time the US followed suit. But wait, there's the military-industrial-prison complex. How does it make money? By perpetuating its culture of violence and control. Is it any coincidence the US imprisons more of its "citizens" than any other country and still has the death penalty?

End the plutocrats' control of the criminal (in)justice system and you're likely to see a big reduction in the kinds of immoral outrages described in PZ's post.

#39

Posted by: Free Lunch Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:39 PM

So yes, the death penalty is not ideal. But what do we do instead?

Life sentences, generally with a parole option.

Our justice system is not reliable. Killing people because they might have been the one who did it is foolish and unethical. There is no morality in state-sanctioned murder.

#40

Posted by: skylyre Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:39 PM

I don't want to repeat what's already been said, but personally I do not agree with the death penalty. Sure, there are situations where someone is vile enough that I may want to see their life taken from them. But what happens when the death penalty is legal? This story.

Since you can't have it both ways, I would not have the death penalty. It's just not humane to have that chance of innocent people being executed. At least if an innocent person is locked up, they can be set free.

On another note, what's with the heavy metal stereotypes? I love metal, and the majority, at least what I listen to, doesn't encourage half the crap that rap and pop songs do.

#41

Posted by: Brownian, Most Vicious & Petty of Pharyngulites Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:43 PM

But the typical "what if your daughter was raped and killed" line of argument is answered by me in two ways..

1) my emotional, personal response to personal experience has nothing to do with how we should govern ourselves as a community.

I find that line of argument infuriating, and your response is much better than mine. I see no value in discussing an ethical issue with someone who would even assume I'd advance a claim without having put myself, as far as I'm able, in the position of the most aggrieved party. It means they're not likely to put themselves in such a position either, and a discussion about what other people should do to other people with nothing substantial at stake isn't ethics, it's religious moralising.

#42

Posted by: Kobra Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:43 PM

Also, I want to preemptively mention that statistics indicate that the death penalty does not deter people from committing murder.

http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/facts-about-deterrence-and-death-penalty

#43

Posted by: set_abominae Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:44 PM

RogerJH I think there is less of a conspiracy than you paint in your picture of America. I really do not think Prison is part of the Military/Industrial complex.

As for the morality of the death penalty: there is no universal morality. In the end, we are just a mote of dust in the morning sun. Whether someone dies or lives makes no difference whatsoever.

Practically, however, we live in an advanced society that is backwards in a few key ways. This is one of them. It would be in the name of pure progress that we should abolish the death penalty, simply for the betterment and refinement of society. This is the big picture that conservatives/christians are wrong about. They can't see the arrow of progress marching along. They want to cling to the old, barbaric ways.

#44

Posted by: SaraJ Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:46 PM

I am firmly against the death penalty. When I was working on my undergrad degree in psychology I took an excellent class on legal psychology. One of the things we talked about was death penalty cases, and it was extremely eye opening. The requirements for jurors in a death penalty trial end up making a jury that is much more likely to convict (regardless of the evidence). And just looking at stats from the Innocence Project's website on the amount of people who have their convictions overturned YEARS later because of DNA evidence, new evidence, etc. shows me how flawed our system is. There's also been some research done that shows that the death penalty doesn't even work as a deterrent. http://tiny.cc/KcViu

Ultimately, I am against taking a person's life. How hypocritical of our society to tell us that murder is wrong, and then we turn around and murder.

#45

Posted by: Trug Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:46 PM

@ 32:

All fair enough, we do certainly have a difference in opinion. And you have given me a lot of food for thought.

When I say no value, it is certainly a very broad statement. Hell, for all I know, Manson could be able to come up with a solution for the global recession.

I think what gets to me is just a sort of moral recoiling at the thought of someone who can commit such vile acts being able to continue living their lives (albeit in a very different environment) after ruining the lives of so many other people. It very well could be a holdover of my days in the Catholic church still sinking their little moral tendrils into my mind, I don't know.

But points well taken, and I appreciate the discussion.

#46

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:47 PM

Yes, I agree. There is no way to set up a legal system that would only catch the truly immoral bad people and all the innocent people would be set free.

I'm more discussing the philosophy of why a death penalty isn't necessarily an evil thing.

That is irresponsible. You can have that discussion after the death penalty is abolished. In the meantime you are giving aid and comfort to state terrorism. There are real-world consequences to your advocacy. Here in reality, the death penalty is not justice, and misleading hypotheticals are a dangerous distraction.

#47

Posted by: CJO Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:50 PM

I read the article a couple of weeks ago.

It's fucking barbaric. Imagine, losing your family in a horrible tragedy, which happens as you watch, and then being accused of murdering them, locked up, and ultimately executed. The article's account of the review board and their complete lack of due dilligence was just disgusting. There's no indication that a one of them even looked at the evidence gathered by the defense's fire examiner. And what is the most astonishing to me is that there had been another, nearly identical case in the recent past, in which the accused was exonerated on just such an appeal to evidence. Never mind the evil, craven judge. Those "fire-examiners" are guilty of manslaughter, and should be locked up and never allowed to work in a public capacity again after they do their time.

#48

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:54 PM

I think what gets to me is just a sort of moral recoiling at the thought of someone who can commit such vile acts being able to continue living their lives (albeit in a very different environment) after ruining the lives of so many other people. It very well could be a holdover of my days in the Catholic church still sinking their little moral tendrils into my mind, I don't know.

Being an ex-catholic myself, I think that thought has serious merit. ;-)

#49

Posted by: Michelle R Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:56 PM

Oh shit. It has finally happened... The paradox.

Murderers of innocents get killed? Then the state must be killed.

Of course, that's all hyperbole... But it's still a fact now. The state are murderers. Death Penalty is barbaric and low. You cannot decide of life and death over someone, even the worst of the worst. Sure the victims would love to see them die probably, but as a society we have to be colder and rational. Life is to remain untouched.

#50

Posted by: a_ray_in_dilbert_space Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:57 PM

The irony here is that even China is more consistent and more humane in the way it metes out justice and executes criminals. It's pretty astoundng that a country that even pretends to civilization could be so barbaric.

#51

Posted by: Trug Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:58 PM

@ 46:

I think you might be taking me a little too far. I'm having that discussion here, on a blog where people often debate issues. I don't go out on the streets crowing about the wonderful benefits of killing people for justice; nor do I go home and try to win over my family at the end of the day. I have never voted for a death penalty, for no more reason than that I'm not 100% convinced one way or the other. Now if you want to throw out the "you're either with us or against us", so be it.

But let's not try to stifle discussion about the ethics and philosophy of an issue because it would be "irresponsible". If you feel I am misinformed or misguided, educate me.

#52

Posted by: Kobra Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:58 PM

@49: Hahaha yeah.

#53

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 12:59 PM

RogerJH I think there is less of a conspiracy than you paint in your picture of America. I really do not think Prison is part of the Military/Industrial complex.

More than 1/100 of the United States population is incarcerated. This is the highest rate in the world. Higher than China, higher than North Korea, higher than any axis-of-evil or any other terror state.

This is the what happened when we made prisons a private industry.

There is a lot of money to be made by locking up your neighbor.

#54

Posted by: Ibis3, féministe avec un titre française de fantaisie Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:00 PM

The main reason I oppose the death penalty is because of this: it's just too common to have false convictions, even in an age of criminal forensics. It's fallible (and sometimes prejudiced) humans all the way down the line from cops to juries.

An other reason (not mentioned here yet I think) is that I don't believe in giving the state that weapon against its citizens. There's too much potential for abuse, i.e. execution of people for political, politico-religious or thought "crimes".

#55

Posted by: Jud Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:01 PM

The judicial "system" in TX is way bad. I remember reading about a case in which the chief judge of the state's highest criminal court voted against reversing the rape conviction of a man who'd already served many years, despite DNA evidence specifically identifying another man who'd actually committed the crime. As I recall, her "reasoning" was that the convicted man could have witnessed the crime and thus potentially been liable as an accessory (a theory for which there was no evidence and which the prosecution never mentioned).

#56

Posted by: Brownian, Most Vicious & Petty of Pharyngulites Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:02 PM

I think what gets to me is just a sort of moral recoiling at the thought of someone who can commit such vile acts being able to continue living their lives (albeit in a very different environment) after ruining the lives of so many other people. It very well could be a holdover of my days in the Catholic church still sinking their little moral tendrils into my mind, I don't know.

Funny, as an ex-Catholic the first person I thought of that fits this category is the Pope.

But if I cannot in good conscience actually advocate that he should be injected with HIV and forced to spend his remaining days being reamed by some sort of mechanical sodomising machine (gilded of course, as the Pope just hates materialism like that), then how can I advocate the state-sponsored murder of a simple (and much less dangerous) serial killer?

Revenge fantasies feed the part of us that longs for objective and unfailing justice, as do life-after-death beliefs. It's the grown-up part of us that realises that they're just fantasies after all, and that the real world is a lot messier than that.

#57

Posted by: Will E. Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:03 PM

On another note, what's with the heavy metal stereotypes?

I believe those are from the discredited "Satanic panic" of the 1980s--that is, pre-gangsta rap, which then took all the heat.

#58

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:03 PM

Trug @ #51

OK... while I understand you being on the defensive, try to take SGBM's response as a response to a person holding the philosophy that the death penalty is not, in fact, an evil thing... and not directed at your personally, per se... I think he was attacking the philosophy more then the person presenting it for discussion...

Now try to read the comment he made impersonally, and try to pull the merits of his point out from there...

#59

Posted by: Steve LaBonne Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:05 PM

As a forensic scientist (DNA- which unlike much of the other stuff actually IS science), I could contemplate supporting the the death penalty- for those fire "investigators".

Seriously, I just don't understand how anyone in or around the justice system can possibly support the death penalty, because anyone in such a position has to know that mistakes (or worse) DO happen. I have no doubt whatsoever that this guy is only the tip of the iceberg as far as actually innocent people who have been executed. How do people live with themselves, knowing that but supporting the death penalty anyway?

#60

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:06 PM

I think you might be taking me a little too far. I'm having that discussion here, on a blog where people often debate issues.

An innocent man was murdered. These are not hypothetical questions.

But let's not try to stifle discussion about the ethics and philosophy of an issue because it would be "irresponsible".

You're preventing real discussion, by pretending the deaths of innocent people are a legitimate segue for you to advocate murder.

There are real people's lives at stake. It is irresponsible for you to pretend otherwise.

The real issue here is that innocent people are being put to death. You are derailing that discussion with fake and irrelevant wankery.

#61

Posted by: Amphiox, OM Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:08 PM

"I'm more discussing the philosophy of why a death penalty isn't necessarily an evil thing."

So what? The real question is whether or not there is any circumstance in which the death penalty is a better option than any of the available alternatives. If there isn't, then it is wrong. The question of "evil" is actually irrelevant.

The rabid animal analogy is actually a very bad one on multiple levels, because rabid animals are not responsible for the damage they cause, and are suffering from a fatal and incurable disease which results in a prolonged and gruesome death with great suffering. They are euthanized because that is the humane thing to do. The fact that the process of euthanasia also happens to prevent them from causing future damage is just a bonus. If prevention was the primary consideration there are other options that would be preferable.

For example, there are sanctuaries for animals that have been so badly mistreated by humans in the past (pets, circus animals, etc) that they have become aggressive and dangerous in the presence of humans. We don't automatically put down these.

#62

Posted by: Alverant Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:09 PM

I understand that some of the witnesses changed their story between the incident and the trial. They told the police and fire personnel that Willingham tried to save the children. Then later they changed their minds and said he tried to save his boat instead.

Between the faulty witnesses and bad arson report, it is definitely fair to say Texas executed an innocent man. Jackson let his bigotries blind him. He saw a crime where there wasn't one because he wanted there to be a crime. Everyone wanted someone to blame and they let their stereotypes blind them.

Anyone who supports the death penalty after reading what happened to Willingham does not care about guilt or innocence.

#63

Posted by: formosus Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:09 PM

Since this is a death penalty thread, I suppose I'll chime in. When I was younger, my church opposed the death penalty, but I supported it. I believe their reason was something about "the value of human life".

I've since become an atheist, and religions are full of shit if they say they can comprehend the "value of human life". From a religious perspective, your time on earth is nothing but a decision on whether you go to heaven, or are tormented for eternity. In this framework, human life itself doesn't matter at all. All that matters is if you've kissed Yahweh's ass enough. Atheists, however, realize that this life is the only one you get. Human life truly matters because once you're dead, that's it. No heaven, no hell, no do-overs.

After actually learning about how the death penalty works, I completely switched my views - it should be eliminated immediately and in its entirety. It's another one of America's shames - we're one of the few first world powers that still uses this barbaric system. It is the cherry on the top of our completely broken prison/punishment system.

For one - capital punishment doesn't work. It's supposed to be a deterrent, but it doesn't deter murder or violent crime. States with the death penalty have higher murder rates than states without it. And states that went from having the death penalty to abolishing it do not see an increase in the murder rate.

As many have mentioned, the death penalty is not cheaper than life imprisonment- because of the multiple mandatory appeals.

Additionally, because the judicial system relies on the decisions of a 'jury of peers', there will always be people who are convicted in error. We will never have a perfect justice system.

And this is the crux of it. Human life is infinitely valuable. Killing one innocent person is a horrible thing, made so much worse by the fact that the government is paying for it. The US needs sweeping prison and judiciary reform, and the death penalty needs to be the first thing to go.

#64

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:10 PM

strange gods @ 60...

I'm not sure Trug is presenting these thoughts or defenses as his own, necessarily, but as the common arguments made in defense of the death penalty, a subject on which he is admittedly torn...

Perhaps I'm giving too much credit, but I think he really does want those points argued against without it being made into an attack as if he actually firmly holds those beliefs...

again... I could be wrong, Trug can answer to that himself... I'm just trying to give a little benefit of the doubt...

#65

Posted by: Walton, Marquis of Carabas Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:12 PM

I'm not going to make any broader points about the death penalty in general. However, I think that what this does show is the need for a genuinely independent and impartial professional judiciary.

One of the problems with the judicial system in many US states, including Texas, is that judges and prosecutors are directly elected. This means that they are not properly insulated from political pressures, and are compelled to take decisions which please the electorate (and private campaign donors), often at the expense of justice. The whole point of a judicial system is that it is meant to protect individual rights and liberties even against the popular will. An elected judiciary cannot deliver that. John Grisham's recent novel, The Appeal, was an interesting (and worrying) exploration of how this affects the civil justice system, with big business and trial lawyers plunging vast amounts of money into opposite sides of judicial campaigns. Obviously, in criminal justice - and especially with death penalty cases - the stakes are even more important, and so too is the need for impartiality and professionalism.

The Texas system is particularly worrying. IIRC, they've executed over 250 people since Gregg v Georgia, whereas most other states have executed fewer than ten apiece. Coupled with the state's long tradition of "frontier justice", its popularly elected judges, prosecutors and sheriffs, and the many scandals involving its judiciary, this is a recipe for the killing of innocent people. (I seem to recall a recent case where a Texas judge was disciplined for refusing to keep her court open outside normal office hours so as to hear a last-minute appeal lodged by a Death Row prisoner.)

In my own country, the UK, judges hold lifetime appointments, as do US federal judges under Article I of the Constitution. My view is that this system is far superior.

#66

Posted by: daveau Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:13 PM

StrangeGods@53

This is the what happened when we made prisons a private industry.

Good ol' free market at work.

#67

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:13 PM

Perhaps I'm giving too much credit, but I think he really does want those points argued against without it being made into an attack as if he actually firmly holds those beliefs...

You may be right, but the problem is not with Trug or any particular individual. And I don't think Trug is a bad person, or anything like that.

The problem is the fantastical idea that we can have a discussion of the death penalty which is divorced from real people's lives.

#68

Posted by: a_ray_in_dilbert_space Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:13 PM

Michelle R. says: "Murderers of innocents get killed? Then the state must be killed."

I don't think most Texans would have a problem with this, as they hate government--and any other vistige of civilization for that matter.

#69

Posted by: robotaholic Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:14 PM

I'm not against the death penalty because the person might be innocent. I'm against the death penalty because you shouldn't kill people. Human life has intrinsic value that should be respected. Until society recognizes that, all manners of injustice will continue. Let's just not kill people and start valueing life. Yes you may have to use deadly force while defending yourself but that is only in a last resort.

The horrible life that man had after his whole family burned up and then the anxiety of himself being put to death- as if he killed them!- I can't imagine how terrible that was. "Texas judicial system" - what a joke!

#70

Posted by: Steve LaBonne Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:16 PM

The whole point of a judicial system is that it is meant to protect individual rights and liberties even against the popular will. An elected judiciary cannot deliver that.

I agree and would extend that to prosecutors. Even a good judge is helpless if there are facts s/he doesn't know about because a crooked prosecutor has concealed them.

#71

Posted by: Walton, Marquis of Carabas Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:17 PM

This is the what happened when we made prisons a private industry.

Good ol' free market at work.

Let's be clear. Privatised prisons are not a "free market". The state still funds the prisons, decides which companies get the contracts, and, of course, convicts and sentences the prisoners. The fact that functions are outsourced to a private company does not make it a "free market", because there is no individual consumer choice; the state is the only customer, and it still calls the shots.

A lot of people conflate the terms "private sector", "capitalist" and "free market". They each mean different things.

#72

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:18 PM

I think that what this does show is the need for a genuinely independent and impartial professional judiciary.

Walton, your other points aside (which I don't disagree with, by the way), since we are talking about the death penalty specifically, I will state again that even this would not prevent wrongful executions.

Even the American justice system, flawed as it is, generally has countless appeals built in to any death penalty judgment, where several different groups of people are able to review the evidence and testimony, and still mistakes are made.

#73

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:23 PM

The problem is the fantastical idea that we can have a discussion of the death penalty which is divorced from real people's lives.

Agreed... i can just see Trug getting defensive and wanted to make sure everyone understood that it was the idea / philosophy being attacked, not the person presenting it (Trug in this case).

#74

Posted by: set_abominae Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:23 PM

Walton #71 good call. People are all about the conspiracy theories these days. Just because something is contracted out does not automatically mean that it is corrupt and that people disregard their own sense of right and wrong. Everyone needs to remember that the people who work at these contractor companies are generally the same as you and are looking out for the same things as everyone else!

#75

Posted by: Brian Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:28 PM

#7 And maybe others. Apologies if this has already been said. The legal system puts great stock in finality. Once the evidence has been presented, the jury has handed down a verdict, that's the verdict and that's the evidence. The legal system states that once it's been done, you're not supposed to keep redoing it, revising, retrying, or even looking at new evidence. Often this axiom of finality is clung to too hard. Like in this case.

Science works just a bit differently.

Terrifying on how the results of 1990 experiment, which literally and figuratively exploded existing arson science, hasn't become normative.

Brian

#76

Posted by: Swampfoot Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:29 PM

Not to go all Godwin, but for some reason I am reminded of the ending conversation from Judgment at Nuremburg:

Ernst Janning (in jail post-sentencing): "Judge Haywood... the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people... I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, you must believe it!"
Judge Dan Haywood: "Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent."

#77

Posted by: Walton, Marquis of Carabas Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:30 PM

Walton, your other points aside (which I don't disagree with, by the way), since we are talking about the death penalty specifically, I will state again that even this would not prevent wrongful executions.

True. But it would reduce the number of such executions substantially. I just think we should make clear that we're really discussing two separate issues: (1) what needs to be done to fix the Texan (and other states') judicial system? and (2) is the death penalty ever justified in any circumstances? Pointing to a bad decision by a kangaroo court, in a state notorious for the poor quality of its judiciary, is not in itself an indictment of the death penalty so much as it is an indictment of a particular jurisdiction's application of that penalty.

#78

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:31 PM

Walton #71 good call. People are all about the conspiracy theories these days. Just because something is contracted out does not automatically mean that it is corrupt and that people disregard their own sense of right and wrong.

Walton didn't say that there wasn't anything wrong with a privately-run prison system. He just said it wasn't a free market. If I can guess his response before he comments, I will venture that he probably is not wild about a state-granted monopoly on a profitable enterprise where literal bodily freedom is at stake.

#79

Posted by: MAJeff, OM Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:32 PM

And I don't feel comfortable with a system that will ever wrongfully end someone's life. And as long as the death penalty is in effect and humans are making the call, that will forever continue. Period

This.

As long as there is a death penalty, the state will murder innocent people. Full stop.

#80

Posted by: E.V. Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:32 PM

My home town.*deep shuddering sigh*
Interestingly enough, if anyone remembers the convict who was used for the slice by slice digital anatomy project, he was from this very same city town just 45 minutes south of Dallas on the way to Hell Houston. Home of the Collin Street Bakery deluxe fruitcake and America's Got Talent winner - Ventriloquist Terry Fator, due to this I feel somewhat ambivalent about the death penalty.

#81

Posted by: Brownian, Most Vicious & Petty of Pharyngulites Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:35 PM

Let's just not kill people and start valueing life.

I agree, but if you dig too deep you'll find we have built our society around an economic system that does just the opposite. Potassium chloride and crippling debt and socioeconomic disadvantage have the same effect but work under vastly different timelines.

#82

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:35 PM

Everyone needs to remember that the people who work at these contractor companies are generally the same as you and are looking out for the same things as everyone else!

So they're no less corrupt than the rest of the judicial system.

That's reassuring.

#83

Posted by: Travis Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:36 PM

Walton, we have a similar justice system here in Canada and I have to agree I prefer our system to one with directly elected officials. Of course it is not perfect, but it does remove much of the short term gain and pressure on judges to make various people and groups happy.

#84

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:38 PM

Walton

True. But it would reduce the number of such executions substantially.

Perhaps... but even one is too many. Period.

I just think we should make clear that we're really discussing two separate issues: (1) what needs to be done to fix the Texan (and other states') judicial system? and (2) is the death penalty ever justified in any circumstances? Pointing to a bad decision by a kangaroo court, in a state notorious for the poor quality of its judiciary, is not in itself an indictment of the death penalty so much as it is an indictment of a particular jurisdiction's application of that penalty.

Agreed... however I think the point of the post is to point out another reason (the ineptness of a state judicial system in this case) why the death penalty is never an acceptable form of punishment. There's a reason I think PZ ended with that point in his last couple of sentences. Just my assessment.

#85

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:39 PM

Pointing to a bad decision by a kangaroo court, in a state notorious for the poor quality of its judiciary, is not in itself an indictment of the death penalty so much as it is an indictment of a particular jurisdiction's application of that penalty.

It's an opportunity to talk about the problem.

The fact that it's impossible anywhere to ensure that innocent people will not be put to death is a damning indictment of the death penalty itself.

#86

Posted by: Trug Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:40 PM

I certainly don't mean to trivialize the very real consequences of the death penalty; especially in cases where an innocent person died due to those consequences. So if I came across as having that tone, my apologies.

I've been taking a few philosophy courses lately, so I'm a bit more geared toward a detached debate regarding morality and ethics. I just need to remember to change my hat when I come in here, so to speak. Once again, my apologies. And thanks for the analysis, CE, you summed it up nicely. :-)

#87

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:45 PM

Thank you for clearing that up, Trug. :)

#88

Posted by: Josh Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:45 PM

Not a fan of the death penalty. Even setting aside the fact that people commonly make mistakes, I do not think the State should be in the business of killing its citizens or its visitors (legal or illegal). I want the State to be better than that. I'd rather have them breaking rocks.

#89

Posted by: TheChemist Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:45 PM

People talk about the life of a murderer as being worthless very casually. There is no reason that a person who has killed someone is magically incapable of ever doing anything good. Case in point: Soldiers.

You can argue it's different, but the deed is the same, the result is the same, and in some cases, the motivation is the same. How many gang-members have killed someone as a preemptive strike, for example? For many, being in a gang is not perceived as a choice, and for still many more it is perceived as a defensive survival measure.

Even if you disagree with the completeness of my analogy (which is a moot point because- it's an analogy, the ultimate point is that no one can state with certainty that a person who has killed is incapable of ever doing good, or even accomplishing something great.

These are people with human brains, not rabid dogs. If they kill one person, it does not necessarily mean that they will kill again. If I beleived that, then we should lock up every individual who was coerced to be a child soldier. After all, like rabies, what does it matter that it was never their choice? This certainty-of-recidivism argument is simply a case of people trying to rationalize an-eye-for-an-eye. If the person you're executing is worthless, well then it isn't so bad, is it?

While deterrence is a legitimate factor, we must start to think beyond the revenge paradigm. Unfortunately even people who are nominally against revenge still sometimes manage to evaluate the issue from inside it. I suspect that revenge is one of those annoying little attitudes and weaknesses hard-wired into our brain with little use in the modern world.

The time has long since come to move beyond Hammurabic code.

#90

Posted by: Ray Moscow Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:47 PM

This callous disregard for justice and human life has been going on in Texas since Dubya was governor (and no doubt a lot longer). This is just the most obvious and recent example of the injustice.

I'm very anti-death penalty because crap like this is all too common. Just lock up the convicted murderers, but remember that some of them are actually innocent and might be proved so eventually.

#91

Posted by: Brian Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:48 PM

Oops, that was supposed to be #6 in my previous post.

Brian

#92

Posted by: Aratina Cage Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:48 PM

I don't believe in hell. I do not believe that we are sending the bad guy off to an eternity of suffering. I'd much rather him break rocks until a ripe old age of 100. -TechSkeptic
Yes, me too. For example, I felt it was a missed opportunity when they killed Saddam Hussein instead of making him suffer a long life of solitary confinement. On the other hand, if a known killer or genocidal mastermind is not in custody, then I'm fine with lethal force being used during the capture to stop anyone else from becoming a victim. The death penalty, though, I can't get behind because it always ends up snaring wrongly convicted people who are no longer a threat to society as they are in custody.
#93

Posted by: Aratina Cage Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:50 PM

Edit to my last comment:

The death penalty, though, I can't get behind because it always ends up snaring wrongly convicted people and besides, if they are not innocent, they are no longer a threat to society as they are in custody.

#94

Posted by: set_abominae Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:50 PM

strange gods before me #78 (sorry I don't know how to do that quotation thing):

Yes I may have misappropriated Walton's comment. But I would submit that it matters more who convicts and sentences people to death than who administers the prison. Those who theorize that the people running the prison are somehow actively sending more people to jail on purpose so that they can make more money may be right on some level but they forget that there are many many more reasons why a large portion of adults in the U.S. are incarcerated.

#95

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:51 PM

A problem with private prisons is that we now have lobbyists, paid by the prison industry, influencing legislators: http://www.texasprisonbidness.org/

#96

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:53 PM

Even if you disagree with the completeness of my analogy (which is a moot point because- it's an analogy, the ultimate point is that no one can state with certainty that a person who has killed is incapable of ever doing good, or even accomplishing something great.

Or more to the point for me, being capable of teaching us about the nature of violently, aberrantly criminal behavior... we spend a lot of time in this country locking people up and forgetting about them (or lazier, just killing them outright), but very little time actually attempting to study them to understand the reasons behind violent crime and make only token attempts at actual rehabilitation.

#97

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:54 PM

Those who theorize that the people running the prison are somehow actively sending more people to jail on purpose so that they can make more money may be right on some level but they forget that there are many many more reasons why a large portion of adults in the U.S. are incarcerated.

I didn't say it was the only reason why 1/100 of the population is behind bars. But it is one of the reasons. And that isn't okay.

#98

Posted by: set_abominae Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:55 PM

Everyone needs to remember that the people who work at these contractor companies are generally the same as you and are looking out for the same things as everyone else!

So they're no less corrupt than the rest of the judicial system.

That's reassuring.

Strange gods: I am just trying to say that there is no conspiracy here! I work for a company that contracts with the government to help conduct clinical trials for drugs to help people who abuse drugs. That does not mean that my company is trying to get more people to do drugs so that we will have more work to do!

#99

Posted by: stopexecutions Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:56 PM

http://camerontoddwillingham.com/?page_id=6

Please sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

We plan to deliver the petition at the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24, 2009 in Austin at the Texas Capitol.

http://marchforabolition.org

#100

Posted by: Aratina Cage Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:56 PM

A problem with private prisons...
Private prisons? Ugh! That's a whole nother topic of rage for me. When you start paying people based on how many people you hold and how long you hold them, that is simply a setup for abuse of the system. Private prisons should be illegal.
#101

Posted by: set_abominae Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:56 PM

strange gods how do you do that quotation thing? :)

#102

Posted by: Hypatia's Daughter Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 1:57 PM

I am a friend of John Lentini, who was cited in the linked article. He is an fire investigator and somewhat of a maverick in this field (or, to use his own words, a "shit disturber"). Most fire investigators in the past were firemen who went into arson investigation, often with years of experience as firefighters but little scientific training. Lentini is trying to change this approach. (He says that FI often incorrectly misread stains on the floor as accelerant splashes and result in murder charges.)
And is is not just arson that is a problem. We assume that every capital case will have a CSI level of forensic investigation and a L&O level of legal defense. Most crimes are prosecuted in podunk little counties that don't have the money to do the job professionally.
Scary that local incompetence and prejudice could cost you your life.

Hypatia's Daughter

#103

Posted by: Sili Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:01 PM

All the good arguments have been made against the death penalty already, so I have nothing much to add.

For all our faults over here, at least we've got rid of that bit of inhumanity. Even in Poland and Turkey.

I didn't see the end of the discussion on the homoeopathic babykillers thread, but I was dismayed to see some of the early commenters express a wish for their being harmed by fellow prisoners.

Sorry, that's not how justice works. We have courts for a reason, and it doesn't matter how vile the crime, vigilantism is never right and must be prosecuted accordingly when it occurs.

Were I the victim, I might well think differently, but that's exactly why we have friggin' laws.

#104

Posted by: Steve LaBonne Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:04 PM

We assume that every capital case will have a CSI level of forensic investigation and a L&O level of legal defense. Most crimes are prosecuted in podunk little counties that don't have the money to do the job professionally.

Unfortunately the problem here was far more systematic than that. This case actually "benefitted" from the "services" of one of the "top" investigators in the state fire marshal's office. As Mr. Lentini would be the first to point out, the problem was an entire field of "investigation" that was completely unscientific and rotten to the core.

#105

Posted by: E.V. Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:12 PM

Corsicana has a long history of corruption. The son of the wealthy owner of the local newspaper got away with the murder of his wife (allegedly ;-D). All news pertaining to the disappearance of the woman and eyewitness accounts of the husband throwing her body from a bridge were never reported in the Corsicana Daily Sun, however the small town paper of Athens, Texas carried the story. Witnesses were paid off or disappered and the (alleged) perpetrator never was convicted of the crime.
It's a redneck, small minded community with well over 100 churches in a city with a population of 24,500. You can't really pin this one on Bush, perhaps indirectly since he gave us Rick Perry, the biggest asshat governor of Texas ever.

#106

Posted by: https://me.yahoo.com/a/70pKutZs3YuQx73LF0GzubKrVX3Zvqwq#faaac Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:21 PM

There is no greater good that the death penalty serves to warrant its use and risking exactly what happened on the Willingham case.

Can anybody tell me what greater good is served even by executing the McVeigh's and Bundy's of the world? I have asked this question many times and have never received an adequate response. Life in prison with no chance of parole I have no problem with. It serves to keep a murderer from murdering again and has the added bonus of society being able to say "oops, sorry, we were wrong .... you can go now" when errors are discovered.

End the death penalty now. It is barbaric and serves no purpose but to assuage the blood lust of vengeful humans.

#107

Posted by: Xenithrys Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:22 PM

When your life ends, that's it, right? So executing a criminal means he's been free all his life; not much of a punishment. Yes, his life's shorter than it might otherwise have been, but we have nothing tangible to measure our life's span against, so whether you live for 20 years or 80, it's just your life.
(That probably doesn't make much sense, but it's based on how I cope with the thought of death).

#108

Posted by: Brownian, Most Vicious & Petty of Pharyngulites Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:22 PM

In all the hullaballoo surrounding whether or not execution is just, let's not forget the thousands of innocents (or guilty of little more than petty crimes) incarcerated for obscene lengths of time due to similar feats of legal legerdemain. And while we're not forgetting, let's listen to the Tragically Hip. No discussion of justice (or its lack) would be complete without a hearing of "Wheat Kings".

For the non-Canucks here, the song refers to the case of David Milgaard, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and rape and spent two decades in prison as a result.

#109

Posted by: Die Anyway Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:23 PM

Strange gods before me #53 "This is the what happened when we made prisons a private industry."

I think you have the-cart-before-the-horse, so to speak. Prison populations went up due to The War on Drugs, zero tolerance, 3-strikes-you're-out, and similar laws. Local governments could not economically support that increased prison population and so turned to outsourcing.

As for the death penalty, I don't hold life "sacred". Removing a few dangerous, disfunctional human beings from the world-wide gene pool is not something that bothers me. What does concern me is that * I * might be Willinghamed. That would be my reason for opposition to a death penalty. Basically it's the same reason that many have pointed too... there are humans involved and mistakes will be made. It's just that I'm egotistical enough to worry more about me than about other innocent people.

#110

Posted by: set_abominae Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:27 PM

Yes Die Anyway. Lets legalize (or at least decriminalize) all drugs (not sarcasm). Prohibition does not work! Enough with this puritanical shit.

#111

Posted by: Celtic_Evolution Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:29 PM

Removing a few dangerous, disfunctional human beings from the world-wide gene pool is not something that bothers me.

Well, that rolled off your fingers smoothly and with very little effort...

Do you feel comfortable with your ability to fairly, correctly, and incontrovertibly identify those persons who are "dangerous and dysfunctional" enough to be worthy of being killed? Really?

It's just that I'm egotistical enough to worry more about me than about other innocent people.

How very pragmatic of you... thanks.

#112

Posted by: marcus Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:32 PM

Thank You strangegodsbeforeme @15. I was hoping someone would mention this fact, and you actually had the stats! When compassion and mercy make economic sense everyone wins!

#113

Posted by: MikeyM Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:33 PM

I'm surprised that the prosecution never sought to examine the accused to see if he weighed the same as a duck.

#114

Posted by: Eidolon Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:34 PM

I have to say the death penalty is just state sponsored revenge killing. It does not prevent crime, ends up being more expensive in the long run, and as we have seen repeatedly, innocent people end up as victims of the state.

Prison is no vacation, especially when you have 30 or 40 years of it in your future. It is a dangerous and violent place. On the other hand, it is at least possible to release the prisoner if a wrongful conviction was obtained. The fate of those released is a different matter, but it seems to be better than the alternative. DNA evidence alone has resulted in at least 230 overturned convictions.

Interestingly, the death penalty in Colorado is strongly supported by many with "Respect Life" license plates.

#115

Posted by: truthspeaker Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:34 PM

So yes, the death penalty is not ideal. But what do we do instead?

Lock them up for the rest of their lives.

Like some others, I'm not against the death penalty in theory, but I'm against it in practice. The government shouldn't be trusted with that kind of power because of the fallibility of humans.

#116

Posted by: Samantha Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:36 PM

All the way back @ 12:

It is already necessary to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, to impose any sentence. There is no higher standard of evidence. And at this highest standard of evidence, there are still going to be innocent people executed.

The sad thing is that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt isn't really what puts a lot of people in prison but coercive or charismatic lawyers and a defendant who makes them uncomfortable. As cited in #2, the case of the West Memphis 3 is an excellent example; three boys jailed, one of whom is on Death Row, from a coerced statement, a knife found near the trailer park one lived in and the fact that the oldest of them was "a Satanist" (actually a Catholic who had experimented with Wicca). There was so much contradicting evidence and a couple of plausible other suspects and yet the fact that the crime was horrific and the jury thought the boys were odd was enough to convict them.

I learned about the case in a Psychology of Evil class and after watching it, my thoughts were that there is no greater evil than people looking to take revenge on anyone they can think of rather than actually protect themselves or prevent a crime from happening again.

#117

Posted by: Travis Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:40 PM

Thanks Brownian, now I am going to have that song stuck in my head all day. I have work to do (I say while reading a blog) I need to be able to think.

#118

Posted by: maddog Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:45 PM

What does DIRP stand for?

#119

Posted by: Kylyssa Shay Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:48 PM

In response to people who say, "but what if the victim were your spouse, sibling, parent or child?" I say, "but what if the wrongly accused were your spouse, sibling, parent or child?" Who can defend the idea of a person being legally put to death for a crime they did not commit?

Nothing is perfect and nothing is worth the chance of murdering an innocent person. Like in this case, a victim was legally murdered. How often are we murdering victims of crime, or in this case, victims of circumstance via the death penalty? Once is too much.

Life in prison without possibility of parole is cheaper, allows for release and continued life of people later found innocent, and provides an actual punishment for criminals.

Since we can't be assured of 100% accuracy, it seems foolish to use a punishment with no "takesies backsies" in case the verdict is incorrect.

#120

Posted by: John Marley Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:52 PM

I have to say the death penalty is just state sponsored revenge killing

Don't the victims' families get front row seats? If that isn't just a Hollywood myth, it does support the "revenge killing" idea.

#121

Posted by: maddog Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 2:54 PM

oops, posted in the wrong thread, ignore the DIRP question here. Sorry!

#122

Posted by: Demonhype Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:01 PM

It's wonderful to see I'm not alone in my anti-death penalty views! I've saved all the links for my dad, who doesn't believe me when I argued these points and "wants to see the figures". I'm sure he'll call them all biased and fixed, but I notice that the wind goes out of their sails when I slap some printed statistics and studies down in front of them! Seriously, I've never heard a pro-death penalty argument that wasnt' based entirely on emotion and/or vengeance. Also anecdotes. Lots and lots of anecdotes. Because we all know that anecdotal evidence is far more reliable than actual statistics and research. *sigh*

Here's something to really turn your stomach: regarding the tragedy of executing someone who is innocent, my father actually said that it's okay for the state to kill innocent people because we're using such a humane method to put them down ("far more humane than the scumbags deserve"), and so there are no ethical problems with that at all and no harm actually comes to the wrongly accused person.

I lost it, as I've lost it before when discussing this with him. He thinks it's because I can't tolerate other people's different opinions, but that's not really it. I was devastated to hear the same pro-death penalty hatred and wilful ignorance coming out of the mouth of my own father, who I've always looked up to as a great man. My own daddy, who could have hung the moon in my sight, suddenly became a monster right in front of me. This wasn't intolerance of a different opinion, it was one of the most profound disillusionments I've ever had of either of my parents. He became something vile to me, and all I wanted to do was move as far away from him as I could so I'd never have to see him again. Then, of course, I started feeling ashamed...simultaneously hating my dad and feeling ashamed of hating him. It wasn't pretty.

Even my mom doesn't upset me like that, as I've come to expect the self-proclaimed spiritual-guru-operating-on-a-higher-plane to go hate-monster over all manner of things and to revile facts and logic, but my dad has always been so much better than that. My mother has made it clear she does not really understand ethics, as she keeps confronting me with this idea that since I'm an atheist, I should support the death penalty because I don't believe in a God to punish a killer with eternal hellfire, and there's no way any good person should be able to live with the idea of a killer not having some kind of fist o' "Justice" falling on the unrighteous. Tried to explain how ethics work, and she just started yelling that out louder.

Now dad always understood the finer points of ethics and of philosophy. I can't begin to describe how heartbroken I was to hear this shit coming out of his mouth. When I quoted something I'd heard on Lone Gunmen about how it's better that twenty guilty men go free than one innocent man hang, he roared out that it's the other way, far better for twenty innocent men to hang than one guilty man go free. Even my mom was surprised at his obvious lack of logic, which is saying a lot for her. Though she agreed with his views, even she could plainly see that if twenty innocent men hang, then twenty guilty men have gone free anyway, and you've compounded the error by destroying twenty innocent lives--and those of their families.

Even the most logical person I've known became an emotional nightmare over the death penalty. No, I have never heard a single rational argument for the death penalty and I don't expect I ever will. They're like Christian apologetics--designed to appeal to the worst in us and convince us it's actually the best.

I'm keeping a copy of this thread to give me a little hope. I'm far to surrounded by revenge-freaks at the moment and it's making me a litte loopy. A shred of sanity to fall back on would be the breath of fresh air I'd need.

#123

Posted by: Demonhype Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:06 PM

BTW, from what I understand, McVeigh wanted to die. He wanted to be a martyr to his cause. He waived his appeals for that reason. So, at least in his case, it might have been much worse for him to die an old man in prison, unmartyred and irrelevant. My father, normally so "kill 'em all", was against his execution for this reason.

#124

Posted by: Mike Wagner Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:08 PM

Some of the arguments for the death penalty above suggest that it's applicable in a case where the evidence is strong enough to dispel reasonable doubt.

Okay. I'm a powerful political figure in your town. I don't like you, because you're a long haired hippy who happens to live beside the land I want to sell to Wal-mart. You go for a bike ride and your house burns down with your family in it while you're out. I arrange for 3 eye witnesses to say they saw you running from the scene of the crime. My brother in law at the sheriff's office makes sure that the report on the fire says arson. You are convicted of 3 counts of first degree murder and sentenced to death. 7 years later your appeals are exhausted, and you are executed. 5 years after your execution I'm arrested by an anti-corruption task force. It turns out that some of my partners in crime kept records of conversations that indicate I railroaded several citizens into prison. Those people are released. Except you. Because you were executed, due to the evidence at the time proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Enjoy your freedom. Maybe someone will scatter your ashes somewhere fun.

#125

Posted by: Jadehawk, OM Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:11 PM

Just commenting to say that Texas scares the glorious living fuck outta me. I'll take Germany with its idiotically lenient (another consequence of the pathological fear of being compared to Nazi Germany, I'm sure)sentences over the possibility of being sentenced to death because I look different. :-/


And on another note, the problem with the judiciary here isn't just that judges get elected, but the... strangely provincial "Good Ole Boys Club" shit permeating state-level judiciaries, legislatures etc. in some states (most notably and famously Texas). It's almost as if these states have extended the stifling forced familiarity and conformity of small towns to entire states :-/

#126

Posted by: Drosera Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:15 PM

Having a death penalty implies that there will be stupid bureaucrats like this horrible toad John Jackson who get to decide about life and death. It also means that there will be state-employed hit men.

For these, and many other reasons, most civilized countries have long since abolished capital punishment.

#127

Posted by: BdN Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:19 PM

Removing a few dangerous, disfunctional human beings from the world-wide gene pool is not something that bothers me.

Yeah! It's not like we didn't have a universal and valid definition of which individuals are considered dysfunctional.

What is that ? Oh! we don't ? Well, then...

BTW, I'm getting tired of this old "remove from the gene pool" shit.

#128

Posted by: Pacal Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:22 PM

Since this thread is about the death penalty I think I will throw my two cents worth, although in this case my two cents are a more than a little contradictory.

I have to say that I don't particularily care about the sanctity of the lives of people like Ted Bundy or Clifford Olson, those types of serial killers, whether those types of scum die, doesn't bother me in the slightest. Neither do arguements about how horrible or dreadful or extreme the death penalty particularily bother me. The reason is that in far too many cases the death penalty is not an extreme punishment but a paltry insignifigant punishment when compared to the magnitude of the crime(s). In other words what the person "deserves" as punishment is so much greater than the punishment of death. Death in some cases just seems a paltry punishment in comparison to the crime(s).

To illustrate this further there is the case of Adolf Eichmann, the Austrian who helped organize the Final Solution during the Second World War and was responsible, (not solely of course) for the murder of millions of men, women and children in scenes of unspeakable cruelty. Compared to the sheer horrific magnitude of his crimes, his punishment of death seems woefully insignificant. It appears to me that what Eichmann "deserved" as punishment for his crimes, considering their awesome magnitude, was something no human or group of humans who have ever lived are capable of inflicting, and his personal death is just, in comparison, a pathetic punishment. Hannah Arendt in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem at the end of her book concluded that although no punishment could possibly get anywhere near the magnitude of Eichmannn's crimes, that death was appropriate, not as a punishment but because no human being should have to tolerate the existance of someone like Eichmann on Earth a moment longer.

Asside from rather extreme cases like Eichmann, where I am I must admit rather ambivalent about the death penalty. I generally am opposed to it, not simply because all too often innocent or just badly represented people are killed but because I view taking away the state's right to kill people under its jurisdiction as a signifigant and worthwhile limitation on state power. That this will insure that wastes of space, like the Gacy's, Dalhmer's, Bundy's, McVieght's etc., continue to live among us in jails when they are caught is a price I ussually am willing to pay.

#129

Posted by: Algernon, elle sans chapeau Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:23 PM

I've always hated the revenge/retribution model of prisons.

There comes a point where it really seems that it no longer matters if the correct people are being punished, but rather that a certain percent of people are being punished for the existence of crime.

#130

Posted by: Brownian, Most Vicious & Petty of Pharyngulites Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:27 PM

Thanks Brownian, now I am going to have that song stuck in my head all day. I have work to do (I say while reading a blog) I need to be able to think.

Me too, but there's a reason for why this subject is personal to me.

When I was 17, I was arrested and charged with assaulting a 7-11 clerk, based solely on the fact that silver sedans, like the one I shared with my mom, have grills similar to those of other silver sedans, and in 1992 you couldn't shake a stick without hitting some teenager with long, greasy, middle-parted Soupdragons hair. In other words, mistaken identity.

It's a long story, and has some comically slapstick elements to it--the button fell off my shorts while I was in jail, forcing me to adopt a particularly awkward walking gait while cuffed to keep my pants from dropping to my ankles, and I learned that you're still "Bubba" when you're charged with assault causing bodily harm, even if you keep telling everyone you didn't do it, thus I was Bubba with the buttonless shorts--so I'll be happy to tell you all about it one day over beers, but though I never let on to my family or friends, I was quite terrified that I was going to be convicted. And not just terrified, but angry: how could it be that I--an honours student, Royal Canadian Air Cadet, blood donor, little-ol'-lady-street-crossing-helper and generally good kid was going to go to jail and have my life profoundly changed, all for the actions of some fucking meathead.

I spent a year at trial fighting against lying cops, biased witnesses, and mysteriously 'disappearing' evidence. I am incredibly grateful that I finally encountered a judge who saw through the charade and actually interrupted me in the middle of my testimony to apologise and acquit me. Until that point, however, it could have gone either way.

I know its's a lame story, this wrongful almost-conviction, but I think it illustrates just how easily the justice system can go awry. Then again, I share part of the blame: about six months into the trial, I learned the identity of the real culprit from friends of his, but by then I was so thoroughly disillusioned with the system (and particularly the police) that even with he prospect of jail time looming there was no way I was going to hand somebody else over to the system.

#131

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:29 PM

Strange gods: I am just trying to say that there is no conspiracy here!

But you are wrong. The conspiracy is documented.

The major prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America, and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Securities), have been funding Paul Weyrich's American Legislative Exchange Council:

Private prison companies deny that they are motivated to take proactive steps in pursuing legislation to keep their private facilities filled.

Yet, both CCA and Wackenhut are major contributors to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Washington, D.C. based public policy organization that supports conservative legislators. ALEC’s members include over 40% of all state legislators—representing a serious force in state politics. One of ALEC’s primary functions is the development of model legislation that advances conservative principles, such as privatization. Under their Criminal Justice Task Force, ALEC has developed and helped to successfully implement in many states “tough on crime” initiatives including “Truth in Sentencing” and “Three Strikes” laws.

Corporations provide most of the funding for ALEC’s operating budget and influence its political agenda through participation in policy task forces. ALEC’s corporate funders include CCA and Wackenhut. In 1999, CCA made the President’s List for contributions to ALEC’s States and National Policy Summit; Wackenhut also sponsored the conference. Also, past co-chairs of the Criminal Justice Task Force have included Brad Wiggins, then Director of Business Development at CCA and now a Director of Customer Relations, and John Rees, a CCA vice president. By funding and participating in ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Forces, private prison companies can directly influence legislation related to sentencing; in this case, harsh sentencing laws sending more people to prison for longer.

Paul Weyrich was a Christian Dominionist, an advocate of theocracy. Because of course we need theocracy in our prison system. Of course we do. Shit, I didn't even know it was this bad.


They have lobbied to defeat legislation that would hold private prisons to the same transparency standards as government facilities.


this

is how you quote:

this
#132

Posted by: Fred The Hun Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:29 PM

If ever there was a good case to be made as to why one must never stop fighting irrationality, ignorance and authoritarianism, this sad tragic story should be used as the poster boy example.

What I find most depressing is that despite the fact that they had good scientific evidence which might have exonerated this poor bastard they still choose to execute him.

Fuck them and fuck the system!

#133

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:31 PM

Damn Sb comments.


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is how you quote:

this
#134

Posted by: BdN Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:45 PM

How do you write "blockquote this /blockquote" without it being actually blockquoted ?

#135

Posted by: Desert Son Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:46 PM

It seems to me that the death penalty is an issue intimately tied to the issue of religion.

The death penalty represents an opportunity for individuals to imagine that justice has been done, when in fact it has little to do with justice, and more to do with revenge. We want to see injury done to those who injure; that in and of itself isn't so hard to grasp, as it is something we all feel from time to time (feel, not necessarily act on). That's revenge.

Tied to it is religion, this concept that there is purpose in the universe, larger understanding beyond humans, and so forth. That's an idea that immediately connects with the idea of revenge-as-justice, because in a just universe with purpose, those who harm come to harm by an ultimate arbiter of justice as a demonstration not to do harm.

The problem is, in a purposeless universe, there's no overarching entity that looks out at the world and makes all the karmic adjustments necessary to right the ills of one human perpetrated on another. Justice is a human concept. It's not a bad concept (though much ill can be done in supposed service to it, to be sure, just as much good can also be done), but it is a human concept.

That means, then, that humans do what humans do, which, in addition to hurting one another, includes establishing social codes and laws to help ensure the survival of the species as societal beings, to help provide justice for injustices (however imperfectly applied), and to make meaning of the circumstances of experience.

This is potentially terrifying to some people, because it all the more profoundly demonstrates that the arbitration of justice is in precisely the same, very fallible hands of the humans who developed the idea, instead of divinely contained in the omniscient hands of some transcendent, mystic entity or consciousness.

The death penalty allows individuals terrified by the prospect that justice actually isn't encoded in the ultimate organization of the universe (and I use organization in the sense of observed phenomenon and applicable theoretical laws/principles that attend to that, NOT in the sense of design-as-extension-of-some-cognitive-plan) to imagine that it is. It's almost as if the imperfect practice of an irreversible process somehow validates the idea that ultimately there is redress for wrongs, including wrongs of systems upon those innocent of crimes, so it's not as if it's such a big deal to kill here on earth; after all, all will be accounted for and made right in the spiritual judicial system to which, it is proposed, we're all subject. Further, it seems to me that the revenge-as-justice motif also plays into the "specialness in the universe" idea, that because we are each, individual, beloved snowflakes in the hands of a just god or supernatural consciousness, then when we feel outrage at some horrific crime, it actually validates us as special aspects of the universe uniquely attended to by forces beyond understanding to arbitrate death in response. After all, why would god's special wards suffer without proper redress?

All the more ironic, then, when religious practitioners support the death penalty if they uphold the idea of ultimate justice in the hands of a supernatural force. Why should they worry about justice on earth (and killing, for that matter), since it's all in god's hands and part of god's plan? God's got your back! Why the fuss about establishing judicial systems in the first place?

Those of us who are atheists recognize, as has already been pointed out in the thread, that we have to do the best we can in the limitations of existence that we have in whatever time we have. Thus, just as the default is that there is no evidence for gods, and until/unless evidence appears we're getting on with our lives, then the default is that we should not kill as punishment for crimes as we await evidence that demonstrates the perception of guilt may not hold true.

In the meantime, we are bombarded by the false dichotomy that not killing criminals for crimes they commit somehow allows the crimes to perpetuate and endorses the criminality, or in the religious sense, allows a wrong to continue to be perpetrated on some disembodied idea of the victim ("their spirit cannot rest" trope from ghost stories). We may be allowing for the possibility that we're wrong in our evaluation of evidence, but that doesn't mean we're stupid. We imprison those who we determine are guilty of crimes based on evidence to prevent the propagation of further crime by the individual so convicted. That the prisoner lives allows the possibility to examine the evidence and the system itself in order to determine if the conviction and imprisonment was a just or unjust one.

A bumper sticker summed this all up better than I can: "Why do we kill people who kill people to demonstrate that killing people is wrong?"

No kings,

Robert

#136

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:49 PM

Because they are private firms that answer to shareholders, prison companies have been predictably vigorous in seeking ways to cut costs. In 1985, a private firm tried to site a prison on a toxic waste dump in Pennsylvania, which it had bought at the bargain rate of $1. Fortunately, that plan was rejected.

Many states pay private contractors a per diem rate, as low as $31 a prisoner in Texas. A federal investigation traced a 1994 riot at an Esmor immigration detention center to the company's having skimped on food, building repairs and guard salaries. At an Esmor-run halfway house in Manhattan, inspectors turned up leaky plumbing, exposed electrical wires, vermin and inadequate food.

To rachet up profit margins, companies have cut corners on drug rehabilitation, counseling and literacy programs. In 1995, Wackenhut was investigated for diverting $700,000 intended for drug treatment programs at a Texas prison. In Florida the US Corrections Corporation was found to be in violation of a provision in its state contract that requires prisoners to be placed in meaningful work or educational assignments. The company had assigned 235 prisoners as dorm orderlies when no more than 48 were needed and enrollment in education programs was well below what the contract called for. Such incidents led a prisoner at a CCA facility in Tennessee to conclude, "There is something inherently sinister about making money from the incarceration of prisoners, and in putting CCA's bottom line (money) before society's bottom line (rehabilitation)."

They don't care about providing meaningful work to inmates because they profit from recidivism:

But the worst incident came in 2007, when state officials closed down the GEO Group’s 200-bed youth detention center in Coke County. Inspectors had reported that feces and urine littered the common areas, while the inmates’ education program consisted of a daily crossword puzzle slipped into their cell. Inmates would sometimes go 72 hours without taking a shower, days without brushing their teeth and were sometimes forced to defecate in something other than a toilet. Inspectors also found discrimination based on race.

They save profits by operating hellholes.

#137

Posted by: Algernon, elle sans chapeau Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:54 PM

In the meantime, we are bombarded by the false dichotomy that not killing criminals for crimes they commit somehow allows the crimes to perpetuate and endorses the criminality

Well if you idolize one person dying for other people's "sins" then it starts to make some sense I think.

#138

Posted by: Kagehi Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:55 PM

My only issue with "never" using it is that there are **other** things that can go just as wrong:

1. People placing them into general prison populations, due to bad paperwork.

2. Them being placed in a population of prisoners that include people that are *not* guilty, like this man, and then killing someone, possibly the person that shouldn't have been there.

3. Them killing a prison guard.

4. Transport, where they move the prisoner, someone screws up, and they escape, even temporarily, and maybe kill someone while loose.

If they deserve to be in there, then they deserve it because the level of danger they impose ***does not*** magically vanish, just because the only people exposed to them may be guards, or other inmates. Short of building fracking robots to handle them (which we can't at this point, and would open up a whole different can of worms, if we could), other humans have to deal with them, and these are **not** people without families, who we don't care about, and we don't mind dying, as a result of having to keep some animal in its cage. Yet, somehow we talk about them being "not a threat" to million of other people, most of whom would have never ran into the nut, even while loose, or the really really bad thing it is to take a human life, but we ignore that ***human lives*** have to keep these people in their cages, feed them, etc.

Do we just not give a shit about these people, or figure that they are "trained" well enough that its their fault of the convict manages to kill them?

Just something else to think about with this issue, because somehow the, "lock them up for life, but don't kill even the truly insane ones!", people imagine, or don't think too carefully, about just who is likely to be locked up with them, and who has to keep them there, and how much danger *they* are in, including innocent people, who shouldn't be there. Simply saying, "No, never!", isn't a solution, and it only really protects the millions of people that probably wouldn't have ever met, or been attacked by, the crazy in the first place. I, for one, am not too clear how you mitigate such real risks, and still claim to be protecting *everyone* from them, while at the same time refusing to take the one action that could do so, when appropriate.

In the end, the reality is, you can't *ever* protect everyone from them, while alive, and you can't, at this point, stop people being killed who shouldn't be. So.. where is the solution that solve **either** of these problems? Are there any? And, the issue here is not deterrent, any more than you remove a wild animal to a new location, to "deter" it returning, or spray ant poison around to "deter" ants from coming back. The point is to remove the menace, in a way that removes its risks from "people". You can't move the ant hill, you can move the wild animal, and in the later case, it may stay where you put it. Which one is someone like McVeigh, and how do you, honestly, deal with that issue, so that they are not a threat to "anyone" including people that shouldn't be in prison, and the people guarding it?

#139

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 3:57 PM

The lobbying of one company alone, Corrections Corporation of America, amounts to about $15,000,000 in the last eight years.


Barron's recommends that you buy stocks and bonds in prisons:

JOHN MOUSSEAU, A PORTFOLIO MANAGER at Cumberland Advisors, likes triple-A , insured bonds issued by prison authorities in Sunbelt states like Virginia, the Carolinas and Arizona. "From a demographic perspective, you look for prison bonds in growth areas of the country," he says. "Growing areas mean more crime!"

He says that Cumberland likes bonds in which a number of counties or regional jurisdictions share the cost of a prison and agree to use it exclusively for their convicted bad guys. Mousseau says that if the state helps the regional players with construction costs, that makes the bond issue even more attractive.

#140

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 4:02 PM

How do you write "blockquote this /blockquote" without it being actually blockquoted ?

&lt;blockquote&gt; like this &lt;/blockquote&gt;

#141

Posted by: CJO Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 4:03 PM

How do you write "blockquote this /blockquote" without it being actually blockquoted ?

HTML entities

#142

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 4:07 PM

My only issue with "never" using it is that there are **other** things that can go just as wrong:

All those things can go wrong while the person is waiting on death row, too. And we cannot reduce the number of appeals; that will just mean even more innocent people being wrongfully executed.

All the problems you list are real problems, Kagehi. But they are not arguments for the death penalty. They are not arguments for executing innocent people.

#143

Posted by: Brownian, Most Vicious & Petty of Pharyngulites Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 4:08 PM

Which one is someone like McVeigh, and how do you, honestly, deal with that issue, so that they are not a threat to "anyone" including people that shouldn't be in prison, and the people guarding it?

Well, since you clearly can't kill them without creating a system in which other innocents are at risk of wrongful execution, there may not be a solution that protects all parties at all times. Somebody's at risk. Hell, we make that tradeoff just by having a police force and a military.

#144

Posted by: Wayne Robinson Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 4:10 PM

Well, at least GW Bush once admitted that he knew of no GUILTY person being executed in Texas...

#145

Posted by: BdN Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 4:13 PM

Ok! Thanks SGBM and CJO!

#146

Posted by: Aratina Cage Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 4:28 PM

If they deserve to be in there, then they deserve it because the level of danger they impose ***does not*** magically vanish
Kagehi, I'm going to have to disagree with that. The level of danger of a murderer or even mass murderer is dramatically reduced by them not having access to weapons or other lethal materials. Most of worst of them spend their days isolated and caged, too. Prison removes them from society quite well. Also, just like people who join law enforcement or the military, prison workers choose to work there having at least some idea of the risk.
#147

Posted by: 'Tis Himself, OM Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 4:51 PM

Demonhype #122

my father actually said that it's okay for the state to kill innocent people because we're using such a humane method to put them down

Tell your father about what the eminent British jurist, Sir William Blackstone, wrote in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, published in the 1760s:

It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.
#148

Posted by: Smoggy Batzrubble OM4Jesus Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 5:06 PM

Dear Atheists,

It is cases like this that make me so proud to be a Christian!

Who can't imagine Yahweh looking down with vengeful approval at that dewlapped, dog-raping, prosecutor, with his stark-fucking-mad theories conditioned by beliefs in Satan, demonic possession, backward-masking, pentagram-shaped burn patterns, and the fact that the face of Jesus appears in his own shit everyday?

I say, thank Christ for the fact that this legal system and Christianity are so remarkably similar. In each the only criteria for persecuting someone different is the fact of the persecutor's 'faith'. We have all the proof of guilt we need if the accused is a materially deprived good ol' boy with skull tattoos and metal posters on his wall.

And thank God there's a Heaven in which Floyd Rubber has been granted eternity to 'chat' with the Godly prosecutors, derelict committee members, false-witnesses, satanic-abuse hysterics, political points-scorers, delinquent governors, presidential perverters, and fundy haters. Jesus has told me in my prayers that on the glorious day of the Rapture, he's going to appoint Floyd as his independent arbitrator to investigate crimes where religious enthusiasm has got the better of reason, justice and evidence. Floyd has been told he is allowed to use whatever methods he needs to, to balance the ledger. He tells me he intends to start by experimenting with pentagram-shaped fire patters, using an accelerant on Judge John Numbnuts' fat, pasty arse--he'll only be able to extinguish the searing flames by licking them off with his own tongue. That should keep the stiff-necked cock-sucker occupied for a while. Floyd has also had death's-head tattooed on his cock--and he's got a list of a number of careless jurors who'll be spending a few millennia licking it off.

Yours in anticipation of end-times justice
Smoggy

PS And yes, let's keep executing people! But let's be imaginative. what's wrong with going the cruel and unusual route? They'll all be dead one way or the other. Hanging, drawing and quartering was great spectacle--prime-time TV would bid big for it. Who wouldn't want to see Denis Rader strangling slowly while someone jacks-off on him, just like he did to that little girl? And what's a little collateral damage when the Divinely implanted urge for vengeance burns so bright within us? Just think, we could have incinerated Todd Willingham just like he didn't do to his babies.

#149

Posted by: Demonhype Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 5:10 PM

'Tis Himself @ 147:

Is that where the Lone Gunmen got that quote? I remember they attributed it to a founding father, but I could be wrong. I did use something similar on him--only main difference was the number of guilty men was 20, as I mentioned in my post--and he just bellowed out that the statement was wrong and it's better that 20 innocent men die than a single guilty man go free. That's when I realized my rational daddy was not operating from a base of rationality in this argument.

#150

Posted by: davem Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 5:13 PM

Everyone here knows that if you continue with the death penalty, there will be further cases like the one above. Everyone here knows that the death penalty does not deter people. If it did, there would be no murders.

So if you vote for the death penalty, you are voting to kill a few more innocent people. That makes you an accessory to murder, even if you think it doesn't.

C'mon guys, time to give up murdering people. Time to catch up with more civilised countries, like Azerbaijan, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Venezuela...

EDIT: Just had a nightmare with Moveable Type - it keeps ging me 403 errors. Imn the end, I deleted all domain cookies, and it finally worked. SciBorgs - Fix it, or I'll come round and murder you, and the judge will agree it was justifiable. :0)

#151

Posted by: Dreamstone Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 5:32 PM

OK, I'm a long time lurker coming out of hiding to express my opinion.

First, I agree that one innocent death or conviction is too much.

But I also have agreement with Kagehi that sometimes life- imprisonment-isn't always life-imprisonment. Prisoners escape and sometimes murder again.

One case: William Wayne Gilbert. On death row awaiting execution, his sentence and that of several other death row inmates was commuted to life by Governor Anaya. He later eascaped, along with 6 other inmates.

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/07/06/us/2-killers-and-5-others-escape-from-new-mexico-prison.html


http://articles.latimes.com/1987-07-31/local/me-8_1


A prison guard was murdered and another one wounded during the escape. A family was kidnapped and forced to transport the escapees to California. I thought that I remembered from the time that the Mother and one of the children was raped. I didn't see that in the articles, so I admit that I possibly have misremembered. This is not the only time that dangerous prisoners have escaped.

My point is that, it is not always that simple. Certainly this Texas case should never have happened and the polititions etc. involved should be punished severely themselves. Perhaps death penalty cases should be taken totally out of the local systems and be proscuted only at the federal level. I really don't know. But people shouldn't have to go through the terror that that family went through, or the family of the dead prison guard.

There that is my opinion. I await my execution.

#152

Posted by: roddyb Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 5:33 PM

Long time lurker, first time poster.

I am a Senior Crown Prosecutor in England - like an ADA in the US - and I have prosecuted murders. I am against the death penalty. Some people are, well, evil seems to be the only word that meets the merits. Others are just pathetic. Do they deserve to die for what they did? We used to wait two clear Sundays. In that time you had to either appeal or seek clemency. If you chose wrongly then that was it - 8 a.m. one morning you had one last appointment probably with Mr Pierrepont. He resigned as Executioner because he said it never did any good and was just revenge.
I am against it because no matter how carefully we conduct the investigation and trial, we might go wrong. I have seen how easy it is to get on the wrong track. If someone is convicted of murder and spends the rest of their life in prison then if we have got it wrong there is a chance of making some kind of amends. If we hang them, there isn't.
Some people might have to be locked up for the rest of their lives, they are that dangerous. Others, well on my Civil Service Board I was asked this question, in terms: "Do you grant bail to a murderer?" Why not? If the circumstances are such that you safely can. Remember most murders in the UK are committed by one family member on another and in reality the murderer is more of a danger to themselves than to the public at large. They will do their time and come out and disappear and you will never hear of them again. Should we hang these people? I couldn't.

#153

Posted by: ice9 Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 5:33 PM

I use the Willingham case as an example for my high school journalism classes. I've condensed all the coverage from the Corsicana paper and the Grann New Yorker article into a single chronological document--I've posted the text on my website here:

http://storyarc.squarespace.com/willingham-press-coverage

in case you'd like to see the unfolding process of railroading a person as viewed through an inbred hometown press every bit as backward and partisan as the fire investigators were. The stories gradually re-create the reality of Willingham as guilty. They feed on quotes and tips from the prosecution and never pull back from a conclusion. For example, Willingham is arrested and the prosecution and cops claim he "might have been trying to flee" because he had clothing in his car. Yet no mention is made of why he might have had clothing in his car--his house burned down, remember? or, more appropriately, the press does not omit the claim that he was trying to flee. If Willingham were innocent, his behavior would have seemed innocent--because it was--to him and to anyone else.

By the time of the trial the idea that he was fleeing had become an established fact, along with the fact that he'd beaten his wife in attempt to cause a miscarriage; that he was a satanist; that he had a long history of violent and bizarre behavior; that he had confessed to Amber's dead body that he had been trying only to kill the twins; that he'd burned a pentagram on his floor in a satanic ritual; that he was a career criminal, a sociopath, and worse.

Venue change denied, and that's some jury pool you got there.

Also pathetic are the whining opinion pieces the paper publishes once the arson investigation came under scrutiny, foremost among them Judge Jackson's. This is where he tries out the argument that Willingham was guilty anyway, and also trots out the standard response to annoying outsiders who come in and tell us how to do things--y'all go back to your own place and mind your own business. Sadly that does not work both ways, so busloads of nasty rednecks keep arriving in my town to protest how we do things here. Oh well.

ice9

#154

Posted by: Algernon, elle sans chapeau Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 5:39 PM

But people shouldn't have to go through the terror that that family went through, or the family of the dead prison guard.

But they should have to worry that by having a pair of painter's pants in their car, or by being the wrong color and wearing a gray tracksuit, or by having a skull tattoo, or by having gotten into a fight five years ago, or being a drunk who hangs out in bars too late, that they will be randomly picked up, prosecuted with next to nothing for evidence, and murdered publically? Totally brilliant and fair.

#155

Posted by: philipstorry Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 6:05 PM

I have long been against the death penalty.

But the crystallising moment in which I became vocally against the death penalty occurred whilst watching a BBC Horizon programme, in which the ex-Conservative MP Michael Portillo looked at the death penalty.

It's called "How to kill a human being", and I recommend everyone try to find it and watch it.

In summary, he looks at all the current methods of execution. Hanging, electric chair, lethal injection, gas - all are methodically written off as cruel and painful, and some open to abuse which causes further unnecessary cruelty and pain.

He then looks at using a barometric chamber to kill people. Just drop the air pressure and therefore remove the oxygen supply. People become confused and "drunk", but happy. Then they just pass out, and die a short while later of oxygen deprivation.

No pain. No suffering. (Certainly not that can be detected, anyway.) The poor sap will even die with a smile on his face.

And that led to my moment of truth. When Michael presents this to a person responsible for advising on executions in the USA.

And the person dismisses it, effectively BECAUSE THERE IS NO SUFFERING.

The advisor could not accept a method that left a person dead with a smile on their face. It would not "go down well with the families of victims".

Executions under US law (and elsewhere) are done for nothing other than revenge and retribution.

They are not about removing a violent or deranged person from society. They are not about keeping the innocent safe. The very methods used show that they are all about showboating - about making victims and their associates/relatives feel that they had revenge.

I am against the death penalty for all of the judicial process and humane reasons others have given. They are my position, and I am not pro-death in any way.

But if you had to have a death penalty, it would have to be humane. And there is a humane method.

It is the implementation of the penalty in inhumane manners which condemns the penalty itself.

I recommend that American readers ask BBC America to show Horizon's "How to kill a human being". Ask loudly, and ask repeatedly.

If they do show it, and it does not leave you awed and disgusted, then I apologise for wasting your time here.

#156

Posted by: Qwerty Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 6:10 PM

After reading the article, I found it disturbing that a case can be so easily manipulated into condemning a man to death. Also disturbing was the fact that the state of Texas ignored any suggestion that they may have condemned an innocent man.

I am glad that the state of Minnesota has not had the death penalty for about 100 years. I cringe whenever anyone here wants to restart it as cases like this man in Texas may be more common than we think.

#157

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 6:12 PM

First, I agree that one innocent death or conviction is too much.
Perhaps death penalty cases should be taken totally out of the local systems and be proscuted only at the federal level. I really don't know. But people shouldn't have to go through the terror that that family went through, or the family of the dead prison guard.

Make up your mind. Either one innocent person wrongfully executed is too much, or we should have federal executions. You cannot have it both ways. Obviously you have decided that dozens of innocent people executed is not too much.

#158

Posted by: A.Dent Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 6:27 PM

As a forensic scientist (DNA- which unlike much of the other stuff actually IS science)...
From Authentication of forensic DNA samples:

"It turns out that standard molecular biology techniques such as PCR, molecular cloning, and recently developed whole genome amplification (WGA), enable anyone with basic equipment and know-how to produce practically unlimited amounts of in vitro synthesized (artificial) DNA with any desired genetic profile. This artificial DNA can then be applied to surfaces of objects or incorporated into genuine human tissues and planted in crime scenes."

#159

Posted by: Mike Wagner Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 6:38 PM

@155 Philipstorry

I have seen that documentary as well. Very informative and quite creepy. I would also suggest that anyone who hasn't seen it check it out.

#160

Posted by: ckitching Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 6:52 PM

Querty wrote: I cringe whenever anyone here wants to restart it as cases like this man in Texas may be more common than we think.
Worse, it's more common than we'll ever know. States that practice execution have always strongly resisted reopening cases of those who have been executed. It's not hard to imagine why, and I think it's clear that it's not just about being forced to pay recompense to the families of those who were wrongly executed.
#161

Posted by: pixelfish Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 6:58 PM

There's a Bertrand Russell quote (actually several along the same theme) that we talk a lot about dying for our country but less about killing for it. Wish I could remember the exact one I want, because while it applies to war, it seems semi-relevent here.

Execution as punishment doesn't seem to stop anybody. Deterrence is not proven to be a factor. Execution to act as justice is bitterly laughable to the families left behind. Execution to keep somebody from harming society repeatedly seems to be obviated by the same effect in lifetime incarceration.

I think there's a social cost in asking the state to act as executioner. I also think that our culture has huge flaws in it which lead to different results in our legal system based on race and class. And I think there's a very high number of innocent* persons being executed because of those flaws. As such, I'm really not comfy with the idea that people can be put to death in my name as a citizen of this or that state, in order to protect me. If the system is flawed, it behooves us to fix the system.

The case of Troy Davis is one of those cases I speak of. The facts seem to be that the major implicating evidence comes from a man who was originally a suspect in the case. Everyone else who originally said Davis had done it, has since recanted. He has maintained his innocence this entire time and appealed his case a number of times, and he sits on death row. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy_Davis_case
It seems that there should be reasonable doubt as to Davis's involvement in the crime.

#162

Posted by: Steve LaBonne Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 7:45 PM

A. Dent @158- those authors are entrepreneurs trying to sell a test (based on lack of modifications in PCR-synthesized DNA). The scenario is fanciful- you should worry much more about cops planting evidence the old-fashioned way, which can and does happen (though not nearly as often as defense attorneys would have you believe.) Anyway the real moral is that if somebody actually went to all that trouble, it would be possible to detect it.

Also it needs to be pointed out that scientifically valid != foolproof. There are no substitutes for honesty, competence, and asking questions about how the evidence was obtained.

#163

Posted by: Phro Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 8:18 PM

The case that PZ has detailed is awful, no doubt. But there's worse examples of people being jailed and put on death row for listening to heavy metal. The West Memphis 3 are still in jail, and one of them is still on death row. But he hasn't been executed yet. We have a chance at stopping another tragedy from happening...

http://wm3.vox.com/

#164

Posted by: Primewonk Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 8:43 PM

Don't know if you folks have seen this yet - http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090930/ap_on_re_us/us_texas_execution_arson_4

Apparently Texas Gov. Perry has booted 3 members from the panel reviewing this matter, so they've canceled the meeting.

Wonder why Perry did this? Especially this close to the meeting.

Hmmmmmmmmm.

#165

Posted by: John Phillips, FCD Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 9:09 PM

kagehi and Dreamstone, while those are real problems, solving them largely comes down to prison design and better control and management, i.e. ultimately cost and political will. There are already maximum security prison wings where there is never any physical contact between the inmate and anyone else, either other inmates or guards. If there are situations where physical contact is ever required, e.g. medical intervention of some kind, it is possible to safely secure the inmate before any real contact is made. BTW, there are such prison facilities already in the US.

And to quote 'tis himself's quote again, "better for ten guilty men escape than that one innocent suffer". One would think that this would ring true with everyone, if only from a purely selfish point of view. After all, you may be the one wrongly accused and convicted. If you think that that can never ever happen to you, I have a bridge to sell you.

#166

Posted by: Eidolon Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 9:16 PM

Kagehi et. al.

First, consider that most prison violence comes from gang affiliations and involves non-capital criminals. These individuals are as dangerous if not more so than any death row inmate. This means that the guards at much greater risk from these individuals, often acting in concert, than from any single inmate.

Next think about this. It is certain that innocent people will be convicted of capital offenses they did not commit. No system of courts is 100% correct. What level of "collateral damage" will you accept?

As for revenge killing, if the family is not present at the actual execution, you can depend on the television interview in which the family "finally gets some closure at seeing justice done".

#167

Posted by: dwatney Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 9:29 PM

This is a very unpleasant reminder that before you hand any power over to government, you should stop and imagine that power in the hands of someone you least want to have it. You may trust the people in power now, but who knows who will be elected/appointed to wield that power in the future. Ken Ham as Secretary of Education? Tom Harkin as Healthcare Czar?

#168

Posted by: ice9 Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 10:25 PM

Good catch, wonk. I read that piece with a rising sense of ironic hysteria. Now I guess I know what it's like to be a deranged Beckian lunatic, certain that the President is at the same time a monstrous failure and a dire threat. Mr. Big Hair Perry--if you're reading this--nice move. You've confirmed your fearful guilt while at the same time cleverly delaying the reckoning until after secession. Well played, governor.

ice9

#169

Posted by: otrame Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 10:30 PM

I am opposed to the death penalty for a number of reasons: philosophical, ethical, political. Not one of them is out of sympathy for murderers.

A few of my reasons:

Leaving all other considerations aside, I think as long as rich men don't get the death penalty, there should be no death penalty.

Basically, my strongest reason is that I think the State should be held to the same standard for justifiable homicide as individual people are. Immediate self defense or defense of another. Period.

It's disingenuous as hell to worry about "locking them up like animals for the rest of their lives." We already lock up people like animals for decades or for life, for crimes far less evil than murder. We have no right, as a society, to take their lives. We do have a right to protect ourselves. Throw away the key. At least then, if it turns out the person is innocent (not unusual, our system tries, but it is run by humans) then they are still alive to be set free.

As for McVeigh, the fucker got off much too easy. A few months in jail? I like what happened to Richard Speck, who killed those nine student nurses in Chicago in the late 50s or early 60s. He spent something like 40 years in jail. That's what should have happened to McVeigh. Rotting away so long no one even remembered who he was. Like I said, my opposition to the death penalty is not out of sympathy for the murderers.

#170

Posted by: JohnnieCanuck Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 10:52 PM

This business of prosecutors and judges needing to make crowd pleasing decisions to ensure getting re-elected has always bothered me. It's just a couple of steps removed from direct vigilante action.

#171

Posted by: Cerberus, unnatural product of en-OMnomnom-ification Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:01 PM

One thing that the comments at the top of the post put into perspective is how much support for the death penalty relies on our social contract being broken. By that I mean, how the government of America refuses to provide a minimum of food, shelter, and minimal security to all citizens. This creates a system where prisoners are seen as being "better" treated than those outsides giving rise to resentments which in turn promotes support for violent "punishments" that go above and beyond (tacit support for death penalty, prison rape, prison abuse, etc...) to "level" the playing field.

I'm sure there'd be less "kill them off now, instead of letting them mooch" sentiment if those on the outside felt they were at least equally guaranteed to food and shelter if worst came to worst.

This is probably also why the scandanavian countries have less of a nasty debate on prisons and prisoner rights (death penalty is already outlawed), because prisoners are not seen as "luckier" than the general populace.

We really need to fix that problem, starting with health care. Everyone should have their most basic needs met. That's just what anything that wants to call itself a civilization should do as matter of course.

#172

Posted by: leepicton Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:01 PM

Having sat on the fence for over thirty years before deciding I approved of the death penalty, I have since changed my mind, reluctantly, but positively.
Why would I have supported it in the first place? If a person took the life of another, then he forfeited the right to his own life. Having been brought up in a fairly typical middle-class family with a typical middle class education in the 1950's (a clue!), I was indoctrinated into the concepts that America was the good guy, American government was the best government, justice always prevailed, and officers of the law were always competent and unbiased, i.e. perfect. Once having made the investment in this philosophy (sound like religion much?), I couldn't give it up even when presented with the data that it cost more to execute, it was not a deterrent, etc. It was only in the age of DNA when the evidence became incontrovertible to me that innocents truly were being incarcerated and probably executed that I had to acknowledge that I was wrong. I was wrong. How hard that was. So, it no longer matters that I still haven't abandoned entirely the notion that there are cases where the death penalty would be justified, as a practical matter, it is no longer a tenable position. Look, I have evolved, I doubt I can do any better.

#173

Posted by: fernaldo Author Profile Page | September 30, 2009 11:43 PM

@ #169

How is "...something like 40 years in jail...", or "Throw away the key." very much different to the death penalty?

Put a 25 yr old in jail for 40 yrs and you have essentially taken their life. There's very little chance a 65 yr old reintegrating successfully into society after 40 yrs in jail. I know 65 yr olds that struggle with today's society having lived in it their entire crime-free lives.

We should lock everyone up, who would have otherwise been given a death penalty, indefinitely on the off-chance that they are innocent? Be realistic.

Less than 1% of convictions are of innocent people, and in over half the cases it's due to eye witness mis-identification. There are much better ways of obtaining evidence that eye-witness testimony now. Conversely, various serious crimes like child molestation and rape have re-offender rates around 13-19%.

@ PZ

Getting rid of the death penalty is only dealing with a symptom of the problem, and the last paragraph of your entry suggests you feel the incompetence of the investigators and the judge is less of a problem that the death penalty itself. The death penalty is appropriate in some cases. Let's deal with the problem, not the symptoms.

Lets also not confuse Willingham's "innocence" with him not committing the crime of which he was accused. I don't think he deserved the death penalty for wife-beating, theft and drug charges (unless he was dealing potentially fatal drugs), but the man is far from a model citizen. He was indeed a victim of bigotry, but at least in part a bigotry he brought on himself.

Would he have been executed if he wasn't a wife-beater, thief and involved in drugs? Unlikely.

@ nobody in particular.

While the fear of death is integral to the human identity, I think the death penalty should be part of the justice system. Used sparingly, in 'beyond doubt' cases, I think it would be more effective as a deterrent than a punishment.

Also, in cases where someone is going to literally spend th rest of their life in jail; when a guilty verdict is THAT certain, I'd rather see that person executed and the money that would be used to maintain their existence for decades funneled back into crime prevention.

A web search suggests the annual cost of an inmate is about US$45-50k. I imagine that's approx. another police officer for every convict not in the prison system. And, when the number of inmates is lower, I'd also expect that rehabilitation efforts would be more successful since there's less pressure on the correctional staff through work volume.

I'm sure the presence of another police officer (for an entire career!) would be far more beneficial to society's safety than keeping one person off the streets indefinitely.

#174

Posted by: Algernon, elle sans chapeau Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 12:01 AM

I just don't see the point in the death penalty actually. I also don't see why prisoners need to suffer or be uncomfortable. To me prisoners fall into a variety of classes. First there are innocent and guilty. Then within guilty there are people who can be rehabilitated and people who can't. Then within the people who can't be helped (at least given the resources available) there are those who pose a persistant danger and those who don't. For those who pose a persistant danger and have done unconsionable things I don't see the point in killing them as a public spectacle. It won't restore life, it won't undo trauma. It's just another death.

For the innocent, yes life in prison is horrible and they may lose their livelihood, but it is still better than their actual lives. I also don't see the point in making them miserable. To me the point is to rehabilitate those you can and to keep those you can't help from doing more social damage. So it is easier and perhaps ironically cheaper to keep them alive and just secluded. To be honest, in that environment they may even manifest some value that wasn't seen before. So what. Is that a bad thing? In a world where Polanski is also a lauded as a great director should we say well you were convicted and therefore you are not allowed to have social value after this point.

That being said, I think it's funny that people talke about McVeigh deserving murder. I think a lot of what people "deserve" has to do with class in the US. A well off employed person who kills drug addicts, prostitutes and/or illegal immigrants may not trigger the public's ire the way a child killer does. It is it really more ethical to murder people because society doesn't value them?

If the answer is no for the serial killers then it should also be no for the state I think.

#175

Posted by: Algernon, elle sans chapeau Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 12:08 AM

Oh I have bad spelling. It is so embarrassing. My whole life, college degrees and everything, I have always been plagued by bad spelling. Stupid words.

#176

Posted by: Frank b Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 12:25 AM

I feel that the death penalty is always wrong for two reasons. One, there will always be innocent people on death row. Second, it can never be applied fairly. Thurgood Marshall claimed he could never come up with a fair formula for the death penalty. I remember Susan Smith of South Carolina, who killed her two young kids. A jury of her peers could not bring themselved to sentence her to die, citing the abuse she suffered as a child. But if a minority male did the murders (as she initially claimed), that jury would have had no problem sentencing him to die. They would not have heard or cared about the abuse he suffered.

#177

Posted by: Kristine Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 12:58 AM

The dead guy is "still manipulating us from his grave"?

!!! That statement alone ought to make the judge step down. What a disgrace! Poor, poor innocent man. How awful - it's like the Paradise Lost case. ("They dress in black! They're Satanists!")

#178

Posted by: Haymaker Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 1:35 AM

Just finished reading the complete article... wow... I cannot believe it. I am appalled at the Board of Pardons and Paroles and at the Governor. Ignoring a report, done by an actual reputable scientist, that disputed the gross inaccuracies of the initial findings is beyond words. Cannot believe they just let an innocent guy get executed. Its one thing if the errors are found too late after the death, but it reaches another level when the evidence was presented before the execution and was ignored. This event needs to be more publicized. Heads should be rolling for this... Unbelievable...

#179

Posted by: Aquaria Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:02 AM

they've executed over 250 people since Gregg v Georgia

Walton, sorry, but as of today, TX has executed 441 people, total. Between 1982 and 1994, Texas executed 85 people total.

Between 1995 and 2000, Bush executed 152.

Since then, Rick Perry has authorized the executions the other 204. By himself.

Bush and Perry together authorized 30% of all executions in American since Gregg vs. Georgia (at least as of June 2009). By themselves.

What's scary is that Perry isn't out of office yet, and he is up for re-election in 2010.

TX will definitely exceed 500 executions if he gets re-elected.

More info to turn the stomach:

Texas has had 18 executions so far this year. We have six more before the year ends, taking place between 27 October and 19 November. In fact, the last three days will see an execution per day.

I am not kidding. Three days, three executions.

#180

Posted by: nothing's sacred Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:29 AM

@Trug

I'm more discussing the philosophy of why a death penalty isn't necessarily an evil thing. As to putting it into practice, well, I think the Texas article is a pretty good summary of where it can go wrong. Sorry if that was unclear in my previous posts.

What is clear is that you are blatantly lying; your posts were quite explicitly concerned with real circumstances, not abstract "philosophy"; e.g.,

Provided that the courts are doing their job and a case is truly proven without a reasonable doubt, I think death is prefferable to life in prison. I'm not comfortable paying for the well being of someone who is a convited murderer for the rest of their lives. All of this is, of course, entirely dependent on whether or not the crime was worthy of death.

I've been taking a few philosophy courses lately, so I'm a bit more geared toward a detached debate regarding morality and ethics.

Detached? Your stated justification for the death penalty is personal revulsion at people you judge to be valueless continuing to live.

I think what gets to me is just a sort of moral recoiling at the thought of someone who can commit such vile acts being able to continue living their lives (albeit in a very different environment) after ruining the lives of so many other people. It very well could be a holdover of my days in the Catholic church still sinking their little moral tendrils into my mind, I don't know.

As yes, the familiar Christian ethics of "judge not", "turn the other cheek", "love thy neighbor", and "thou shalt not kill" really sunk in.

#181

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:37 AM

Bush and Perry together authorized 30% of all executions in American since Gregg vs. Georgia (at least as of June 2009). By themselves.

*gulp*

nothing like killing the unpopular to make one popular?

#182

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:41 AM

Getting rid of the death penalty is only dealing with a symptom of the problem

It's just about the most serious "symptom" I can think of, actually.

#183

Posted by: nothing's sacred Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:42 AM

wow... I cannot believe it.

Why do people say this? Where have they been? Wrongful execution goes back at least to Socrates.

Unbelievable

Only if you ignore numerous well known facts about human beings.

#184

Posted by: nothing's sacred Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:51 AM

We should lock everyone up, who would have otherwise been given a death penalty, indefinitely on the off-chance that they are innocent? Be realistic.

That is realistic, fool. It is cheaper, avoids the "off-chance" of killing innocent people, and is the norm in civilized countries.

Lets also not confuse Willingham's "innocence" with him not committing the crime of which he was accused.

You are one fucked up piece of shit.

#185

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:52 AM

Put a 25 yr old in jail for 40 yrs and you have essentially taken their life.

nope, you're not even close.

in the immortal words of Eastwood:

Bill Munny: Hell of a thing, killin' a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have. The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess he had it comin'. Bill Munny: We all got it comin', kid.
#186

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:01 AM

yeah, the more I think about it, the more the argument:

"well, a life sentence is just like death, so we might as well kill 'em"

really fucking pisses me off with just how actually WRONG it is.

#187

Posted by: Aquaria Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:01 AM

Ichthyic:

The Texas "justice" system is irrevocably broken. It would be different if we could count on the people of the state to get fed up of this travesty, but that's not gonna happen. Texas just has too many stupid, hateful people in it (and I won't go into why that is).

I don't see the Supreme Court doing anything about it for the next, oh, 50 years, and I don't think we'll have a President with the balls to send the DOJ in there to straighten out this mess.

So this will continue. For a long time.

#188

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:09 AM

I won't go into why that is

don't bother. I tried to figure out why that is for many areas of the country, not just Texas. Failed, really. Only assumption that made even the remotest sense was there is some heritable component to fucknuttery (like thinking a prison sentence is exactly equivalent to death), or at least a predisposition towards inane rationalizations, and these people must also breed like rabbits. Strangely, I think that's why I found the first 10 minutes of "Idiocracy" so amusing.

*shrug*

I have to say that after spending years trying to figure it out, I really just gave up and left before I ended up being caught on the wrong end of someone's irrationally bad day.

Things are better, here.

Really.

#189

Posted by: Aquaria Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:16 AM

If I could leave, I would. I can't. Unless I have a rich relative leaving me a bunch of money that I don't know about. :(

#190

Posted by: nothing's sacred Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:20 AM

But people shouldn't have to go through the terror that that family went through, or the family of the dead prison guard.

What a stunning strawman.

If the escapees had been thieves instead of murderers, would that be a reason to execute thieves, to prevent them from occasionally escaping and killing guards in the process?

There that is my opinion.

Actually, no, it's your argument for the death penalty -- but your logic is severely fallacious; the fact that prisoners sometimes escape, and sometimes do terrible things in the process, is no basis whatsoever for executing murderers such as William Wayne Gilbert, since being a murderer (rather than some other sort criminal) is not a prerequisite to a prisoner escaping.

#191

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:25 AM

There are much better ways of obtaining evidence that eye-witness testimony now.

Yeah, like judges eyeballing tattoos and subjectively deciding that means you're a satanist, and since we all know satanists always kill their families...

oh wait, that's not the better way of obtaining evidence you were speaking of?

silly me.

#192

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:29 AM

I don't think he deserved the death penalty for wife-beating, theft and drug charges (unless he was dealing potentially fatal drugs)

water is potentially fatal.

the man is far from a model citizen

I think people with such poor reasoning skills as yourself make very poor citizens...

perhaps you're right. We should kill everyone I consider to be a poor citizen.


#193

Posted by: nothing's sacred Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:37 AM

P.S. FWIW, Gilbert shot a guard in the shoulder; there was no murdered guard or family of a dead guard. But no doubt throwing in an extra murder here or there adds to the force of an emotionally manipulative argument.

#194

Posted by: Cactus Wren Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:46 AM

Call it what it is.

Christians tend to object vehemently when I say that their God killed himself to appease himself so he wouldn't have to consign his beloved creations to eternal torment.

Advocates of human sacrifice tend to object just as vehemently when I use that phrase, "human sacrifice", instead of "death penalty".

#195

Posted by: nothing's sacred Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:48 AM

We should kill everyone I consider to be a poor citizen.

It would be enough for Fernaldo to be one of the merely 10,000 people per year who are wrongly convicted.

Less than 1% of convictions are of innocent people, and in over half the cases it's due to eye witness mis-identification. There are much better ways of obtaining evidence that eye-witness testimony now. Conversely, various serious crimes like child molestation and rape have re-offender rates around 13-19%.

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

#196

Posted by: timpanogos.wordpress.com Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:54 AM

This isn't the only case. Back in the 1990s there was a guy who used his three appeals, but lost them all. Then the real murderer confessed. Texas's attorney general fought the appeal. After all, the guy on death row had been duly convicted, and he lost his three allowed appeals. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest criminal court in Texas -- yes, we have two Supreme Courts to spread the insanity) ruled that innocence was not a good enough reason to reopen a case where a guy had been duly convicted and exhausted his appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

The convicted-but-innocent man was executed.

This is how we knew George Bush was either stupid or lying when he said Texas doesn't execute innocents. Hell, we'd just spent three years and millions of dollars fighting all the way to the Supreme Court to get the right to execute innocents.

In a business law class once we got off on the tangent of justice, and I mentioned the case. Alas, a woman in the class had a close friend on death row. She said she understood the despair of her friend, who, she was convinced, was innocent.

In Texas, innocence is no excuse from the law.

Ed Darrell

#197

Posted by: tortorific Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:59 AM

I watched the videos linked tod I have to say what a heap of shit report. People aren't stupid, just explain what the evidence they used was and what modern science has to say about it, we'll get it. This "he says she says" bullshit is only going to leave people with exactly the same opinion they had before they watched the report.

#198

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 4:06 AM

In Texas, innocence is no excuse from the law.

something tells me you're not the first to say those words...

#199

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 4:13 AM

http://www.apotheon.com/index.php?subaction=showfull&id=1075084913&archive=&start_from=&ucat=8

In the case of Gary Graham not even a fair trial appears to be required. Graham was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He was convicted solely on the testimony of one woman, Bernadine Skillern, who claims that she saw him, late at night, through the windshield of her car, shoot and kill the victim. There was no physical evidence linking Mr. Graham to the crime. A felony conviction requires the state prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the defendant is guilty. Is a single witness enough to establish guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt?"

The gun that was presented at trial was not the gun used to kill the victim, though the jury did not hear this. Graham's court-appointed lawyer did not call other witnesses to testify, though none were able to identify Graham and two positively stated that Graham was not the killer they saw. Skillern , the witness to the killing, was initially unable to identify Graham in a photo lineup, but when a live lineup was used, Graham was the only individual who was also in the photo lineup. It was only then that Skillern was able to identify Graham. Graham's jurors later stated that if they had known the full facts of the case, they would have voted to acquit. Graham was executed on June 22, 2000.


#200

Posted by: fernaldo Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 4:34 AM

@Ichthyic

#182
I'm glad you agree with me.

#185
You don't think that the next 40 yrs might fall under the banner of "all he's ever gonna have"? Can you even begin to imagine how you would rebuild your life after not having it for 40 years?

You seem to think that because you disagree with me here, I'm wrong. Stating it doesn't make it true, but I'll be interested in any reasoning you have.

#191
silly me
Indeed.

#192
water is potentially fatal
Urgh. If you really do have the brain you appear to believe you do, you know you've deliberately twisted my meaning there.

@nothing sacred
#195
You're right, 'conversely' is the wrong word, I should have seen that. But if that's the best response you have to my views, I don't see them changing any time soon.

And understand 'convicted' numbers are far higher than those doing undue jail time, and wrongly convicted death penalty sufferers is miniscule. 10,000 a year is not a number you can use in this argument. Find the number of wrongly executed people, and we'll compare it to the number of convictions.

#201

Posted by: Rorschach Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 4:48 AM

morally bancrupt moron @ 200,

And understand 'convicted' numbers are far higher than those doing undue jail time, and wrongly convicted death penalty sufferers is miniscule

Arguing that the number of people your country kills wrongfully is "miniscule" is rather repugnant.You wound rethink if it was you being led to the killing chamber tomorrow for something you didnt do.Fucking moron.

Oh, or how about being led to the execution chamber,but, well, minor kill glitch, try again tomorrow ?

#202

Posted by: Roameo Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 6:15 AM

You don't think that the next 40 yrs might fall under the banner of "all he's ever gonna have"? Can you even begin to imagine how you would rebuild your life after not having it for 40 years?

Are you seriously saying that being in prison - even for life - is no better than being dead? Either you believe that after execution the poor dude gets to spend eternity floating around on clouds, or the prisons in the states really are abominable. How would you explain to a prisoner's wife bringing her son in for his monthly visit with his dad that "I'm sorry, since your husband was going to be spending the next 40 years inside, we figured that his life was worthless so we executed him instead. here have this pretty urn."

Urgh. If you really do have the brain you appear to believe you do, you know you've deliberately twisted my meaning there.

OK, how about we stick to your original meaning and you try to defend your ignorant bullshit. Why should anyone who supplies "potentially fatal drugs" to knowing customers, who purchase them of their own free will and who truly appreciate the supplier's services, be put to death? should we start executing tobacconists?

#203

Posted by: darvolution proponentsist Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 6:27 AM

Looks like Perry is out to muzzle the commission now. What is a classic move. I quickly scanned the comments and didn't see reference to this story. Follow the link for the related video.

Perry Disables Forensic Commission

Published : Wednesday, 30 Sep 2009, 12:13 PM CDT

* Richard Ray
* Adapted for Web By Kevin Boie

Three days before it was scheduled to review a report that concludes Texas probably executed an innocent man, the Texas Forensic Science Commission loses its chairman and two other members on orders of Gov. Rick Perry.

The commission was scheduled to meet Friday in Irving to examine, among other matters, the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was executed in 2004 after being convicted of a 1991 arson fire in Corsicana that killed his children.

A nationally respected fire engineer issued a scathing report to the commission that disputed the findings of the original fire investigation .

However, Perry has publicly dismissed the findings of what he called "supposed experts" and said that nothing he has seen would cause him to question Willingham's execution.

He dismissed commission chairman Sam Bassett, Tarrant County District Attorney prosecutor Alan Levy and Aliece Watts, a scientist employed by Integrated Forensic Laboratories in Euless.

"I'm extremely disappointed at the timing," Watts said.

Levy said he and Bassett were removed "without explanation."

It could be months before the re-organized commission can get back to the probe.

#204

Posted by: darvolution proponentsist Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 6:38 AM

Also, this might interest a few ...

Analysis of the Fire Investigation Methods and Procedures Used in the Criminal Arson Cases Against Ernest Ray Willis and Cameron Todd Willingham

Prepared by
Craig L. Beyler, Ph.D. Technical Director
Hughes Associates, Inc.
3610 Commerce Drive, Suite 817
Baltimore, MD 21227

Submitted to
Texas Forensic Science Commission
Sam Houston State University
College of Criminal Justice
Box 2296
816 17th Street
Huntsville, Texas 77341-2296

17 August 2009

#205

Posted by: Algernon, elle sans chapeau Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 7:01 AM

Less than 1% of convictions are of innocent people, and in over half the cases it's due to eye witness mis-identification. There are much better ways of obtaining evidence that eye-witness testimony now. Conversely, various serious crimes like child molestation and rape have re-offender rates around 13-19%.

Umm.... does anyone get executed for rape or child molestation? Those carry rather light sentences compared to murder. It's easy to have a repeat offense rate when the general amount of time served tends to be under five years. So your point was?

#206

Posted by: Eidolon Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 7:24 AM

Fernaldo:

As I asked earlier, just how many executions of innocent people are too many? Is it your stand that those people are just collateral damage?

Your position that 40 years is the same as a death sentence fails when you consider that your inability to imagine how you could rebuild your life means it cannot be done. You are back at the they are better off dead place again.

What's with the inclusion of non-capital offenses in your argument? According to that reasoning, between 1/6 and 1/5 of all murders are done by serial killers, This seems unlikely.

#207

Posted by: Eidolon Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 7:30 AM

Oops - it should read "does not mean it can be done". See Fernalo? I made an error that I can correct. No so easy with an execution.

#208

Posted by: Eidolon Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 7:33 AM

Christ on a stick... "does not mean it cannot be done". Good thing I'm sentencing people to death. Wait - I could then run for governor of TX.

#209

Posted by: MAJeff, OM Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 7:35 AM

Would he have been executed if he wasn't a wife-beater, thief and involved in drugs? Unlikely.

Who cares if he didn't actually commit murder. He's a bad dude who deserved to die anyway, right Fernanlo?

Keep this fuckwit off juries.

#210

Posted by: Algernon, elle sans chapeau Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 8:05 AM

Personally I'd rather serve 40 years and get out old than die, much in the same way that I'd rather lose my legs than die.

#211

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 8:11 AM

We should lock everyone up, who would have otherwise been given a death penalty, indefinitely on the off-chance that they are innocent? Be realistic.

Yes. We have executed less than 1,200 people since the death penalty was restarted thirty years ago. But we have approximately 2,300,000 people behind bars. Adding a thousand to two million is a very realistic drop in the bucket. You're being unrealistic by pretending that our prison system can't handle 1,200 more people.

We know of at least nine other innocent Texans who were wrongfully executed. The number of innocents executed throughout the whole United States is significantly higher. But you seem glad that they are all dead.

#212

Posted by: Steve LaBonne Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 8:20 AM

Gov. Goodhair is a serial murderer (and his latest blatant coverup maneuver in this case shows that he is clearly conscious of his guilt). So I guess by his own standards, he should be executed. I could probably be persuaded to make an exception just for him to my general opposition to capital punishment.

#213

Posted by: Roameo Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 8:33 AM

fernaldo, you wouldn't happen to be Demonhype's dad would you?
(no offence intended to Demonhype)

#214

Posted by: tubi Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 12:48 PM

Governor Perry has reorganized the state Forensic Sciences Commission that is investigating this case, and was preparing to hear testimony from Beyler, the arson investigator, tomorrow. He (Perry) claims it was a "routine replacement of members whose terms had expired."

Barry Scheck, however, calls shenanigans on that. "It's like the Saturday night massacre...like Nixon firing Archibald Cox to avoid turning over the Watergate tapes."

I'm at my wit's end. What do we do to turn this country around?

By the way, the death penalty is unacceptable under any circumstances. Period. My reasons have been ably delineated by other commenters above.

#215

Posted by: lneely.myopenid.com Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 1:19 PM

that's fucking frightening. i was on the fence before, leaning against, but this has pretty much convinced me that the death penalty has to go.

#216

Posted by: Kagehi Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 1:36 PM

All the problems you list are real problems, Kagehi. But they are not arguments for the death penalty. They are not arguments for executing innocent people.

The problem with anything human made is that perfection isn't possible, and compromise becomes inevitable. The other problem is, you will get idiots involved, no matter *how* you design things. Someone mentioned gang violence or revenge as primary motives for people getting killed in jails. So.. are you telling me that all gang members are **automatically** guilty of murder, so its OK if such violence happens to them on the inside too. How about that all people convicted of child molestation, as part of their supposed murder, should be subject to such revenge killing? What about just random violence, where they get caught in the middle of it?

Sure, death row people tend to be isolated, which helps, but the reality is, most people convicted of murders are not *necessarily* on death row, and when you remove the concept, its not long before one of the idiots comes along and says, "Why don't we move the less violent ones into the general prison population?"

I am not advocating for the existence of the death penalty, just saying that its a complicated mess, and short of fixing a **lot** of issues, not the least being the errors that land people there in the first place, its hard to determine what the most effective compromises are, or what lines can be drawn, without creating more risk by drawing them. Putting someone in jail for life, for something they didn't do, isn't *much* better. It may salve some people's need to feel better that we didn't kill someone, but.. in how many cases is there truly any practical difference, for someone that lost their job, the trust of friends and family, relationships, likely their life savings, the trust of any part of society that still thinks they are guilty, or would treat them as such, even after they where proven not to be, etc.? You are talking about sustaining "existence" in such cases, not "life". I would, myself, argue that this is better than nothing, but.. I am not so sure I would feel the same **in** that position.

#217

Posted by: Aquaria Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:03 PM

Fenaldo must be some fat-ass white boy. Otherwise, he would know that he could go to the slammer at any given time, no matter how upstanding a citizen he was.

Lenell Jeter ring a bell? Why don't you Google that name and read up on him, douchebag.

Here's something else to consider, from the Dallas Observer (ca 2007), an alternative weekly which usually has more accurate and more incisive reporting about serious issues than the Morning-News:

A study of 290 non-capital cases tried in four cities in 2000 and 2001 was released this spring by Northwestern University. It concluded that juries got the verdict wrong in one out of six criminal cases. One-fourth of those defendants pronounced guilty by juries were actually innocent. Judges had an even higher rate of false convictions; 37 percent of those deemed guilty by judges after "bench trials" were actually innocent. The study also found that judges and juries agreed on the outcome in only 77 percent of the cases.

In 35 Dallas DNA cases approved for tests so far, 13 men were found innocent. What happened in the trials of these men? (One, Eugene Henton, pleaded guilty and received a four-year sentence rather than go to trial.)

If people can't think straight enough to get it right for non-capital cases, what makes anyone think they'll be any saner for something as emotionally-charged as murder?

Anyhow, my mama always taught me that two wrongs don't make a right.

Killing somebody for killing somebody doesn't make everything right, either. It's just more death.

#218

Posted by: dutchdoc Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:15 PM

Stonewalling in this case just reached new heights:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/10/01/texas.execution.probe/index.html

#219

Posted by: nothing's sacred Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:31 PM

I am not advocating for the existence of the death penalty, just saying that its a complicated mess

There's no complicated mess about not having a death penalty -- that's what civilized people have chosen the world over.

#220

Posted by: nothing's sacred Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:34 PM

But if that's the best response you have to my views, I don't see them changing any time soon.

That you have such warped and irrational views as you do is reason enough to think they won't be changing any time soon.

#221

Posted by: Rev. BigDumbChimp Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 2:39 PM

The problem with anything human made is that perfection isn't possible, and compromise becomes inevitable
Sure but the stakes are much higher with the death penalty than with building a toaster.
#222

Posted by: Demonhype Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 3:38 PM

Roameo @ 213:

No offense taken. He could definitely be my dad--if my dad ever came to this site, that is. Or could be bothered to painstakingly hunt & peck his way through that much text.

Aquaria @ 217

My mamma always taught me that too. Except I found out she didn't actually mean it. It was more an empty platitude she uttered repeatedly for her own convenience, to keep the kid's fights from getting out of hand.

Hypocrites piss me off.

#223

Posted by: Eidolon Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 4:06 PM

Kagehi 216

Please point out where I said that all gang members are murderers. At what point did I say that it was O.K. for murders to occur in prison? I will repeat my point, just in case you glossed over it. Prison personnel and the general prison population are at far greater risk from non-capital offenders . This violence is often tied to gang activity within the prison.

Since you grant that perfection is not possible, isn't it rational to avoid something as irreparable as an execution? Can't just "My bad" and go on. You avoid the entire mess by not executing people. You further make the assumption that the truth will out only near the end of your life. Why? I'll just bet that if you were in that situation, you would not be saying "Kill me! My existence is meaningless!"

#224

Posted by: Algernon, elle sans chapeau Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 4:14 PM

Aquaria... are you in Dallas? Neat.

#225

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 4:25 PM

You don't think that the next 40 yrs might fall under the banner of "all he's ever gonna have"? Can you even begin to imagine how you would rebuild your life after not having it for 40 years?

and you keep saying that someone in jail does not have life.

Stating it doesn't make it true

just so. so why do you keep saying jail=death?
saying it repeatedly does not make it true.

I highly suggest you actually visit a jail sometime, and have a conversation with a random inmate.

shockingly, you'll find they are actually *gasp* alive!

#226

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 4:28 PM

and wrongly convicted death penalty sufferers is miniscule.

I wonder if you would consider the number so insignificant if you were on the chopping block?

#227

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 4:30 PM

Hypocrites piss me off.

I'm sorry your mom was a hypocrite.

hopefully, your anger at her hypocrisy will manage to work itself out before you displace it.

#228

Posted by: Ichthyic Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 4:37 PM

Find the number of wrongly executed people, and we'll compare it to the number of convictions.

Really.

THIS is your big reason for supporting the death penalty?

there is so much wrong with that, I'm not sure where to start.

let's just try this:

Find the number of people who have died from using heroin, vs. the number of people who haven't.

obviously, since the number of people who have died from using heroin is much smaller than those who haven't, heroin is a perfectly safe high.

yeah, your logic is that bad.

#229

Posted by: strange gods before me Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 7:25 PM

Putting someone in jail for life, for something they didn't do, isn't *much* better.

Keeping them alive allows us the possibility of demonstrating their innocence later and freeing them. That's preferable to killing.

I am not advocating for the existence of the death penalty,

Yes you did, Kagehi:

My only issue with "never" using it is that there are **other** things that can go just as wrong:

Perhaps you didn't mean to, but you did.

#230

Posted by: a_ray_in_dilbert_space Author Profile Page | October 1, 2009 9:19 PM

Update: Apparently Gov. Goodhair doesn't like it when the sovereign Stete of Texass is expose for the homicidal thugs that they are. Today he replaced the chairman and several members of the committee investigating this state-sanctined murder. Conveniently, the panel will now likely not produce any findings until after next year's election. How convenient for the Governor.

#231

Posted by: Nomad Author Profile Page | October 2, 2009 12:34 AM

I'm trying to make sense of this. I understand that it would be embarrassing for it to be revealed that an innocent man was killed by the state. More so when one of the men responsible apparently has no regrets that he decided the victim was guilty because of his tattoos and his taste in music.

But how does this not create a backlash?

Does Perry only have to call the members of the panel "supposed experts" and all is permissible? You can really invoke anti intellectualism like that?

Someone needs to call Perry a supposed Governor, before he enables the murder of more innocent citizens.

Oh yeah, and the judge that feels that listening to heavy metal is sufficient reason to execute someone. I declare him to be a supposed judge.

#232

Posted by: Mari Author Profile Page | October 2, 2009 2:29 PM

Firstly, I want to note that what the state of Texas inflicted on Cameron Todd Willingham was not justice and tragic for everyone involved.


Continuing...

What if *your* wife... daughter... sister... best friend....

Yes. She was raped. Then he tossed into a local river to drown. Her body was found more than 5 months later. The physical evidence was strong and he admitted to the crime....he now sits in jail for the next 40+ years.

And as to my sense of retribution, state sanction death penalty is too easy, too fast and nowhere near painful enough. He stole her life and no possible action could compensate for that lost in the lives of all who knew her. I wanted and still want him to live as long as possible in as much discomfort, both large and small, as possible. He deserves to be treated much as he treated her and for a much longer duration.

So having described my personal position, I would state my policy position as pro-death penalty...

But understand that the death of the murderer does not make any difference to the lives of the victims, primary or secondary. (I will never again be able to see her, speak to her, hug her or meet her offspring. *Nothing* will change these particular circumstances.) Death should only be imposed after multiple and repeated reviews of the case(s) by several different boards of inquiry. The process should be long and extremely thorough and to my mind, punitive in itself. I want criminals who have been found guilty of heinous crimes to live their lives in limbo for as long as the judicial process can be extended. Let them not know if they will live or die on the whim of the state. And those who who have committed lesser crimes have greater opportunity to be released from the threat of state sanctioned death.

I've made a primarily emotional argument which will never function in practice. So even though I an 'pro-death', it is not an issue which drives my decisions regarding which progressive candidate to vote for.

#233

Posted by: laurele Author Profile Page | October 2, 2009 2:45 PM

PZ, this is one issue on which you and I are in complete agreement. The death penalty must be abolished. Not only is it barbaric; it is also most inflicted upon the poor, minorities, people with developmental disabilities, etc. The wealthy buy their way out of even being found guilty by hiring expensive lawyers, just like O.J. Simpson. It's really true that we have "the best justice system money can buy." I was absolutely horrified to hear the officials responsible for this travesty justify their decision on grounds that Willingham was a "satanist" because of the music he listened to and the decor in his home. Yes, every official from the governor to the prosecutor who took part in this bears responsibility and should face criminal charges. Willingham deserves a complete pardon and a formal apology from the state of Texas--a state with the dubious honor of having executed more people than any other in this country.

#234

Posted by: formosus Author Profile Page | October 3, 2009 4:00 AM

@philipstorry 155-

This thread is probably dead by now, but I want to offer my two cents. I watched the documentary, and you're right. The guy advocating a painful death was deeply disturbing.

I am however in a position to add some insight to the idea of a "humane" execution. While euphoria is a very common symptom of hypoxia, it is not the only one, and it is not universal. That is why there are altitude chambers - to let aircrew feel the effects of hypoxia on themselves so they can recognize the symptoms if their plain decompresses. I've been in an altitude chamber, and euphoria was not one of the symptoms I experienced. The skin all over my body tingled, and my peripheral and color vision slowly faded. It was not a particular painful experience, but I was calm throughout and it was still rather unpleasant.

I do not know how breathing inert gasses compares to the experience in an altitude chamber. However, I'm sure that in practice this method still wouldn't be perfect. Resisting prisoners, ill fitting masks, improper procedures all could combine to lead to a painful death.

Additionally, even the US Military doesn't execute prisoners and terrorist suspects. I think the reason behind this was summed up most succinctly in this way: You can never get additional information from a dead person.

#235

Posted by: JBabs073 Author Profile Page | December 1, 2009 5:24 PM

You know, I love this country...

...but damn do I hate it sometimes.

#236

Posted by: taylormorgan Author Profile Page | January 7, 2010 1:41 AM

To be honest , I do believe in the death penalty for those actually guilty of premeditated murder or those guilty of imposing horrible suffering on others. Rape , and I'm not talking , and 18 year old having sex with his 17 years old gf consensually but forced and malicious sexual or physical abuse of others.

I don't care how "extreme" I sound. I always try to minimise and emotional and/or physical harm I may cause to ANYBODY in ANY circumstance and others who try to do the same shouldn't have to live in a world where they are at the mercy of these evil people who refuse to respect other humans personal safety .

And just because they are in prison doesn't mean they can't cause harm to others . It's not as though they are in a prison of 1 ...The could be terrorising the guy who ended up behind bars because he fell asleep at the wheel after working 6 hours overtime to provide for his pregnant wife and two children and unfortunately killed another driver and passenger . Or the guy who had consensual sex with his gf only 6 months younger than him and was dobbed in by the parents who didn't think he was good enough.

I'm not debating the issue of whether they are really guilty or not or if innocents are being condemned . I'm talking those that ARE guilty.
It is always difficult to know whether or not this is the case and that the state has done the right thing but what I'm saying is that people that really do these things don't deserve to live .
What is inhumane is inflicting suffering on others . Not having scum exterminated .

To be honest , I don't value human life standing alone . I value humans who live with kindness in their consciousness. I value the idea that there should not be unnecessary suffering . And if it's possible to get rid of those who inflict it on others then obviously the suffering is unnecessary .

#237

Posted by: John Morales Author Profile Page | January 7, 2010 1:47 AM

taylormorgan, do you consider justice is never miscarried?

what proportion of innocent people must be killed to ensure the guilty are meted what you consider appropriate punishment?

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