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Friday, March 04, 2005

Death Penalty - Hammer Style

I was reading the February 14th issue of National Review and was inspired by a William F. Buckley article to put out my position on the death penalty. As I grew up Catholic, my entire family on one side is Catholic (at least nominally), and my father-in-law is as well, but I am a Protestant convert (let out of the bag in my recent job-search post), I think that I have different influences on my position than most, and have thoughfully processed the issue. Of course, that doesn't make me right, but here we go.

I support the death penalty.

This puts me in direct opposition to Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who has ordered his parishoners to sign a petition asking for a repeal of the death penalty. OK, he can't order anyone, but he made it clear that good Catholics would do so. Why? Because for the first time in 44 years, a man in Connecticut is about to be executed - a Michael Ross, who has been convicted of murdering eight women, most of whom he raped first. The bishop mentions that the Pope disapproved of the death penalty in his Evangelium Vitae as evidence that 'good Catholics' should oppose it.

However, Bishop Lori fails to mention the Pontiff's qualifying statement - not that the death penalty should never be used, but that it be exercised only in certain cases of "extreme gravity". I am of the opinion that His Holiness used a vague term for a reason - you simply can't laundry list that sort of thing. I am of the opinion that the government is given the power to punish, and that the government (for which Christ never gave rules!) has the power to give out punishment for crimes as it deems necessary. Hammertime approves of the death penalty for murderers, and in cases of heinous crimes that do not result in a permanently ended life - maiming, torture, rape - done with the intent to cause (or awareness of the high likelihood of) life-ending physical and emotional trauma.

Many oppose the death penalty for excellent reasons - but I would give them these numbers. Texas has executed its 337th prisoner. That's 337 state sanctioned executions in Texas since its inception (1976). However, there were over 38,000 people murdered by murderers from 1976-1998. That's less than 1 murderer executed per 100 victims of murderers. Should the murderer be given the rights they denied to their victims? Our university had a presentation by some actor who gave the stories of several murderers on death row and asked the audience at the end to sentence him to death or life. Of course the audience chose life. Why? Because they never got to hear the testimony of the murder victims, or their families. How quaint.

My support of the death penalty is not that it would prevent murders - depite the research of professor Stephen Layson of UNC, which concluded that "increases in the probablility of execution reduces the homicide rate", and that "we can conclude that the death penalty has deterred roughly 125,000 murders in the country in the 20th century." As a Psychology guy, I think that punishment is only effective if it has a very high contingency rate, and as (obviously) few murderers in this country are given the death penalty, we know that isn't happening. I also don't buy that enough of these murderers can be rehabilitated, considering the high (over 50%) rate of prisoners returning to prison.

I have one reason for supporting the death penalty - justice. While someone's daughter, or wife, or mother, or son, or dear friend, is forever removed from this world, we should spend over $1,000,000 for 20 years to give the murderer video games, cable TV, weight rooms, his PhD from correspondence courses, and simply the chance to breathe in air and talk to other people? I think not. If you intentionally kill someone else, your life is forfeit.

Thankfully, God has provided an escape from eternal justice. I am deserving of the same eternal destination as the murderer (as are we all), but He has already paid the price.


  • Alright Hammer,

    This ones for you. Actually, I was getting there and I still have a way to go, but I think it answers a few of your questions.

    By Blogger David M. Smith, at 3/04/2005 01:32:00 PM  

  • I have blogged on this several times before:

    What if we make a mistake and execute an innocent person?

    Illinois is an excellent example, at least 7 people have been freed from death row in the last few years, 4 through DNA evidence that demonstrated that they were not the perpetrators of the crime.

    Until we fix the problem of overzealous prosecutors hell bent on conviction and not on justice, and until we clean up sloppy police work on occasion, the death penalty is shaky at best.

    By Blogger John B., at 3/04/2005 01:49:00 PM  

  • John has a good point, and one I respect. Not, "I respect your views" like politicians say when they really don't - I mean, respect like I totally agree.

    I also believe that the current US judicial system, which gives and average of 17 years of prison time and appeals, provides enough opportunities for the convicted murderer to be found not guilty. I do condone neither vigilante justice nor Saudi Arabia style one week trial to sentence to execution methods.

    I present that the gravity of John's response is significant enough that we need to keep the current system. There are many death penalty supporters that disagree with me, and think the system should be streamlined. I do not, because anyone accused of a crime should be permitted the maximum opportunities to demonstrate their innocence. I believe that the current system does this, and accounts for the very overzealous prosecutors and sloppy police work that John identified.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/04/2005 04:04:00 PM  

  • Hi
    Have to agree with john. Do believe that life sentence without the chance of parole, and no ammenities such as a gym sounds very appealing to me (bad pun, sorry) I would go for libraries simply for the appeal process, but that's it.

    Too many chances for excuting an innocent person now.

    Think that life, no parole, no ammenities is a much harsher sentence than death

    By Anonymous pia, at 3/04/2005 07:12:00 PM  

  • Yes, I have always said that tough no parole, etc. will serve the same purpose as the death penalty. We need to reform our sentencing guidelines, our prosecutors and some of our jurists in thiscountry, and that will bring about a measure of better 'justice'.

    You can perform asimple web search in 'Google' and pull out several studies that have shown that the death penalty does or does not 'curb crime rates'. Fact is, most fo the studies are correlation, not causations. Statistically, you can use the figures to demonstrate what you want, because the crime rate and the death penalty stats work independently of each other. Does anyone think that a serial rapist and murderer really stops and says to himself, "maybe I shoudn't do this because they might fry me?" No, most of these crimes are crimes of passion, insanity or stupidity, and some are just plain cold blooded murders.

    As for the 'justice' to the survivors provided by the death penalty, most people interviewed after a prisoner is put to death end up saying the same thing...'I feel abit better, but it still doesn't bring back my son/daughter/brother/sister, etc. '

    We need to move beyond the impulsive in this country and decide if we are willing to possibly kill an innocent man to give ourselves a bit of temporary euphoria in the way of fairness. Life in prison, no bells and whistles, is sufficient punishment. A murderer having to dodge rape or other prison problems probably is a worse long term punishment for that person than death...and rightly so.

    By Blogger John B., at 3/05/2005 12:12:00 AM  

  • I do have one situation where I might see the death penalty as being valid...certain cases of treason on a battlefield. I have read of a few historical cases where putting a treasoness soldier to death right on the battlefield might save an entire platoon, etc. But these situations are few and far between. I assume that you, Mr. Hammer, could speak to this better than I can, as you have military experience and I do not.

    By Blogger John B., at 3/05/2005 12:16:00 AM  

  • Pia and John ,
    If the choice were between what you suggest and the death penalty, I would be 100% on your side...but we all know that, not only is it not the case, but the ACLU will ensure that it is never the case.
    Far more money each year is spent on prisoners' right suits than the rights of victims and families. That's indicative of bigger problems, I think, but that's not our issue here.
    You see, if it were a case of the murderer sitting in a crummy, but humane (by the reasonable person's standards, not the ACLU's) conditions - palatable food in sufficient portions, books avaialble to read, no electronic niceties, heck I'm not even sure that hot water should provided (although decent climate control should) - you would have little opposition.
    Instead, we have the case I presented - over $50k a year for life to give the murderer all kinds of creature comforts, paid for by the taxpayer (including the victim's family!) versus an eventual execution after all forms of appeal have been exhausted, with the average time betwen conviction and execution 17 years...that is the choice we face.

    I guess I wasn't clear earlier - I do not believe that the death penalty stops anyone from committing a crime, no matter what the stats say.

    I'll get to the army stuff later - duty calls!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/05/2005 08:11:00 AM  

  • Hammer,

    Who was the politician (who I gathered was against the death penalty) a few years back, who was scorned for his response to a question something like
    "What if your wife was raped and murdered? Would you still oppose the death penalty?"
    It seemed to me the poor man was presented with something that called for an emotional response---yet I guess he felt he was expected to give a considered opinion; of course he was unsuccessful.
    Would I, as a husband and father, pull the trigger in such a case? You'd have a dead man on your hands. But I don't think this is the way we should look at the death penalty. My pulling the trigger is the act of one man against another. Government sanctioned execution is a horse of a different color. The government, I believe, should not act from an emotional position...but only after careful, emotionless consideration, and I don't believe it should ever be allowed to kill one of its citizens. Yes...put them away for life with few pleasures (which is the way prison should be anyway I think)...but don't ever do the final deed.
    So if I were asked "Would you still oppose the death penalty?" I'd have responded "Yes I do!" "Now get out of my way because I'm going to kill that man!"

    By Blogger David Hunley, at 3/05/2005 08:16:00 PM  

  • David,
    While I understand the difference in classification (that was Michael Dukakis, and the answer may have killed his Presidential run), I feel that a jury of my peers is better suited to pass a death sentence than I am...which is why the bad guy better turn himself in! The fact that I would do it doesn't justify it - I am more likely to be wrong than the jury.
    Excellent input by all, I must say!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/07/2005 10:52:00 AM  

  • Hammer,

    A jury would perhaps be more accurate in their assessment---even though that could be debated---but that doesn't mean they should have the right to decide whether a man lives or dies.

    By Blogger David Hunley, at 3/08/2005 06:22:00 AM  

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