Time to Execute the use of the Death Penalty

With the last page In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, the story was over. The Clutter Family was dead, and as a result their killers went swinging by their necks. Justice, as I knew it, had been served. It felt awful. The sense of victory that I had grown accustomed to when the villains were vanquish was void, and that in itself bothered me. My alignment felt off. I blame Capote.

Reading this novel was not voluntary, it was one of those books your teacher forces you to read over the summer and write a paper on. The novel itself was crafted and complied out extensive research concerning the crime, and out of interviews with Hickock and Smith. In no way did Capote justify or sugar coat the heinous acts committed by the men, he just related the events: how, when, where, and why. He masterfully placed the reader inside the the minds of Hickock and Smith. I hated it. As a reader, it was an uncomfortable experience, their deeds and thoughts were inhumane, morbid, and cruel. However, Capote was good at his job — perhaps too good. Because without the readers permission, he did something I was afraid to do, he slowly pulled the rug of judgment from underneath my feet and turned these murderous monsters into men. Humans. Broken. Not by excusing or justifying the deeds, but by queuing to me that perhaps there was more behind the curtain. That serving punishments, even when it came to disciplining the most horrendous crimes, was not as black and white as I thought or even hoped it to be.

In the Beginning

The class I read this book for, AP Language and Composition, never talked about the argument of the novel, which I figured was something along the lines of, “Do murderers deserve mercy?” Instead, my teacher emphasized Truman’s writing styles in regards to syntax and what not — which made sense concerning the focus of the course. However, the lack of debate on the argument left me with this uncomfortable mental itch. I notice cracks crippling into my foundational beliefs and curiosity concerning the correctness of capital punishment stirred in my brain. These questioning thoughts did not align with what I was taught my whole life so, like the teenager I was, I shoved these doubting thoughts into the back of my mind. Then in my first semester of college I recircled to the topic when I was asked to write and issue paper of my choice. I decided then was the time to clear up the confusion I had been experiencing.

Before Capote, I did not give much to the death penalty, other then the surface level notion that the worser the crime, then the worser the punishment should be. When it came to murderers and rapists death seemed like the most justified option. They took something which could never be restored or corrected — an eye for and eye in a sense, and I moved on from the topic. Simple solution. Case closed. When I began the novel I wanted the killers, Hickock and Smith, to die for what they had done, a part of me is still happy they did. Like many Americans, I thought the death penalty in the U.S. was a solution that satisfied the need for justice, not just for the victim, but for their families. The Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 was a terrorist attack that killed 3 spectators (one of which was an 8 year old) and wounded 260 people. The men responsible, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were of sound mind and committed the act with the intention of harming as many people as possible. Seven days later Tsarnaev died as a result of a police shooting incident, and the majority of Americans were glad his surviving brother, Dzhokhar, received the death penalty. Surviving victim of the bombing, Adrianne Haslet-Davis, published the article, “Why The Death Penalty Should Live,” saying,

“I hope that the death penalty in this case sets a precedent, and I hope that it’s a deterrent. I hope it sends a message from Boston and America: We don’t put up with terrorism or terrorists. You’re not going to get a bed or a television or an occasional phone call to your family. When you take lives, yours can be taken as well.”

I hope, I hope, I hope . . .but does it do anything that I, like Adrianne, hope for? Research would tell.

My original thesis when it came to creating my paper was, “Should the death penalty be legalized across the U.S.?” which I found out was not the best thesis, quite stupid actually, because it already was at least at the state level. The death penalty was in place, abolished in 1972, and reinstated 1976 on the conditions the states could perform their executions humanely. Polling in favor for the death penalty jumped from 50%-63% in the two years after in was abolished. Today, 32 of the 50 states still practice the death penalty; the main argument being, having the ultimate punishment in place would deter crime rates, and keep the general public safe. Approved executions methods in the U.S. consist of: hanging, electrocution, lethal gas, firing squad, and after its creation, lethal injection. Quickly lethal injection became the primary form of execution, resulting in 1,309 deaths since its first use in 1976. I, like many American, was under the impression that lethal injection was as painless as it could get, but that assumption is purely hypothetical.

The Drug Cocktail

The most in demand drug in the U.S. is not for sale. For the past few decades the U.S. has been purchasing its death producing drugs from European. Why? Because the best drugs to put someone to death were, ironically, not FDA approved. However, after death-penalty abolishers informed these countries that the drugs which they were providing the U.S. with were in correspondence with the capital punishment, which is illegal in most European countries, they quickly pulled out of the deal. This resulted in a mad dash across the states and the world to find a new death inducing drug which then resulted in the U.S. testing their own version of the lethal concoction.

Here’s the deal. Lethal injections are for the most part made up of three ingredients: sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. The first mentioned in the list is an aesthetic used to put individual to sleep, the second is a paralysis, and the third is an acid which stops the heart. As far as being painless, the paralyzing drug restricts the individual from being able to show any sign of discomfort or distress, thus diffusing any guilt from the public who put the practice in place(I will be coming back to this thought later). However, roughly 7% of lethal injections executions are considered botched(as a result of U.S.’s scientists not getting the ingredients quite right) During these mishaps, it is not uncommon for the individual receiving the injection to be seen hyperventilating and gasping for the span for roughly the 30 minutes it takes the individual to pass. Attorney Robin C. Konrad who witnesses the injection of one of his clients, Mr. Wood, said that he “gulped like a fish on land” and had to be given 13 doses of the drug in order to end his 90 minutes of suffering. There have been reports of displays of convulsions, writhing, jerking, and ultimate anguish. “When injected into a vein, [potassium chloride] inflames the potassium ions in the sensory nerve fibers, literally burning up the veins as it travels to the heart.[But do not worry animal fans,] potassium chloride is so painful that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) prohibits its use as the sole agent of euthanasia — it may only be used after the animal has been properly anesthetized.” This acid when used with other drugs is said to feel like the individuals inside’s are on “fire and they’re dying from the inside out.”

Ouch. But, I figured death, for the most part, was not an enjoyable experience to begin with. Definitely did not seem like that aligned with the intentions of the 8th Amendment, but I researched on.

The Cost of it All

One of my main points in favor for the death penalty was that it made no sense for tax payers dollars to go towards providing three square meals a day, a bed, air conditioning, heating, complete with access to libraries, and gyms for a group of convicts. Why were these people who broke the law being provided with a better commodities then our struggling veterans and others who suffer from homelessness? (This will probably be my next research issue.) Surely, for the men and women sentenced to death it would be more cost efficient to execute them then to pay for them to remain in prison for the rest of their lives. Boy was I in for a wake up call. “Cases without the death penalty cost $740,000, while cases where the death penalty is sought cost $1.26 million. Maintaining each death row prisoner costs taxpayers $90,000 more per year than a prisoner in general population.” The spike in price boils down to the reality that death penalty cases require more lawyers, more experts, therefore more pay. Death penalty cases also take longer due to the selective nature of the jury, a jury which also has to be accommodated. After the decision is decided the cost only goes up from there.

“Felons sentenced to life in prison may eventually be placed in the general population, but death row inmates are virtually always housed in administrative segregation, or solitary confinement, which costs more per day due to heightened security. A 2014 study out of Kansas reported that a death row prisoner costs $49,380 to house per year, whereas a general population prisoner costs $24,690.”

Is it too crazy to consider a potential business steaming from this practice?

A business which feeds on our taxes. And who suffers as a result? Just like in nature the weak and disadvantaged. There is a quote floating around saying, “Capital punishment, those without the capital get the punishment.” Now, before I even dabbled in investing this claim I figured it was pretty accurate. I could not recall a face sentenced to death with a large wallet. The more money and individual has the better their lawyer, thus the are more likely to walk away with a life sentence with potential parole compare to the more likely option of death for lower class citizen.

The Target Audience of a Flawed System

Just like mentioned before I hoped, and I wanted to believe that the judicial system in our country had evolved past racial biases and had become straight out more accurate and just, but again, I found myself severely disappointed. First off, the majority of individuals on death row steam from the lower economic class.Out of the two genders, men are more involved to be involved in homicide cases then women. Black men who murder white men are four times as likely to be incarcerated than those who murder white men.

“. . .defendants are six times more likely to receive a death sentence if they kill the highest status victims (whites or Hispanics who have college degrees, are married, and have no criminal record), compared to those defendants who kill the lowest status victims (black or Asian victims who were single, with a prior criminal record, and no college degree).”*

Bryan Stevenson, an American lawyer, has helped release 125 wrongly condemned prisoners from death row. Having the chance to hear one of his lectures on my college campus, I was moved by the message that through the development of empathy and working side by side with the poor and those in our cities and neighborhoods, not just people on the other side of the world, that change is made. He emphasized ‘being proximate’ is the key to impacting others and I walked away with the knowledge that there are problems here in our own backyard that need addressing, many wounds need healing

Crime (Not) on the Rise

In, fact a study shows 88% of criminologist in the U.S. do not believe the death penalty deterred murders. Of of all the “big” countries in the world, only China, Japan and the United States still use the death penalty. All the smaller countries that frequently use the death penalty have a reputation of being oppressive like Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan,(India). In fact in states and countries where the death penalty is no longer practice, the murder rate has gone down. So, what does that say about the use and wielding of fear and oppression in the U.S.’s legal system?

Fear is a powerful motivator(especially on the societal level), the dictatorship of Hitler and Stalin is evidence of that. However, when I looked at multiple workplace strategist articles, they all commented on how the use of fear does not ensure success. In fact, it is somewhat a recipe for disaster. Too much fear can cause a “deer in the headlights” kind of effect, where the subject becomes paralyzed by the expectations placed upon them and acts irrationally under the circumstances. Respect on the other hand had the opposite effect. An example of this was recorded by writer Robert Evans Wilson, the story reads:

“In 1971, George Johnson, a New York City policeman, arrested a man who was in a Times Square office building rifling through coats looking for money. Rather than call a paddy wagon, Johnson walked the man ten blocks across town to his precinct. The suspect accompanied him peacefully. As they walked, they smoked cigarettes and talked amiably. When they arrived at the station, Johnson learned that his arrestee was a wanted criminal with a history of attacking police officers. When asked by fellow officers how he managed to get the man there, he attributed the perp’s placidity to having been treated with respect. I can’t imagine that happening with many police officers today.”

Respect in this story was a key factor because it helped the man under arrest feel safe and secure. The opposite of fearful. In no way did he feel targeted, or like he was being attacked like in the news today. Leo Tolstoy beautifully described the need for respect as “Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.”

Loss, Loss, Loss

When I thought of murders Some of the most looked to religious figures of all time for their devout faith, and close relationship with God were murders. Moses, was a murder himself, hence the reason he did not enter the promised land with the Israelites.(Exodus 2:12). Saint Paul, author of thirteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament who is also argued to be“ the most important person after Jesus in the history of Christianity,” was a proactive supporter of murdering Christians before his experience with the Divine(Acts 9). If these men were executed after their initial crime think of all the potential that would’ve been lost. The same can be said for people in prison today. Many men and women who’s experience in prison has lead them to reform their lives and bring about good in the world. Many of which are working to educate children and set them up for a life of success and are working towards equality for people inside and outside prisons. Bryan Stevenson, author of the best seller Just Mercy, was never behind bars, but works closely with those who are. As a lawyer in the United State, Stevenson has helped release 125 wrongly condemned prisoners from death row. Having the chance to hear one of his lectures on my college campus I was moved by the power that empathy and working side by side with the poor and those in our cities and neighborhoods, not just people on the other side of the world. He emphasized ‘being proximate’ is the key to impacting others.

Being proximate, or becoming charitable towards others, is a huge concept discussed in religion. Going back a bit, the Mosaic Law taught in the Old Testament was taught so that the children of Israel may understand the principles of justice. Under the Law of Moses was the law of retaliation, examples being: eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe, and life for a life. However, when Christ came, to fulfill the Mosaic Law (Matthew 5:17–20), he taught a new and higher law that his disciples should instead base their life on, a law of forgiveness, a law of mercy. Living a higher law is not the easiest, anyone can tell you of a struggle they had to forgive someone who wronged them, but forgiveness lifts the burden or resentment off one’s shoulders. Martin Luther King Jr. beautifully said, “ Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The End Goal

Other countries who are still in favor of the death penalty are puzzled that we, the U.S., perform our execution through the distribution of medicine, instead of using medical resources to only save people. My answer to this is simple. It removes the distributors, and the people who voted this procedure into place, from feeling like a guilty party. Death by lethal injection in particular masks the brutality of what’s going on. Think about a individual in hospice care looks an awful lot like a man on death row. White room, lying in a sheet, surrounded by monitors and loved one. The same can be said for the firing squad method. In this method, there are five volunteers to carry out the execution who are all instructed to shoot at the same time “preventing both disruption of the process by a single member and identification of the member who fired the lethal shot.” Ambiguity is key in executions.

So, in these scenarios who do we ultimately consider the guilty party, or who do we consider the murderers? The person being executed, the one performing the execution, or the one who voted the process into place? Does the displacement from the action of killing someone make you or me more innocent? Is it like in war when we consider proactive killing as a form of defense? My answer to this is no.

If we cannot stare capital punishment and accept it for what it is, the killing of others, perhaps we as a nation should not take part in it any longer. The facade is over, the curtain has been drawn, and it is time we become accountable for the knowledge we possess. There are problems in our own backyard that need addressing. Many wounds from previous and current injustices need healing. Let us be the example of give the people of our schools, neighborhoods, cities, and nations what they need most: just a little more faith in one another, just a little more love without conditions, and most of all, the most defining characteristic of a compassionate being, just a little more mercy. The world is evolving for the better, so lets evolve with it. There needs to be another way to deal with crime other than fear.