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one more state gives up the death penalty

one more state gives up the death penalty

Yesterday, Connecticut became the seventeenth state to vote to outlaw the death penalty. May the thirty-three remaining states with death penalty provisions still enacted in state law be soon to follow!

Capital punishment can certainly be a hot button political issue, but it is difficult to imagine how a group of legislators voting to abolish the death penalty would do so to score political points.  Such a vote seems to me to be purely a matter of conscience …

  • feeling that the risks of a miscarriage of justice are too high;
  • feeling that the punishment is too often unevenly applied;
  • feeling that empowering the state to take life is putting too much power in the hands of fallible people;
  • feeling that the virtues of mercy far outweigh the questionable satisfactions of vengeance.

Just as mercy in a single human being is a sign of strength and character and spiritual maturity, just so is mercy in a human society a mark of strength and character and spiritual maturity.

Death Penalty Repeal Goes to Connecticut Governor

For Connecticut Nun, Death Penalty Debate Is Personal

renewed debate about lethal injection

renewed debate about lethal injection

From an article by Oren Dorell and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY:

The questions over lethal injection that have led executions to be halted in Florida and California are likely to curb the use of the death penalty across the USA, according to analysts who support capital punishment and others who oppose it.

However, it’s unclear whether the increasing focus on whether lethal injection is unconstitutionally painful represents a significant and lasting turn against the death penalty or a temporary slowdown in executions that will end once procedures for injections are improved.

“I think we’re headed towards fewer executions,” says Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University Law School who was on the U.S. Sentencing Commission from 1994 to 1997. She says a range of problems in the nation’s death penalty system – unqualified public defenders, the need for more DNA testing and questions about lethal injections, for example – have prevented capital punishment from being applied fairly.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty, disagrees that the decline will last.

He calls the controversy over lethal injection – which is used in nearly all of the 38 states that have the death penalty – “a significant but temporary setback” for capital punishment that will lead to fewer executions only until problems with injections are resolved.

He notes that public opinion surveys consistently have shown that about two-thirds of Americans support the death penalty.

Scheidegger says the debate over injections is somewhat overblown. “Why are we that concerned about whether a convicted murderer feels some pain at death?” he asks. “It’s supposed to be punishment.”

I agree with Mr. Scheidegger, that whether a convicted murdered feels some pain at death is not the issue. In fact, I have long believed that lethal injection is an especially cruel form of punishment precisely because it is too easy and too painless, because it masks the horror of what we are doing — intentionally taking the life of another human being. Lethal injection makes it too easy for us to pretend we are being “humane” even as we are destroying a piece of humanity … a piece of our humanity. Any execution, by any means, devalues human life and cedes to us a power which does not belong to us and which we are incapable of wielding fairly even if it were.

wise words from amnesty international on the saddam verdict

wise words from amnesty international on the saddam verdict

From Malcolm Smart of Amnesty International:

Every accused has a right to a fair trial, whatever the magnitude of the charge against them. This plain fact was routinely ignored through the decades of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. His overthrow opened the opportunity to restore this basic right and, at the same time, to ensure, fairly, accountability for the crimes of the past. It is an opportunity missed and made worse by the imposition of the death penalty.

Read the rest of the Amnesty International commentary on the Saddam trial.

Tony Blair also acknowledged Britain’s opposition to the death sentence: We are against the death penalty … whether it’s Saddam or anybody else.

a sick and perverted spectacle

a sick and perverted spectacle

A sick and perverted spectacle …

Those are the words Stanley Tookie Williams used to characterize his impending execution. Williams was executed early this morning, after appeals for a stay of execution were denied by the California Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court, and after a plea for clemency was rejected by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It was a sick and perverted spectacle …

… not because an innocent man was put to death. It is entirely possible that Williams did not commit the murders for which he was convicted; he always maintained his innocence. Or, as is likely and most believe, he really did do the crimes. Either way, it doesn’t matter.

… not because a changed man, a redeemed man, a man doing society much good was put to death. He may well have become a transformed man, a good man; those nominating him for Nobel Prizes for peace and literature certainly thought so. Or maybe it was all a fraud or a too convenient way to earn pity and support. Either way, it doesn’t matter.

… not because the courts or the governor failed to step in and acknowledge his transformation and show him mercy. They were simply doing their job, interpreting and enforcing the law as it stands. It doesn’t matter.

No, what matters is the law itself, the law of the land that permits this most cruel and unusual punishment. That law is sick and perverted and must be changed. That law accomplishes no useful purpose other than retribution — society exacting its revenge and satisfying its blood lust against those who have done it injury, whether real or perceived. That law diminishes our humanity, devalues human life, and damages the integrity of our advocacy of human rights.

Our need for revenge (a need that can never be satisfied) is a sickness, a sickness that eats away at the soul of our society and only proliferates a culture of violence. Our demand for the forfeiture of a life is a perversion, a perversion of the values and principles for which we claim to stand — justice, mercy, freedom, generosity, the precedence of right over might, and inalienable human dignity.

It was a sick and perverted spectacle …

a shameful milestone

a shameful milestone

The execution by lethal injection of Kenneth Lee Boyd in North Carolina marked the 1000th execution in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. A report by Amnesty International reveals that in 2004, the United States executed more human beings than any other nation with the exception of China, Iran, and Vietnam. For more on today’s execution and the reaction to it, click on the following link:

World News Article |



Is redemption possible?


Should the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams be stayed because his life has been redeemed, because his life now has some redeeming value?


If Mr. Williams should not be executed because he has succeeded in turning his life around, it follows that if he had not done so, he should be executed. But he should not. There is no good reason, no justification, to execute anyone.

It is we who need redemption — redemption from our need for retribution, redemption from our reliance on violence to address our fears (even if it has the blessing of the state), redemption from our care-less treatment of a precious human life, redemption from our lack of faith in God’s power to redeem … anyone.

why the death penalty is wrong

why the death penalty is wrong

The death penalty is wrong because it serves no moral or practical purpose.

1) The death penalty is not an effective deterrent. Jeffrey Fagan, Columbia Law School professor, offers this testimony:

Recent studies claiming that executions reduce murders have fueled the revival of deterrence as a rationale to expand the use of capital punishment. Such strong claims are not unusual in either the social or natural sciences, but like nearly all claims of strong causal effects from any social or legal intervention, the claims of deterrence fall apart under close scrutiny. These new studies are fraught with technical and conceptual errors … These studies fail to reach the demanding standards of social science to make such strong claims, standards such as replication and basic comparisons with other scenarios. Some simple examples and contrasts, including a careful analysis of the experience in New York State compared to others, lead to a rejection of the idea that either death sentences or executions deter murder.

2) The death penalty does not do justice, if justice is understood as upholding and encouraging lawfulness and as improving the moral and civic character of a society as a whole. The death penalty debases a society, encourages the belief in violence as an appropriate tool for solving social problems, and appeals to the perhaps understandable, but abhorrent and indefensible, desire for revenge.

3) The use of the death penalty in the “best” of circumstances is subject to the horrifying risk of executing innocent people and the unconscionable reality of unequal application. And in the “worst” of circumstances? In the hands of unethical and self-serving political leadership, the death penalty is a tool of oppression and outright injustice.

I am saddened — and angry — that Iowa legislators are once more trying to reintroduce the death penalty into the Iowa criminal code after an absence of forty years. They exploit our feelings of anger and horror and helplessness at a very public and heinous act of violence to advance their political agenda, while careful analysis and moral leadership go out the window. Again and again, Iowa’s lawmakers have said “No!” to the reintroduction of the death penalty, even in the face of other terrible acts of violence. I do hope and pray that a comparable commitment to real justice will once more prevail.