Death Penalty

During this class period today, seven adult men will be falsely accused of committing a serious crime, carrying a penalty of capital punishment. This means approximately 51,000 adult men are falsely accused of committing serious crimes each year. This figure is roughly the number of people who attended Super Bowl-Thirty-Three. Currently, there are 3,500 people on death row in thirty-eight states that support and carry out the death penalty while only twelve states have outlawed it. At the same time, more than half the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Capital punishment is very relevant to each member of society. It is not just a male only issue. Every single one of us in this room has a father, brother, or significant others who could be affected. Capital punishment in America is morally unjust and should be eliminated because it is cruel and unusual; it kills innocent people; and it is used in a discriminatory manner. Sometimes criminals suffer more during their executions than is anticipated or planned.

People sentenced to death are certain to face one of the following methods of execution still practiced today: firing squad, electric chair, lethal injection, gas chamber or hanging. But, injecting with poisonous chemicals, smothering with toxic gases, and electrocuting with high voltage are the preferred methods because bloody human tissues are not strewn about, as with other methods, therefore those people assigned to scour the execution site are less likely to experience psychological trauma. Although tidy, these styles of killing rarely succeed on the first attempt; instead, prisoners regularly suffer intense pain for long periods of time before expiring. According to Seideman, the case of Scotty Sutton is one example of many bungled executions that take place every month. While administering a lethal injection, all the executioners attempts to find a vein have failed.

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Scotty started moaning and heaving in agony signaling a partial dose found his blood stream. Realizing the dose was not enough to end his life the executioner tried several failed attempts in the neck area hoping to find a main artery. Meanwhile, 300 pound, Scotty is still breathing after five minutes into this botched execution. The chemicals that were prepared and on hand have been seriously depleted. In a last ditch effort, the executioner signaled for help and directed a prison staff member to cut away a portion of the thick canvas jacket to expose an area of his chest to deliver a lethal dose directly into his heart; moments later Scotty expired (3). Another example that is equally as cruel as lethal injection is the gas chamber. This method of execution places a prisoner in a cell that fills with cyanide gas. The symptoms of dying first start with tears falling uncontrollably from the eyes. Then, snot and bodily fluids run unobstructed from the nose.

Also, puss dribbles out the mouth, and blisters form on the skin about the face. Finally, breathing is restricted and the heart stops. This process can take eight minutes that may seem like eight hours to the prisoner. Another account of inhumane punishment comes from witnessing a prisoners execution in the electric chair. Science has not determined how long an electrocuted individual retains consciousness, but when the switch is thrown, the body jerks, smoke frequently rises from the head, and there is a smell of burning flesh (Seideman 4). For example, one case in May 1990, Jessie Tafero, a Florida prisoner, gurgled and his head bobbed while ashes fell from it, for four minutes (Seideman 5). Another case in July 1986, Kevin Barnes, an Alabama prisoner, took three jolts of electricity and ten minutes before being pronounced dead (Seideman 5). In the Chicago Tribune report on Miscarriages of Justice, it was reported that since 1975 at least 381 innocent people have been convicted of capital crimes they did not commit (Armstrong).

Guilty criminals deserve to die for the horrible acts they commit, not innocent people. The Death penalty practiced is far from humane; in fact, it is downright torturous in many cases and Heaven forbid if we send an innocent person to death row. Every time the state kills an innocent person, justice has failed; sympathy from our hearts goes to families suffering from grief; then, the peoples business is soon back to normal. This tragic cycle will continue until capital punishment is outlawed. Occasionally killing an innocent person while in the process of trying to kill guilty criminals is unacceptable. The Chicago Tribune conducted a study and analyzed thousands of court records from across the country to find some disturbing news. Research has revealed that, with impunity, prosecutors across the country have violated their oaths and the law, committing the worst kinds of deceptions in the most serious of cases (Armstrong 1). Hiding or presenting false evidence was the prosecutors strategy to deceive the courts and win their case; they knew they would not get punished. Armstrong reports, they have prosecuted black men, hiding evidence that the real killers were white.

They have prosecuted a wife, hiding evidence her husband committed suicide. They have prosecuted parents, hiding evidence their daughter was killed by wild dogs (Armstrong). Studies show, since 1975 at least 381 innocent people have had their conviction thrown out (Armstrong 2). Dishonest lawyers who represent our justice system should be held accountable for the deaths of those innocent people convicted of crimes they did not commit. A report released by the Chicago Tribune points out that recent advances in DNA technology have stirred the hopes of many prisoners that may be innocent and looking for a loop hole in getting another chance to appeal. As a result, 1000 new cases crowd the courts, and 75 of which are death row prisoners (Armstrong 5). Verneal Jimerson of Illinois and Kirk Bloodsworth of Maryland, both were later exonerated by DNA tests, but not before spending 5 years in prison (Armstrong).

Capital punishment is prone to killing innocent people. A court error can be corrected with a pardon but a pardon after death is not valued to anyone (Seideman 2). Race is an important factor in determining who is sentenced to die. When dealing with race, statistics are important because they provide facts that are unbiased and indisputable. Martin Luther King said, sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust on its application (King 159). Meaning intentions are good but its outcome is unjust. With capital punishment, the statistics present the big picture by revealing that biased judgments were made along racial lines and therefore must be examined first. Then, each court case is examined to enumerate the evidence that supports our conclusion drawn from the statistics. For example, statistics shows that, during 1997-1998 the population of our country was 252.7 million. 72.9 percent of this amount was white, yet whites accounted for only 49.1 percent of prison inmates, while blacks who accounted for only 15.3 percent of the entire population, accounted for 47.3 percent of prison inmates.

The statistics are similar for the population on death row and executions (Cabana 1). These statistics suggest a racial problem does exist but is not enough to make a claim. Each case is now examined; the evidence that supports the claim is enumerated; the result is a well thought out explanation of the problem. For example, after carefully studying the statistics the General Accounting Office released a report in 1990 that insists the race of the victim in capital murder cases influenced whether prosecutors would pursue the death penalty or not. In particular, it insists that, a black man who kills a white person is 11 times more likely to receive the death penalty than a white man who kills a black person (Fernando 1). In simpler terms, the law does not stand for torture or racism; instead, it honors due process and equal justice for all. The law promises we punish criminals but fails to eliminate wrongful convictions. It is not necessary to kill someone as punishment because when the person is dead, you are not punishing him; you are punishing only the people who love him.

These victims would benefit far more if the funds used for appeals were diverted to the provisions of counseling and other assistance. Racism continues to play an unacceptable role in capital punishment. In death penalty cases the race of the victim is much more important than the prior criminal record of the defender or the actual circumstances of the crime. More than half of those on death row are people of color, although they represent about six percent of the U.S. population, about forty percent of those on death row are African American. On the basis of race, the death penalty still discriminates against minorities; therefore, our principles of justice and fairness are being selectively applied. Currently in America we have not a system of justice, but injustice.

Bibliography

*http//sun.soci.niu.edu/~critcrim/wrong/tribpros10.html* Seideman, David, (1998, June17-last updated). Executions and Suffering Accessed: March 17, 1999. *http://ethics/ucsd.edu/death.penalty.html Fernando, Javier, (1994, April-creation date). American Justice in America Accessed: March 10, 1999. *http://www.miamicity.com/miami/literadeath.html* Cabana, Don, (1998- copyright). Death Penalty Statistics Accessed: March 20, 1999 *http://www.theelectricchair.com/stats.htm*

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