The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

I wanna kill him but…

Posted by Bill Nance on December 21, 2008

New Hampshire is getting set to execute someone for the first time in 49 years.


MANCHESTER, N.H. – A jury on Thursday issued New Hampshire’s first death sentence in a half century to Michael Addison, who fatally shot a Manchester police officer two years ago.

…Addison had been on a crime spree the week before the shooting and had said he would “pop a cop” if necessary. When Briggs, 35, and his bicycle partner came across Addison and friend Antoine Bell-Rogers in an alley early on Oct. 16, 2006, they recognized the men as a suspects in a recent shooting and two armed robberies and ordered them to stop. Addison turned and shot Briggs in the head at close range, testimony showed.

Prosecutors called the shooting cold-blooded and premeditated.

Well, assuming they got the right guy, and given the statements of the defense lawyer I don’t see any reason to doubt it, it looks like New Hampshire will have one less criminal to worry about -In about 15 years when all the appeals run out. I for one, won’t be sorry to see the guy go.

And yet, I’m still, in practice, against the death penalty. I won’t disagree that sounds completely contradictory to the statement above.

I’m not squeamish about imposing death for a horrible crime. There are some six billion people on planet earth and losing one of the least desirable among them is no tragedy in my book.  Philosophically I’m all for the death penalty. One less scumbag to worry about.

I’m also not particularly concerned about the implications for the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

As long as the execution is reasonably quick, I don’t care what the method is. A 12-gauge deer slug to the back of the head will pretty much explode the entire skull. It’s messy, but not overly painful. If you’re squeamish about blood, then don’t be an executioner. If anything, lethal injection seems a far more cruel method than simply shooting someone, using the guillotine, or even hanging. -Even a poorly done hanging should result in unconsciousness in about 30 seconds tops. After that who cares how long it takes for the heart to stop beating?

So what’s the problem? It’s simply that the death penalty isn’t imposed fairly, evenly or only in cases when there is absolutely no doubt about who is guilty.

In fact, as opposed to theory, the death penalty is imposed in vastly disproportionate numbers against people of color and the poor. And, as we’re finding out from research done by places like the Innocence Project, is often imposed in cases where the person in question isn’t even guilty.

I don’t see any way past this. We live in the real world, not an ideal one. Juries and judges and most importantly, prosecuting attorneys, often have axes to grind which have nothing to do with the specific crime in question. People get convicted based on “confessions” which it later turns out were beaten out of them by the police, racist views of juries, public hysteria, etc.

You can, at least in theory, get someone freed after appeals and further investigation show them to be innocent. You can’t un-execute people. Nor should we be executing people based on what’s good for the career of prosecuting attorneys. It’s rare in the extreme for well-represented white people with resources to spend on private investigators, expert witnesses, etc. to even get charged with capital murder. The cases are harder to try and the liklihood that the jury will decide on a lesser crime is also much much higher than with poor defendants represented by ill-prepared, inexperienced public defenders with almost no resources.

It’s an ugly fact, but it’s still a fact. Prosecutors don’t like to lose. And they won’t often bring charges they don’t think will stick, regardless of the facts.

Life in prison without possibility of parole is hardly a light sentence. Until we find a way to fix all the problems of our judicial system,  and I don’t think we ever will, it should be the maximum allowable. That it doesn’t satisfy some people’s desire for vengeance is no argument. My desire for public vengeance shouldn’t mean we execute someone. We don’t, and shouldn’t, have a judicial system to assuage my feelings. If we did, then every victim of every crime would be justified in calling for execution. Have your house robbed and everything of value you own taken from you (Something that’s happened to me) and see how you feel about the culprits. Only fear of the law kept me from exacting a very personal piece of justice that would have been vastly out of proportion to the crime -“I’ma to get medieval on yo ass” kind of retribution. And it’s a good thing the law was there. I would have regretted my actions later.

It’s not being squeamish, it’s about being fair and just. We may not always be able to pull it off, but we should always try. And getting rid of the death penalty is one way we can effectively get about doing that. My emotions may scream “hang ’em high,” but my intellect knows better.


3 Responses to “I wanna kill him but…”

  1. Kind Soul said

    All said is true. It’s unfortunate that the officer was unable to respond with swift, accurate, deadly force.

    Some may gasp, “But that’s summary punishment.” Not at all. It is stopping a predatory act before it can do harm. We already know that, “It is unkind to shoot at me. Please do not.” simply does not work.

    If violent-rape victims were able to so respond in order to stop an attack, we would have conversations such as:

    POLICE (at the scene):
    “What happened?”

    “I was attacked. I told him to stop. He did not stop.

    “He continued his attack by dragging me into that dark alley and pulling at my clothing with extreme force. I feared for my life.

    “I stopped his attack with this knife. Please be careful handling it. It’s a Bushido blade and rather sharp.

    “His cadaver is in the dark alley where he dragged me. It was dark and I could not recognize him in a lineup were my life to depend upon it. I have never seen him before.”

    RESULTS: No mistaken ID. No improper confession. No police/prosecutor misconduct. No convicting an innocent defendant.

    And the predator is removed from the set of those intending severe physical and mental harm towards another.

  2. Dudley Sharp said

    You have only evaluated the death penalty based upon the wrongful claims of death penalty opponents.

    Try a more balanced approach and reconsider.

    The Death Penalty in the US: A Review
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
    NOTE: Detailed review of any of the below topics, or others, is available upon request
    In this brief format, the reality of the death penalty in the United States, is presented, with the hope that the media, public policy makers and others will make an effort to present a balanced view on this sanction.

    Innocence Issues
    Death Penalty opponents have proclaimed that 130 inmates have been “released from death row with evidence of their innocence”, in the US, since the modern death penalty era began, post Furman v Georgia (1972).
    The number is a fraud.
    Those opponents have intentionally included both the factually innocent (the “I truly had nothing to do with the murder” cases) and the legally innocent (the “I got off because of legal errors” cases), thereby fraudulently raising the “innocent” numbers. This is easily confirmed by fact checking.
    Death penalty opponents claim that 24 such innocence cases are in Florida. The Florida Commission on Capital Cases found that 4 of those 24 MIGHT be innocent — an 83% error rate in for the claims of death penalty opponents. Other studies show their error rate to be about 70%. The totality of reviews points to an 80% error/fraud rate in these claims, or about 26 cases – a 0.3% actual guilt error rate for the nearly 8000 sentenced to death since 1973. 

    The actual innocents were all freed.
    It is often claimed that 23 innocents have been executed in the US since 1900.  Nonsense.  Even the authors of that “23 innocents executed” study proclaimed “We agree with our critics, we never proved those (23) executed to be innocent; we never claimed that we had.”  While no one would claim that an innocent has never been executed, there is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.
    No one disputes that innocents are found guilty, within all countries.  However, when scrutinizing death penalty opponents claims, we find that when reviewing the accuracy of verdicts and the post conviction thoroughness of discovering those actually innocent incarcerated, that the US death penalty process may be one of the most accurate criminal justice sanctions in the world. 
    Under real world scenarios, not executing murderers will always put many more innocents at risk, than will ever be put at risk of execution.

    Deterrence Issues
    16 recent US studies, inclusive of their defenses,  find a deterrent effect of the death penalty.
    All the studies which have not found a deterrent effect of the death penalty have refused to say that it does not deter some.  The studies finding for deterrence state such.  Confusion arises when people think that a simple comparison of murder rates and executions, or the lack thereof, can tell the tale of deterrence.  It cannot. 
    Both high and low murder rates are found within death penalty and non death penalty jurisdictions, be it Singapore, South Africa, Sweden or Japan, or the US states of Michigan and Delaware.  Many factors are involved in such evaluations.  Reason and common sense tell us that it would be remarkable to find that the most severe criminal sanction — execution — deterred none.  No one is foolish enough to suggest that the potential for negative consequences does not deter the behavior of some.  Therefore, regardless of jurisdiction, having the death penalty will always be an added deterrent to murders, over and above any lesser punishments.

    Racial issues
    White murderers are twice as likely to be executed in the US as are black murderers and are executed, on average, 12 months more quickly than are black death row inmates.
    It is often stated that it is the race of the victim which decides who is prosecuted in death penalty cases.  Although blacks and whites make up about an equal number of murder victims, capital cases are 6 times more likely to involve white victim murders than black victim murders.  This, so the logic goes, is proof that the US only cares about white victims.
    Hardly.  Only capital murders, not all murders, are subject to a capital indictment.  Generally, a capital murder is limited to murders plus secondary aggravating factors, such as murders involving burglary, carjacking, rape, and additional murders, such as police murders, serial and multiple murders.  White victims are, overwhelmingly, the victims under those circumstances, in ratios nearly identical to the cases found on death row.
    Any other racial combinations of defendants and/or their victims in death penalty cases, is a reflection of the crimes committed and not any racial bias within the system, as confirmed by studies from the Rand Corporation (1991), Smith College (1994), U of Maryland (2002), New Jersey Supreme Court (2003) and by a view of criminal justice statistics, within a framework of the secondary aggravating factors necessary for capital indictments.

    Class issues
    No one disputes that wealthier defendants can hire better lawyers and, therefore, should have a legal advantage over their poorer counterparts.  The US has executed about 0.15% of all murderers since new death penalty statutes were enacted in 1973.  Is there evidence that wealthier capital murderers are less likely to be executed than their poorer ilk, based upon the proportion of capital murders committed by different those different economic groups? Not to my knowledge.

    Arbitrary and capricious
    About 10% of all murders within the US might qualify for a death penalty eligible trial.  That would be about 64,000 murders since 1973.  We have sentenced 8000 murderers to death since then, or 13% of those eligible.  I doubt that there is any other crime which receives a higher percentage of maximum sentences, when mandatory sentences are not available.  Based upon that, as well as pre trial, trial, appellate and clemency/commutation realities, the US death penalty is likely the least arbitrary and capricious criminal sanctions in the  US.

    Christianity and the death penalty
    The two most authoritative New Testament scholars, Saints Augustine and Aquinas, provide substantial biblical and theological support for the death penalty. Even the most well known anti death penalty personality in the US, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, states that “It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical ‘proof text’ in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this.  Even Jesus’ admonition ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone,’ when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) — the Mosaic Law prescribed death — should be read in its proper context.  This passage is an ‘entrapment’ story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries.  It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment.”  A thorough review of Pope John Paul II’s position, reflects a reasoning that should be recommending more executions.

    Cost Issues
    All studies finding the death penalty to be more expensive than life without parole exclude important factors, such as (1) geriatric care costs, recently found to be $69,0000/yr/inmate, (2) the death penalty cost benefit of providing for plea bargains to a maximum life sentence, a huge cost savings to the state, (3) the death penalty cost benefit of both enhanced deterrence and enhanced incapacitation, at $5 million per innocent life spared, and, furthermore, (4) many of the alleged cost comparison studies are highly deceptive.

    Polling data
    76% of Americans find that we should impose the death penalty more or that we impose it about right (Gallup, May 2006 – 51% that we should impose it more, 25% that we impose it about right)
    71%  find capital punishment morally acceptable – that was the highest percentage answer for all questions (Gallup, April 2006, moral values poll). In May, 2007, the percentage dropped to 66%, still the highest percentage answer, with 27% opposed. (Gallup, 5/29/07)
    81% of the American people supported the execution of Timothy McVeigh, with only 16% opposed. “(T)his view appears to be the consensus of all major groups in society, including men, women, whites, nonwhites, “liberals” and “conservatives.”  (Gallup 5/2/01).
    81% of Connecticut citizens supported the execution of serial rapist/murderer Michael Ross (Jan 2005).
    While 81% gave specific case support for Timothy McVeigh’s execution, Gallup also showed a 65% support AT THE SAME TIME when asked a general “do you support capital punishment for murderers?” question. (Gallup, 6/10/01).
    22% of those supporting McVeigh’s execution are, generally, against the death penalty (Gallup 5/02/01). That means that about half of those who say they oppose the death penalty, with the general question,  actually support the death penalty under specific circumstances, just as it is imposed, judicially.
    Further supporting the higher rates for specific cases, is this, from the French daily Le Monde December 2006 (1): Percentage of respondents in favor of executing Saddam Hussein:USA: 82%; Great Britain: 69%; France: 58%; Germany: 53%; Spain: 51%; Italy: 46%
    Death penalty support is much deeper and much wider than we are often led to believe, with 50% of those who say they, generally, oppose the death penalty actually supporting it under specific circumstances, resulting in 80% death penalty support in the US, as recently as December 2006.
    Whatever your feelings are toward the death penalty, a fair accounting of how it is applied should be demanded.
    copyright 1998-2008 Dudley Sharp
    Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail,  713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas
    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
    Pro death penalty sites see Death Penalty   (Sweden)

  3. Bill Nance said

    I have quite carefully examined the data and I flat disagree with you.
    You cannot possibly make a case for the death penalty as a deterrent for one. That’s such a hollow argument it’s silly to even make it.

    The death pernalty has one and only one possible justification: It will permanently remove someone who is so dangerous we have to give up on them completely, including making the prison population and guards safer. I’m not and never have argued with that.

    But the fact is, and it is a fact, and having covered enough prosecutions for enough years I can personally vouch for it, that prosecuting attorneys, who are almost always the “charging authority” (Different in a very few jurisdictions) bring capital cases only extremely rarely against well to do criminals. The death penalty is also used, especially in places like Texas, for fairly garden variety homicides like botched murders. The “special circumstances” have been stretched far beyond what most people consider “special.”

    Still and all, I’m not necessarily opposed to the death penalty just for the special circumstance thing.

    But bottom line is that it’s applied disproportionately, that we can’t un-execute someone, and that we wrongfully convict enough people for execution to something we should avoid on that basis alone.

    Executions are astronomically expensive to the state, they absolutely *do not* deter anyone from committing murder and we more often than I’m willing to live with, convict the wrong person.

    Those are facts, not opinions. Based on those facts, it’s just a bad idea. Life without poss. It’s enough, and if we find out 20 years later someone’s been wrongfully convicted at least we can let them out of prison.

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