On the death penalty

D.C. Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad is scheduled to be filled with a nice intravenous cocktail of thiopental sodium, pancuronium, and potassium before 9:00 tonight. Not a bad way to die, really: the first drug will knock him out so that he has no idea what’s happening, the second will paralyze every muscle in his body (including those used in breathing), and the third will make his heart come to a complete standstill. This is all assuming that enough thiopental is given to ensure that he won’t wake up to a terrifying voodoo-style paralysis for his or last 30 or so seconds of life. I assume that medical types are on top of this.

I used to think I was solid on my views concerning capital punishment. Now I’m not.

The orchestrated execution of people who commit heinous crimes rings with the echoes of cosmic justice. The families of victims get what they want, and a manifestly worthless person is taken out of the human equation.

Beyond that, I question the scheme. Is capital punishment supposed to be a deterrent? If not, these musings are moot and it all goes back to retribution, noted above. But it doesn’t take a criminologist to understand that people who commit crimes earning them a death sentence are not exactly considering the ramifications when they do it. They are often mentally retarded, and perhaps just as often are systematic psychopaths with their faculties otherwise intact. These are not people who give a fuck about the rule of law. They would do what they do even if fully aware of the fact that they would be burned at the stake.

If I were given the choice between lethal injection and 40 years in a buttfuck prison, it would be an easy call. From the punishment standpoint, dying is an easy way out. If making people pay, making them rightfully suffer, is the name of the game, then put them in a place like Angola or San Quentin, or the supermax ADX facility in Florence, Colorado. Everyone gets his share of fun and games there.

My home state of New Hampshire has not executed anyone in 80 years, but in December, Michael Briggs, who shot a cop, got the death penalty for his trouble. Public opinion polls suggest that people, at least around here, come out far more strongly in favor of capital punishment when the victim is a law-enforcement officer. Really, that shouldn’t have anything to do with it.

With the advent of DNA technology, a surprising number of “criminals” have been found innocent. Numerous ones have been death-row inmates.

I guess all I am trying to say here is that capital punishment accomplishes none of its assumed goals. Sociopaths and the otherwise deranged will go on killing en masse regardless of what awaits them. They either don’t have the capacity to understand the consequences or they don’t give a fuck. If killing these people makes society a simpler and happier place, great. I’m just not convinced that it does, and so I waver on the fence, with a strong leaning toward the abolition of capital punishment. Rotting in prison is a worse fate than dying straightaway.

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  1. #1 by Gene on November 10, 2009 - 9:26 pm

    You forgot the part about cops and DAs working fast and loose with evidence. How many people have been exonerated by DNA? Rarely are capital cases as cut and dry as people are led to believe.

  2. #2 by kemibe on November 10, 2009 - 9:34 pm

    Gene–very good point. Prosecutors in general are far more interested in furthering their careers than they are in legitimate outcomes. Of course, these same lawyers become judges, if they get their way.

    This isn’t always a disaster, but you can see the “ick” factor here.

  3. #3 by Yogi on November 12, 2009 - 11:01 am

    No research has ever supported deterrent effects of capital punishment. Mohammed’s case is more complicated because he was mentally ill. Whackjobs like to write that off as apologetics, but the fact remains that the United States executed a mentally ill person. Barbaric, but what’s to be expected of a nation that also executes innocent people and until only a few years ago executed juveniles? Good times.

  4. #4 by kemibe on November 12, 2009 - 11:14 am

    And the man who was president of the country for eight recent years oversaw the executions of more people than any governor in the history of the U.S. Granted, he was so busy with having been coddled through college and grad school, fucking up the oil companies he was handed, fucking up the Texas Rangers baseball franchise, and fucking up everything else he touched that he probably wasn’t paying attention to his state’s hunger for executing mentally retarded people.

    That’s part of G.W. Bush’s grand legacy, in addition to fronting a disastrous (on every measurable front) war, filling his cabinet with anti-science and anti-environmentalist automatons, and stammering every time he was asked a simple question. I wish Hunter S. Thompson were still around to write about him in the way he “eulogized” Richard Nixon in a manner that might have made H.L Mencken proud. I was too young to understand what was going on during the Nixon administration, but have a hard time believing that he’ll prove to be a worse scumsucker than Bush, along with his ghastly supporting cast.

    It’ll bother me to the end of my days that I ever lived here during a time when a fuck-up like John Ashcroft could be the top law-enforcement officer in the United States.

  5. #5 by Warren on November 12, 2009 - 6:33 pm

    Deterrence aside, capital punishment reduces recidivism. In some cases that alone makes it particularly worthwhile.

    http://indigestible.nightwares.com/2009/09/30/just-in-time-to-make-halloween-feel-a-little-safer/

    (He died before his sentence could be carried out. If he’d had any class at all, he’d’ve died before going to trial.)

  6. #6 by kemibe on November 12, 2009 - 9:38 pm

    Warren: That is exactly why I sit firmly on the fence, for all that is worth. That story is disgusting.

  7. #7 by hopper3011 on November 16, 2009 - 7:17 am

    An interesting article:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/15/texas-death-penalty-execution-us
    I’m very anti the death penalty – but even if I were on the pro side, I’m not sure that the Couey story would be one I’d be putting forward as a success. Given that the man had an IQ of 78 (although the Supreme Court sets a limit of 70 as ‘mental retardation’, this is merely a legal rule. The idea that a single number IQ is any sort of a guide in these situations doesn’t take into account deviations across the spectrum of ‘intelligence’.) and was a repeat offender of crimes with a sexual nature, I would suggest that Jessica Lunsford’s death was as much the fault of the Florida authorities as it was this obviously mentally ill man.
    As far as the death penalty itself is concerned, you might enjoy Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. He holds that the death penalty is a demonstration of the power of the sovereign. Essentially, the death penalty shows the populace that their very lives belong to the sovereign. It is an interesting vision of history, which seems to be turning a full circle. Certainly governments, even ostensibly democratic ones, appear to be becoming more entrenched in the same tension-filled relationship with the people they rule.

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