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A Newsletter - Capital Punishment

By Oppositeofnormal @oppositeonormal

Capital Punishment  A Historical Perspective

Throughout history, Capital Punishment, also known has the death penalty, has been a widely debated subject. In order to understand capital punishment today, we must first understand it's roots, and why it is so heavily debated. Documentation regarding capital punishment has been found as early as 1750 B.C. (Capital Punishment, Encyclopedia).
Capital punishment sentences were often brutally followed through with, and easily dealt. Crimes ranging from murder to petty theft and adultery were often grounds for capital punishment. Even as early as colonial times the debate was heated and the parameters for what was punishable as a capital offense were continuously fluctuating. “... 1860, no Northern state provided capital punishment for any crime other than murder or treason” (Death Penalty Debates).
The Supreme Courts involvement in death penalty policy increased due to increasing amounts of opposition from many American citizens and advocacy based organizations. Opposition to the death penalty became much more heated and protests were on the increase. “The campaign climaxed on June 29, 1972 with the Supreme Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, which invalidated all existing death sentences and death penalty statutes” (Death Penalty Controversies). There was a considerable backlash from the public due to this ruling, and “Support for the death penalty increased to 65 percent by 1976” (Death Penalty Debates).
After a four year moratorium, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 in 1976 to change the laws on the death penalty. After much uproar from the general public, the Supreme Court mandated new laws on sentencing for capital offenses. One of the new regulations was guided discretion. In guided discretion, the jurors have to follow certain rules to sentence a defendant. The American Public did not want juries to have free reign on deciding who lived or died, so jurors became required to follow specific rules in relation to sentencing.
Juries were persuaded to consider mitigating circumstances affecting the defendants behavior, as in insanity, mental retardation, past history, etc. Jurors were also informed of the available option for life without parole as an alternative to implementing capital punishment. Each individual state was able to decide on whether to adopt the death penalty, it was no longer mandatory. Capital sentencing hearings were also processed separately from general sentencing hearings. Death Penalty Statistics
The number of executions has been on the decline for some time. “1289 in the 1940s to 715 in the 1950s and 191 in the 1960s before the milestone year of 1968, the first with no executions anywhere in the United States” (Death Penalty Debates).
The 1980's saw a decrease similar to the reported numbers in the 1960's. “Only 140 persons were executed in the 1980s” (Death Penalty Debates). Although during the 1990s executions “reached a peak of 98 in 1999” (Death Penalty Controversies).
Did You Know?
The most savage usage of capital punishment still implemented in the U.S. today is in Utah in the form of a firing squad. During early history executions ranged from stoning, hanging, beheading (popular in Europe), burning at the stake, and in biblical times, crucifixions.
Public executions were commonplace from B.C. until the 1930's.


Historically, support for the death penalty has always been over 50% although it has always been widely debated. Currently, it seems that support for the death penalty is on a slow decline and it is still widely debated. In “...America, where two-thirds of states still have the death penalty”(Dying Out;Capital punishment) the growth of support for the death penalty is evident. More states are beginning to outlaw and abolish the death penalty. Illinois was the most recent state to implement this. In March of 2011 “Governor Pat Quinn,..., signed legislation making Illinois the 16th state to ban capital punishment”(New York Times Upfront). This sentiment is spreading to other states. “Connecticut, Maryland and Montana—are currently considering abolishing the death penalty”(New York Times Upfront).
Not all states are so enthusiastic about abolishing the death penalty. Most southern states still show strong public support, with Texas ranking at the top of that list. “With an average of nearly 12 executions per year, Texas outpaces the average for the second-ranking state -Virginia- by a factor of nearly 4-to-1”(Death Penalty Controversies). In international statistics, China would represent the highest ranking usage of capital punishment. China is #1 in executions in the world, leading with numbers in the thousands for 2010. The country has refused to disclose actual numbers and this estimate was obtained by Amnesty International through interviews with local experts and family members. The US ranks at number 5, with 46 executions in 2010(New York Times Upfront). Internationally there is a trend of declining application of the death penalty. “More than two-thirds of countries have done away with it either in law or in practice”(Dying Out;Capital punishment). Could the concept of capital punishment be losing its favor with people globally as well as here in the US?
The public stance on the subject has changed significantly over the course of history, and people are now far more concerned with human rights than they have been in the past. There is an increasing focus on fairness when it comes to capital punishment. There is more concern about accuracy regarding the guilt of the perpetrator. With the introduction of DNA testing into the justice system, it has been found that many offenders have been wrongly accused and put to death for a crime that they did not commit. “Between 1973 and 2008 more than 120 people in the U.S. were released from death row on the basis that they were wrongly convicted” (Capital Punishment Encyclopedia) Many people have begun to question more recently if there is any way possible to fix and/or streamline the capital punishment process. The legislative and judicial process required to imprison, convict, and execute is lengthy and costly.

A Personal Perspective
You may ask yourself why I would have taken an interest in the death penalty. It is such a grim and upsetting subject, that most people do not even give it any thought. I have a personal tie to it. I could have actually had to watch and possibly participate in a capital trial process, had the man who murdered my mother survived the S.W.A.T. Team.
I often ponder how his trial would have played out had he been allowed to live. Was his crime heinous enough to warrant the death penalty? At times, I feel, yes. It was. Would the judicial system have sentenced him to death for what he did to my mother?
I wanted him to suffer. Every day for the rest of his life. The way I do. The way she did. Had it been up to me, he would have not died at the hands of the S.W.A.T. Team. He would have suffered with what he had done each and every day of his life. Would I have wanted to attend a Capital trial? No. Did I want him to die? NO.
This was written to provide a perspective from someone who has been directly emotionally impacted by a case that could have possibly ended up as a death penalty case due to the heinousness of the crime. The newspaper downplayed the brutality of what actually occurred, and had the perpetrator survived the SWAT team, I can bet that a lot more detail would have been included.
Losing someone you love at the hands of someone else in a thoughtless crime of passion is one of the most life changing experiences one will ever know. The survivor's belief in the goodness of humanity, ability to trust and inner foundation is shaken to it's core. Obviously, I feel that the victim's family should play a huge role in the decision on what is a fitting punishment. The family has to live with what has occurred on a daily basis. They have to live without their loved one, and the emotional disruptions that can occur. Losing a loved one in this way is a far different experience than losing someone by illness or a car crash.
Is it right to show people that killing someone is wrong by killing someone?
CHANGE - It is OUR Responsibility!

Statement from The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) is dedicated to the empowerment of battered women and their children and is, therefore, committed to ending all forms of personal and societal violence. NCADV recognizes that abuses of power in society foster battering and intimate partner violence by perpetuating conditions that condone violence. NCADV believes that violence results from the use of force or threat of violence to maintain control over others and from societal abuse of power…. NCADV has historically opposed the use of violence as means of control over others and, to that end NCADV opposes capital punishment under all circumstances” (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).

Race of Defendants Executed: White: 56% Black: 35% Hispanic: 7% Other: 2% (
Race of Victim in Death Penalty Cases White: 76% Black: 15% Hispanic: 6% Other: 3% Over 75% of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally only 50% of murder victims generally are white.” (
Criminologists View of Deterrence (In regards to Capital Punishment deterring violent crime.) Do executions lower homicide rates? Yes: 5% No: 88% No Opinion: 7% (
Support for Alternative Sentences Life without parole plus restitution for the victim's family: 39% Death Penalty: 33% Life without parole: 33% (
In Texas, a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. ( To kill, or not to kill, that is the question. Since early mankind, the death penalty has been debated by humankind. Many factors contribute to this continuing debate. Humanitarian issues, societal issues, media coverage and economic impacts create turmoil and indecision within the American public and the justice system. There are so many perspectives and situational issues to take into account that it is easy to see why most people are divided on the subject and cannot come to a solid conclusion. Although the statistics dictate that support for the death penalty is high, is this truly in the hearts of the American public?
From a humanitarian point of view, is killing someone because they killed someone an ethical way to handle things? Wouldn't “justice” be better served if the convict has to live the rest of their lives in a dangerous prison system and think about what they did every day for the rest of their lives? Wouldn't that be more just than what could be viewed as an “easy escape”? Executions today are typically given with 3 injections, all of which kill the prisoner quickly and quietly. Did the victim die peacefully and quietly?
Defenders of the death penalty maintain that because taking an offender's life is a more severe punishment than any prison term, it should be the better deterrent” (Capital Punishment, Encyclopedia). How is lethal injection any more severe of a punishment than life in prison? The prisoner is dying a peaceful, quick death instead of being open to prison violence and possible terminal illness, all of which would be far more painful ways to die. The prisoner has the ability to know when their “end” is coming, and say their goodbyes (which is FAR more than the victim had!). Also, studies have shown that capital punishment has an extremely minimal, if not negligible affect of crime rates. The largest contributing factors to violent crime are the “lack of law enforcement resource (20%), drug and alcohol abuse (20%), family problems/child abuse (14%), lack of programs for mentally ill (12%).....” (
A focus on our national assistance programs could be an asset to our society. Instead of spending our taxpayers money on capital trials and implementing life in prison without parole , we could filter the money into programs strengthening our law enforcement, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, family counseling and mental health programs.
In an article submitted to The New York Times Magazine by Paul Donnelly (his brother and sister in law were brutally murdered by an armed robber with a history of violent robberies) he states; “The Supreme Court mandates that the death penalty requires a separate decision from guilt or innocence, weighing “aggravating factors” against “mitigating” ones. But the standard for one “aggravating factor” in this case – defined as an “especially heinous, cruel or depraved” crime – is a contradiction in terms. Since hatred, cruelty and depravity are not normal, how do you prove that killing is “especially” so”(Upon Penalty of Life)? I believe that the heinousness of a crime is individual perspective, and the perspective of a victim's family member is bound to intensify the brutality of the murder.
The social impacts on the media's portrayal of death penalty cases is that violence begets violence. Kill, and be killed. Is this a message that we want to continue to send in an already violent world? Shouldn't we be promoting peace? I feel that no one has the right to take anyone's life. Nobody. No matter what this person has done. The media glamorizes and over reports on capital punishment cases to draw attention to themselves. Have you ever noticed how negative the news is? If the news would stop focusing on violence, and violent stories, it is possible that the crime rate could go down as well. It may even be a somewhat negligible reduction, but one life saved is a blessing. Glamorizing violence is promoting violence in my eyes.
Capital Punishment also affects our political system by creating an issue for our politicians. When a politician is running for office, this is often a “hot seat” issue, and tends to be tiptoed around. “Ronald Tabak, a lawyer in New York who has argued death penalty cases, says that legislators around the country are coming to understand that they can vote to abolish the death penalty without losing their next election, as long as they avoid moralistic arguments and focus instead on factors like accuracy, fairness, and cost” (New York Times Upfront).
Capital Punishment is a financial drain on the system. “North Carolina could save nearly $11 million a year by abolishing capital punishment” (Death Penalty Debates). “The California Death Penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life. Taxpayers have paid more than $250 million for each of the state's executions” ( In an economic downturn such as the one we are currently facing is it acceptable to take money from education, healthcare for the poor and many other government assistance programs just to prove a point that we seem to need to keep proving over and over again (look at the stats!)? I don't believe it is. Wouldn't it make more economic and moral sense to put an end to the debate once and for all.
I believe that the death penalty should be abolished. I believe that the money that would have been spent on capital trials should be placed into the system, promoting education, supporting more mental health programs, and promoting peaceful interactions. A large reason for these murders is mental health problems, poverty, and/or a combination of the two. That is where the answer lies. Prevention.

~An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Benjamin Franklin~

"Capital Punishment." Encyclopedia.Issues & Controversies in American History. Facts On File News Services, n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2011. <>.Death Penalty Information Center. Web.28 August 2011.Donnelly, Paul. "Upon Penalty of Life." The New York Times Magazine24 Apr. 2011: 58(L). Academic OneFile. Web. 25 Sep. 2011."Dying out; Capital punishment." The Economist [US] 24 Sept. 2011: 73(US). Academic OneFile. Web. 25 Sep. 2011.Jost, K. (2005, September 23). Death penalty controversies. CQ Researcher, 15, 785-808. Retrieved from -- (2010, November 19). Death penalty debates. CQ Researcher, 20, 965-988. Retrieved from National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Web. 28 August 2011.Smith, Patricia. "The death penalty debate: Illinois has just become the 16th state to abolish the death penalty--a decision that has reignited the long-running battle over capital punishment." New York Times Upfront 18 Apr. 2011: 12+. Academic OneFile. Web. 25 Sep. 2011.

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