Dead Man Walking: A Framework for the Clash on Capital Punishment


Roughly twenty-four hours after Newsmunchies radio aired the first in a two-part series on the death penalty, two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 176.  Former Boston Police Commissioner Bill Bratton brazenly declared, “I think this act would be an appropriate use of the death penalty.”  What has emerged in the death penalty debate are three distinct points of contention, liberally peppered with bogus statistics.    

Deterrence:  The argument most often cited in support of capital punishment is that the threat of execution influences criminal behavior more effectively than imprisonment does.  Mark Elliott, the Executive Director for Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, disagrees and argues most capital crimes are committed in the heat of the moment when logical thinking has been suspended. The death penalty deters crime by taking criminals off the street but how does it discourage murder if ideological radicalism motivates people like the Boston bomber? 

Innocent People Die:  Carlos DeLuna, Troy Davis and Cameron Todd Willingham.  You do not know these names but you should.  In 1989, Texas executed Carlos DeLuna for a murder that he did not commit.  In 2011, Georgia put to death Troy Davis, a Black man who was likely innocent of the murder of a white off-duty police officer.  Texas in 2004 executed Cameron Todd Willingham for an arson-murder that an independent investigation found to be an accident.  You do not get another bite at the Lady Justice apple once an execution has been successful.       

Retribution:  In Gregg v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized retribution—the desire to kill the person who killed someone close to you—as being a legitimate expression of society’s moral outrage at offensive conduct.  For some, retribution cannot come fast enough.  Larry Mann was executed in Florida recently for murdering Elisa Nelson and her brother insisted, “We just watched that same man slip into a very peaceful sleep. That’s a far cry from how my sister passed.”  For others, like Journey of Hope’s Bill Pelke, retribution is a one-way ticket to nowhere.  Although he initially supported the death penalty imposed on the girl who murdered his grandmother, Bill now campaigns against capital punishment.  “The death penalty continues the cycle of violence and creates more murder victims family members.” 

Torture Statistics and They’ll Confess to Anything:  There are curious statistics bubbling over the capital punishment caldron from both sides of the debate, but the figures are colorless because they fail to account for the subtleties of human desire and capture merely what is on the surface.  Therefore, we must analyze whether those figures are logically compelling.  John Murphy, the Executive Director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association reasoned, “More studies show that the death penalty is a significant deterrent to murder.”  I question how one can track the idiosyncratic intent of a murderer.  In short, statistics are like clay: they manifest themselves in whatever shape you want them to be, and thus the result is in the eye of the artist. 

Coming Attractions:  I invite you to read my follow-up blog, “The Death Penalty as Effective Pest Control?”

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One thought on “Dead Man Walking: A Framework for the Clash on Capital Punishment

  1. The Death Penalty: Justice & Saving More Innocents
    Dudley Sharp

    The death penalty has a foundation in justice and it spares more innocent lives.

    Anti death penalty arguments are either false or the pro death penalty arguments are stronger.

    The majority populations of all countries, likely, support the death penalty for some crimes (1).

    Why? Justice.


    The Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy

    OF COURSE THE DEATH PENALTY DETERS: A review of the debate

    99.7% of murderers tell us “Give me life, not execution”


    1) Immanuel Kant: “If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death.”. “A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody else’s life is simply immoral.”

    2) Pope Pius XII; “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” 9/14/52.

    3) John Murray: “Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human life.” “… it is this same atrophy of moral fiber that appears in the plea for the abolition of the death penalty.” “It is the sanctity of life that validates the death penalty for the crime of murder. It is the sense of this sanctity that constrains the demand for the infliction of this penalty. The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal sanction which the violation of that sanctity merit.” (Page 122 of Principles of Conduct).

    4) John Locke: “A criminal who, having renounced reason… hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or tyger, one of those wild savage beasts with whom men can have no society nor security.” And upon this is grounded the great law of Nature, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Second Treatise of Civil Government.

    5) Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “In killing the criminal, we destroy not so much a citizen as an enemy. The trial and judgments are proofs that he has broken the Social Contract, and so is no longer a member of the State.” (The Social Contract).

    6) Saint (& Pope) Pius V: “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566).

    3200 additional pro death penalty quotes


    REBUTTAL: Common Anti Death Penalty Claims

    Saving Costs with The Death Penalty


    “Killing Equals Killing: The Amoral Confusion of Death Penalty Opponents”–very-distinct-moral-differences–new-mexico.aspx

    “The Death Penalty: Neither Hatred nor Revenge”

    “Moral/ethical Death Penalty Support: Christian and secular Scholars”

    “The Death Penalty: Not a Human Rights Violation”

    1) US Death Penalty Support at 80%; World Support Remains High
    95% of murder victim’s families support death penalty


    Murder Victims’ Families for Death Penalty Repeal: More Hurt For Victims:

    Much more, upon request.

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