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The death penalty degrades America Our shallow political culture can't stomach morality

An execution chamber in Huntsville, Texas. (Jerry Cabluck/Sygma via Getty Images)

An execution chamber in Huntsville, Texas. (Jerry Cabluck/Sygma via Getty Images)


February 3, 2024   9 mins

Last week, having tried and failed to kill him with the more traditional lethal injection, the state of Alabama suffocated Kenneth Smith to death for his role in a 1988 murder-for-hire. In this unprecedented method, which the state has called “nitrogen hypoxia”, the victim is forced to inhale pure nitrogen, depriving them of oxygen until they are dead. Though this technique was sold as a more humane form of execution, “nitrogen hypoxia” happens to be a bullshit, made-up term used to lend a veneer of scientific legitimacy to a barbaric style of state-sanctioned murder. Smith shook and spasmed in the 15 minutes before he died, appearing to witnesses to be in considerable pain.

Pragmatically, the case against the death penalty is impregnable. Hundreds of people on death row in the United States have been exonerated in the past 50 years alone, demonstrating the serial incompetence of our criminal justice system. There is no way to evaluate how many innocent people have been put to death, though there are dozens of cases where we now know that someone who was executed was probably innocent. You may dip back into history or stick to contemporary examples. Italian immigrants and anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were put to death in 1927 for robbery and murder despite another man having confessed to the crime, and were only officially exonerated more than half a century later. One of many more recent cases of likely wrongful execution occurred in 2004, when Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man accused of setting a fire that killed his three children, was administered a lethal injection, despite very shaky evidence of his guilt. The testimony of the fire marshal involved was comically unscientific and unreliable, but Texas governor Rick Perry appeared to manoeuvre behind the scenes to make sure Willingham was executed, in need of the political bump that (perversely) accompanies any use of the death penalty in Texas. Then there are those, like Anthony Apanovitch, who essentially everyone admits are innocent, but whom the legal system refuses to free from death row.

Supporters of the death penalty relentlessly harp on about cases where there is supposedly no doubt of guilt, but of course cops, prosecutors, and politicians always claim there is no doubt of guilt in any case they press. Confession is frequently seen as ironclad proof; in reality, confessions are routinely coerced or obtained under inappropriate circumstances. Richard Masterson’s supposed confession occurred while he was going through a brutal drug withdrawal, and the medical examiner who worked on his case was later fired for falsifying testimony and lying about his credentials. Masterson was put to death in 2016 all the same.

Richard Masterson on death row, the year the state killed him. (Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images)

And even where there is proof, there may be bias. The history of American executions, like all parts of our justice system, is rife with racism, even beyond the extra-judicial lynchings that stain our history. Since the end of the federal moratorium in 1976, application of the death penalty has disproportionately fallen on black and Hispanic men, and that’s just at the sentencing level. There’s an entire corpus of research into how the trials that lead to the sentencing phase are unduly influenced by race. On death row, the facts are stark: 41% of inmates on it are black people, who make up less than 14% of America’s population.

Even when the outcome is not an actual death sentence, the death penalty distorts our system and its underlying pursuit of justice. The potential for execution is routinely used as a threat through which false confessions and bad convictions are obtained; not coincidentally, 59% of death penalty-eligible murder cases in the past 50 years were found to have involved a supposed admission of guilt to authorities.

In any case, those vanishingly rare cases where there is genuinely ironclad certainty that a capital crime was committed can’t outweigh the dozens and dozens of cases where a sentence of death was unjustly handed down. The utter finality of death ensures that no mistake can ever be fixed. Those who are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit can never get the lost years back, but they can at least be freed, and receive financial compensation. If one innocent man is executed, that failure poisons every other execution, no matter what the facts of the crime are. That is an evil that cannot be taken back.

However you might want to quantify human life — and, for the record, I don’t think you should do that at all — the maths just doesn’t work out for the pro-execution side. Common intuition to the contrary, executing a prisoner in the United States costs more than jailing them for life. Even in the most execution-happy states, it will usually take more than a decade for the sentence to actually be carried out, and these years will (thankfully) be filled with complex appeals and legal wrangling that are immensely expensive for the state. It’s gross to engage in a dollars-and-cents justification for killing someone anyway, but if you’re committed to doing so, you’ll find the facts are against you. Especially given that the death penalty has never been proven to serve as a deterrent to committing capital crimes — partly because criminals who commit violent felonies are almost always the kind of people who do not think about consequences.

Those are, as I said, pragmatic reasons to oppose the death penalty. The more important objections are moral, and I’m afraid that they are axiomatic rather than quantifiable: intentionally taking human life is wrong under all circumstances; state-sanctioned executions degrade and implicate all of us; the world cannot be made more ethical through more human destruction. And, no, there is no one who I would exempt from this moral principle. Not Hitler, not anybody.

Michael Ross, a serial killer from Connecticut, confessed to killing eight women, most of whom he also raped, and provided corroborating details to the police. He was sentenced to death in 1987. After almost two decades on Connecticut’s death row, Ross began to advocate for his own execution and attempted to waive further legal appeals. Having converted to Catholicism in prison, he believed that an eternity in heaven lay ahead of him after death. His father fought to keep the appeals process going, as did his only surviving victim, Vivian Dobson, whom Ross had raped 20 years earlier; she had channelled her pain into staunch advocacy against the death penalty. I can only surmise that hearing her own traumatic experience used as a pretext to justify state-sanctioned murder offended her basic sense of right and wrong.

Ross, for his part, had endured a horrific childhood, faced with a mother who had succumbed to psychosis and attendant physical and sexual abuse. This kind of tragic backstory is not necessary for me to oppose someone’s execution — the right to not be killed is, like all rights, not deserved but rather endowed by virtue of being human — it does, however, add a certain degree of moral colour to the debate about Ross. The more we research, the more we learn that everyone’s life is battered by chance in a way that reduces our own personal agency and thus, potentially, our complicity. As for Ross’s own avowed desire to die, well, he said repeatedly that he would like to live but preferred death to the long uncertain process of waiting to die; that’s clearly a coerced endorsement of the desire to die, whatever he consciously felt.

I was there the night he was executed in May 2005. I had done some legal observation work for the National Lawyers Guild, a radical bar association that has defended protesters and activists for generations. The local Hartford NLG lawyer, a friend from anti-Iraq war organising, asked if I would be willing to trek up at midnight to the Osborn Correctional Institution, in the sleepy northern portion of the state, to film the scheduled protests. Ordinarily, the job of legal observation is tense, as the entire purpose is to survey the police and make sure they don’t engage in brutality or curtail anyone’s rights. But that night, the protest was calm and orderly and so were the cops, all the way up until 02:45 or so, when word spread that Ross was dead, and we all went home. The people carrying signs and singing there were a different breed of protester from the kind I was used to, older and churchy, but I deeply admired the moral clarity they showed in fighting for the life of a man who was a serial rapist and killer of women.

The vigil outside Osborn Correctional Institution the night Michael Ross was executed. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It’s possible that he may still have been alive and in prison today if not for his own vigorous efforts to speed his execution. Connecticut is one of many American states that, though it had not formally abolished the death penalty at that point, had made actual executions extremely infrequent; Ross’s was not only the first in Connecticut but the first in all New England since 1960. The practice was abolished in Connecticut in 2012, and further ruled unconstitutional by the state supreme court in 2015, resulting in commuted sentences for the 11 remaining inmates on death row.

Connecticut is one of only 23 states to have abolished the death penalty outright, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Meanwhile, 21 maintain its practice, while six are subject to some kind of moratorium, including California. As you might imagine, the map of which states do and do not permit the death penalty looks very much like the typical coasts-and-heartland divide in American politics generally. But the prevalence of execution varies dramatically even between states where the practice is legal, thanks to the usual vagaries of fate — chance, culture, precedent, path dependence. Idaho permits the death penalty, for example, but only three prisoners have been executed there since 1976; ultra-conservative Kansas has executed zero since then. Texas, meanwhile, averaged almost 25 executions a year in the Noughties — demonstrating, among other things, that when you build a seamless infrastructure for trying, convicting, and executing people for capital crimes, somebody’s gonna use it.

The United States federal justice system declared a temporary moratorium on executions after Joe Biden took office, although this status is likely to change should Donald Trump take the White House next year. After 17 years with no federal executions, the Trump administration presided over 13 of them, the most in 120 years; Trump has openly mused about bringing back the firing squad, should he win in 2024.

Yet despite being broadly divided along party lines, capital punishment does not, at present, figure much in the American culture war. I’m sure that the average MAGA lunatic would go to bat for the death penalty if challenged, just as the average too-online liberal would fight against it. But the issue is not on the menu of the day-to-day skirmishes that make American politics so enervating in 2024. (Search the op-ed pages of any major newspaper, search Twitter or YouTube, and compare how often the death penalty appears relative to, say, “cancel culture”.) The story of Smith has brought the issue back into the public eye, but only because of the novelty of the method used to kill him. This simply isn’t an issue that people want to argue about, in this era of political combat, despite the fact that attitudes towards it are emotional, partisan and fiercely divided.

These days, most political debates are about taking one of two procrustean sides and then mocking the other as a collection of sanctimonious elites or bigoted cretins, depending. The death penalty debate doesn’t lend itself to representing opponents as snowflakes or Trumpkins, doesn’t mould itself to the ugly social media-dominated habits of how we wage culture wars in the 21st century. It’s too strident, too simple, too direct. As an atheist, it feels strange to say, but the death penalty is in some ways a necessarily religious issue; your views on it will depend on fundamentally pre-political perceptions of basic moral value — and these are not fun to debate, as you’re forever running up against unassailable conflicts of belief. And that just isn’t the way we do politics now. Even in the face of all this strident yelling, there’s a sense in which speaking from a direct moral point of view is uncool. We aren’t serious enough for all of that.

The existence of the death penalty asks us to soberly and seriously consider exactly what we actually believe, not who we’re against or what tribe to which we belong. It requires us to treat ideas as if they are life or death. It insists that we maintain the most fragile state of all, in the 21st century: the state of unapologetic seriousness. And most people, it seems, are unwilling to abide by those terms.

Michael Ross and Kenneth Smith each saw the fundamentally religious reality of their dilemmas, or so it would seem. Both found their faith after being sentenced to death row. And in both cases, the odd irony of conservative Christians supporting the death penalty reveals itself. Evangelicals support the death penalty out of a fire-and-brimstone attachment to punishment for its own sake, not for reasons of speeding murderers along to heaven — yet their own theology suggests they’re quickening the condemned along the path to forgiveness. The Supreme Court has been consistent in affirming the state’s requirement to allow death row inmates to receive whatever last rights they desire, a demonstration of an at least mythical attachment to the possibility of redemption. Immediately before the execution, Smith was tended to by the Reverend Jeff Hood, a quirky Catholic opponent of the death penalty consistently referred to in the press as Smith’s “spiritual advisor”.

“The Bible says evil deeds have consequences,” said Michael Sennett, the son of Smith’s victim, the night of the execution. “Kenneth Smith made some bad decisions 35 years ago, and his debt was paid tonight.” Why someone looking for revenge would want to send a man to his eternal reward in a Christian heaven, I’ll never understand. For those of us left here on Earth, there’s the more mundane pain of the ongoing attempt to heal with destruction, the quixotic quest to undo violence with more violence.

“Nothing happened here today that’s going to bring mom back. Nothing,” said Sennett. And that, at least, I know is true.


Freddie deBoer is a writer and academic. His newsletter can be found at freddiedeboer.substack.com.


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David Lindsay
David Lindsay
2 months ago

The restoration of capital punishment would effectively decriminalise murder. Even if the legislation provided for it, then no judge could conceivably accept a majority verdict in a capital trial. In the Britain of the twenty-first century, there would always be at least one of 12 randomly assembled members of the general public who would vote to acquit anyone rather than risk the imposition of the death penalty. In fact, there would always be at least two or three. Those who wanted to bring back what they saw as higher qualifications for jurors would, if anything, increase that number.

If there were never any realistic possibility of a conviction for murder, then no one would ever be charged with it. Instead, ways would be found of convicting murderers of manslaughter, resentment of the injustice of which we have seen in Nottingham in recent days. So convicted, they would almost certainly be released earlier than if their records were of intentional homicide. Britain would become a very much more dangerous place.

In any case, who among the kind of people who became judges in today’s Britain would ever impose the death penalty? Who among the kind of people who became prosecutors in today’s Britain would ever seek its imposition, or chance that by bringing a charge of murder? Even if there were a high likelihood of conviction. Indeed, especially so, on principle. Elect them, you say? Well, Members of Parliament are elected, and they rejected capital punishment by 403 votes to 159 the last time that the House of Commons divided on it at all. Under a Conservative Government. 30 years ago this month.

Grumpy Old Git
GG
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago

Quite an interesting essay. I’d be curious to know what restrictions the author thinks there should be on abortion.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

I don’t think the two subjects are in any way related, though the fact you’re trying would imply your more interested in culture war bickering than debating the pros and cons of the article in question

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Not in any way? I absolutely think there is a matter of ethical consistency to consider with regard to the death penalty, abortion, and warfare (especially with a draft involved). However, I think one can be mostly opposed to or even mostly in favor of all three without falling into rank hypocrisy or inconsistency.
The sanctity of human life that is championed by staunch death penalty opponents should extend, at a minimum, to any fetus that can live outside the womb if given the chance. But I would still kill the Austrian-born villain (you know who) or someone like Ted Bundy who, months after his initial arrest, escaped from prison and committed several more murders before his re-capture. That’s the kind of person that makes my reluctant support of the death penalty–in certain extreme cases–very hard to kill. Inconsistent? Pardon me.

JW P
JW P
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I too am against the death penalty and I think Freddie well makes the case for its opposition in this article. I also think the death penalty does relate to abortion by his own words here. Simply replace “the death penalty” with “abortion” in this paragraph in his article to see the connection: “The existence of the death penalty asks us to soberly and seriously consider exactly what we actually believe, not who we’re against or what tribe to which we belong. It requires us to treat ideas as if they are life or death. It insists that we maintain the most fragile state of all, in the 21st century: the state of unapologetic seriousness. And most people, it seems, are unwilling to abide by those terms.” The death penalty and abortion are both issues which ask us to soberly and seriously consider exactly what we believe, not who we’re against or what tribe to which we belong. Both are issues of life or death. Both demand to be dealt with in a state of unapologetic seriousness. Innocent lives are occasionally taken in the death penalty. Innocent lives are always taken in an abortion. Both are injustices to the innocent life taken and in each issue someone needs to stand up and defend the innocent. I’d love to know if Freddie has written anything on abortion. Would love to hear his thoughts.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  JW P

I agree with that, they do both seem to fall in the realm of sheer opinion rather than any quantifiable data as to why you think the way you do, but I find linking them to be simply lazy and overly emotional.
Maybe that’s because I don’t class a foetus as a person in its own right until it can survive separated from its mother, whereas the possibility of killing an innocent fully fledged thinking human being for something they didn’t do troubles me

Theodor Adorno
TA
Theodor Adorno
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I think the tone you’ve adopted suggests that you’re projecting when you accuse someone else of “bickering”.
A few months ago a woman had her sentence overturned for having aborted a 32-34 week foetus/child during lockdown because she found the birth would be inconvenient because of her complicated domestic arrangements. The overturning of the sentence was welcomed by members of the commentariat like Iain Dale. I do think the moral inconsistency between those against the death penalty but supportive of that mother is relevant and worth thinking about.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Theodor Adorno

I agree I think it was wrong for that sentence to be overturned, the laws are set at the point they are for a reason (even if personally I’d knock the cut off back slightly), and to me what that lady did was borderline infanticide

Simon Boudewijn
SB
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

EXCELLENT point Old Git.

Abortion is one Million times more wicked than killing the murderers. So sick is society they love killing babies, but killing adult killers? No they love saving their life. Sick, sick, sick society.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago

You seem to be very ignorant, Simon.

Michael McElwee
MM
Michael McElwee
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

Yes, the writer’s breathlessness and proneness to gratuitous insults notwithstanding, it’s refreshing to hear someone stand up for the presumption of innocence. One remembers the cart loads of nuns forced up scaffolds in the late 1700s. Not to mention the hundreds of millions massacred in the early 20 century, on presumption that innocence comes only at the end of History. The modern world loves to make death. Hurray for this contrarian.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

Abortion is nowhere near the same as the death penalty if that’s what you’re getting at.

Tricia Wine
TW
Tricia Wine
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Abortion is the termination of a human life because it is inconvenient to allow it to continue.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Tricia Wine

So not true. There are so many, different reasons for abortion.

Brian Villanueva
BV
Brian Villanueva
2 months ago

Killing someone by hypoxia is VERY easy. It’s what chokeholds can do (and no, chokeholds don’t choke.) A member of my family committed suicide by taking sleeping pills and tying a large plastic bag over her head. The oxygen in the bag is gradually depleted until you die of hypoxia. We have no idea whether she fell sleep before she died or not, because there’s no thrashing or any other sign of hypoxia. You get a little loopy and then you pass out.
I believe, this is what the “nitrogen hypoxia” theory was supposed to replicate. Getting a straight answer about what happens in an execution is VERY hard, since essentially everyone who ever witnesses one is either a participant or has an agenda. However, it appears Freddie overstates his case with “he spasmed for 15 minutes”. Eyewitnesses (even those withi an agenda) said it was about 2 minutes and the warden who has observed lots of executions said it was typical. (https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/happened-nations-nitrogen-gas-execution-ap-eyewitness-account-106725727) However even that is absurd.

Nathan Sapio
NS
Nathan Sapio
2 months ago

Glad I click on the article to be able to read your comment

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

There is off course a variant :- Autoerotic asphyxiation or AA to its friends.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago

I wonder if the yanks would allow an audience to witness that execution? Would certainly make the evangelicals clutch their pearls watching the condemned going at himself while it’s going on

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Do you recall “snuff movies” by any chance?

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago

It was never my genre of choice to be honest, I was always more of a Mary Poppins type of film buff

Nell Clover
NC
Nell Clover
2 months ago

It’s worth noting that the automatic bodily sense of suffocation comes from higher levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. That then triggers the panic that your friend mitigated by sleeping pills.

If instead the air being breathed is entirely depleted of oxygen, the body near instantly stops producing carbon dioxide (as there’s no oxygen store for cells to produce more carbon dioxide), there is no significant rise in blood carbon dioxide, and the body has no automatic sense of suffocation.

The effect of depleted oxygen environments is well observed because it infrequently occurs in industrial accidents involving inert atmospheres. A common one is argon fire suppression systems. HSE reports into several of these accidents record that the victims were unaware of the changing atmosphere before silently succumbing. All such systems come with that explicit warning.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago

Use Fentanyl.

Jane Awdry
JA
Jane Awdry
2 months ago

It was ‘typical’. That’s ok then.

Christopher
C
Christopher
2 months ago

Since we no longer produce sodium Pentothal , and the EU won’t sell it to us for executions, propofol can take its place. Used daily for over 30 years to anesthetize patients for anesthesia , the mild irritation while infused is the excuse for “ cruel and unusual” punishment. Give me a break.

Will K
WK
Will K
2 months ago

The air is 80% nitrogen. FAA studies show pilots reduced of oxygen, but being given plenty of nitrogen, due to high altitude just fall asleep. That being said, the US “Justice system” is largely illogical, oppresive, frequently unjust and always cruel. It never helps, unless more suffering is considered helping.

Nathan Sapio
NS
Nathan Sapio
2 months ago

News break: one of the functions of the state since the dawn of time is to put people to death.

Either the state does it, typically after performing some kind of delineated process (imperfect, but optimizable); or grieved individuals do it, typically after undergoing emotional grief and only with this limited perspective in mind.

Either you 1) pursue justice as best as possible or 2) you b**ch about it like as naive child without improving the situation while giving aside to those who 3) allow victimizers to take advantage of the weak on the whole.

Tony Taylor
TT
Tony Taylor
2 months ago

The execution of the innocent is, by itself, enough of a reason to ban the death penalty.

Wilfred Davis
WD
Wilfred Davis
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

Is it, though?

Again and again we read of people who have been wrongly convicted and spent many, many years in prison.

By the logic of your argument, to avoid the risk of imprisonment of the innocent, prison should also be banned.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Imprisonment of the innocent is indeed a terrible thing, however at least you can attempt to make it up to them if they’re later found to be innocent. You can’t do that if they’re six feet under

Wilfred Davis
WD
Wilfred Davis
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Yes, I get that.

But, as you rightly say, it’s only ‘attempt’ to make it up to them after many years in prison, their life irreparably damaged and maybe few years left to live. The harm’s done, and can’t be undone.

My point is to question the strength of the argument that the risk of penalising the innocent is so persuasive ‘by itself’ that a particular punishment should be banned.

If one form of punishment, why not another?

I am not putting forward the desirabilty of capital punishment. I am not putting forward the undesirabilty of prison.

My question is about the validity or persuasiveness of lines of reasoning.

Tony Taylor
TT
Tony Taylor
2 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Mr Bob covered it neatly.

Wilfred Davis
WD
Wilfred Davis
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

Perhaps.

Unfortunately, my response to Mr Bob, which I posted shortly after his comment appeared, has disappeared into the ether.

Grumpy Old Git
GG
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

Certainly sounds like a reason to ban abortion. Except there we execute the innocent and call it health care.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

Well, you certainly are an old git.

Grumpy Old Git
GG
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Change the record, Clare. The needle’s stuck.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

Hey grumpy, are you open-minded enough to watch a movie called “Trial by Fire’ on Prime Video? It’s the true story of an innocent man in Texas who was executed. I’d be most interested in hearing your feedback.

Simon Boudewijn
SB
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

Death by Medical errors is one of the largest, it not the largest, cause of death in USA. Joh Hopkins says it is over 250,000 a year – and they are a hospital, so way under report – but a quick screen grab of MSM, MSNBC

Medical errors, including wrong diagnoses, botched surgeries and medication mistakes, are the third leading cause of death in the United States, a new study suggests.”

I suppose then you ban Doctors from practicing medicine?

George K
GK
George K
2 months ago

What happened to the old good bullet in the head? Or another reliable tool a guillotine? It’s such a fake humanitarianism to torture even the worst offender the rest of his life by American jail instead of putting him out of his misery.
Is it indeed more expensive to execute one or to lodge, feed and pay regular lawyer expenses (applying for parole) for the rest of his life?
The best argument against capital punishment is judicial mistakes , but maybe it’s the reason to improve the system?
And how about mistakes on the other side releasing rapists to commit more crimes?
And in any case that’s the rules of the game. It’s not perfect and we’ll all die in the end.
And capital punishment is not about deterrence, it’s about social contract. The state owes me security and the simple fact is that the worst criminal when dead is entirely safe to be around

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  George K

If they’re locked up for life though then they also pose no risk to the public, and you don’t run the risk of topping an innocent person

Fafa Fafa
FF
Fafa Fafa
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

How about incarcerating an innocent person for life? Feel better about it?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

Yes to be honest, as there’s always a chance that mistake could be corrected. Something that’s impossible if you’ve done them in

Tom Blanton
TB
Tom Blanton
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

“…that mistake could be corrected.” Nope. No way to correct decades of a person’s life spent in prison. Those years can’t be given back.

Tony Price
TP
Tony Price
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom Blanton

Perhaps you should ask those many wrongly incarcerated people, subsequently exonerated, if they would have preferred to die rather than be freed later, even if that was may years later, which it is not always the case. Or perhaps you are languishing innocently in jail, or were until released, so that you can speak with any authority at all.

Eleanor Barlow
EB
Eleanor Barlow
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom Blanton

Yes, they would have lost those years, but someone wrongfully convicted and imprisoned could be line for a substantial compensation payment if subsequently proven to be not guilty.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

Not in the UK where they are likely to be charged for ‘food and accommodation’ during those ‘LOST’ years.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom Blanton

They can’t be given back but at least they’d have some time to spend as a free person, which is more than they’d have if you execute them. It’s certainly the lesser of two evils

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

But isn’t quality of life more important than quantity?

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Suppose it depends on how good and what time frame.
However if you give me the option of spending 20 years inside and then being found innocent, I’d take that over being hanged and then being exonerated after my death

Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom Blanton

No. But you know that’s a weak argument. They can of course be released. We cannot resurrect the dead

Jane Awdry
JA
Jane Awdry
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom Blanton

So does that mean – if a prisoner can’t benefit from exoneration after years of incarceration, you might just as well have killed him? Oh, ok.

marianna chambless
MC
marianna chambless
2 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

It’s an imperfect system. If one is convicted of murder, they must be removed from society, but there is a chance to appeal and be exonerated. If executed, you have no such chance.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

A lot of innocent people are being freed via the Innocence Project who would not have been freed were they executed.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It’s too expensive.

marianna chambless
MC
marianna chambless
2 months ago

I was astounded when a college friend maintained that 60 years ago. It really made me think about it. While it is more expensive, don’t we want a world that doesn’t base decisions so completely on money? And maybe those billions we find for war, could be used to offset the costs of not executing prisoners.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago

But why is so expensive to keep people in jail?

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Prisons aren’t cheap places to run. All the cameras, guards, various security systems, food, water, rehabilitation attempts etc. It soon adds up

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

They used to be when we used Hulks.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

The Prison Warders* Union, and the supine behaviour of the wretched Home Office.
.

(*Now called Officers for some inexplicable reason.)

Isabel Ward
IW
Isabel Ward
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Depends who you think the public are. Many prison officers have been corrupted by prisoners.

Rob C
RC
Rob C
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The issue is keeping them locked up for life. There’s been more than once instance of a U.S. state governor doing mass releases of murderers on his way out of office. Also, the very same people who oppose capital punishment also work very hard to make sure no one is locked up for life.

Jane Awdry
JA
Jane Awdry
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob C

I oppose killing people for killing people but I don’t oppose incarcerating people for killing people. Sorry to mess up those tidy little boxes you sweep everyone into..

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  George K

Your first two are just too messy for ultra squeamish ‘modern man’ to deal with.

Over ‘here’ we always found hanging worked rather well, although we did to have to drug* the recipients occasionally.

(*Brandy.)

Gayle Rosenthal
GR
Gayle Rosenthal
2 months ago
Reply to  George K

Exactly – the reason Kenneth Smith “suffered” was the manner of his death. He could have been dead in an instant with a bullet. The euthanasia chemical they use for animals is also quick and painless.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago

As is Fetanyl.

Jane Awdry
JA
Jane Awdry
2 months ago

This is ghoulish.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago

I wouldn’t like to see the death penalty reintroduced for 3 reasons.
Firstly I don’t believe it’s a deterrent, the countries that have it still tend to have higher rates of murder than those that don’t. I understand murder rates are complex and the result of many variables but I think most are either spur of the moment or done in the belief you won’t get caught at all as opposed to the punishment you’ll receive.
Secondly I don’t believe it would be applied evenly. Somebody from a wealthy powerful background would be much more likely to avoid it than somebody from a poor background, even if their crimes were greater.
Lastly, but most importantly, if you execute the wrong person you can never undo it.
There’s a few lesser reasons, such as having friends and family who are screws or social workers and hearing the depraved upbringings some of these people have had means I have a degree of sympathy that I never had when I was younger, but these are of much lesser importance than the main three reasons.
I don’t doubt some people deserve death for their crimes, but the risk of executing an innocent person far outweighs the benefit of bumping off a guilty one in my eyes

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I respect your point of view on this issue and almost agree with it. I might come over to your abolitionist camp (speaking from an American point of view, where most states allow it) if I thought all the worst criminals could be safely held in prison. But what of a bloody autocrat who has supporters ready to bust him out, or someone like Ted Bundy, who lost 40 pounds, escaped through a vent, and committed several more murders before they caught him again?

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

These are exceptions that prove the rule.

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

But if you make the rule absolute how do you corral the most dangerous and devious killers? I think that in our current world the ultimate penalty should be rare, yet available in extreme cases. In America there are multiple “exceptions” that fit my criteria every year. Not many though.

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

If you could be sure you’d never execute and innocent person, would that change my view? Is my objection to the death sentence pragmatic or moral? I don’t know. If you could prove to me that the death penalty saved innocent lives – what would I think then?
I do know I don’t believe in the death penalty but hanging is definitely too good for some people.
Anyone who deliberately targets children, old people, disabled people or even defenceless animals disgusts me. I don’t think I should ever be given power over someone who’d tortured any living creature, because I would want to watch their suffering and that’s not a good thing.
My response is emotional and paradoxical I know. But in a referendum I would vote against.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

Good question, and the honest answer is that I don’t know. If you could have some perfect system whereby no wrongful convictions could ever occur and the rich and powerful were punished the same as the poor then my opposition to it may diminish, but unfortunately I don’t think a system will ever be possible. We’ll always be reliant on humans to investigate the crimes, weigh the evidence and decide the appropriate punishment, and we humans will always be flawed creatures with our predetermined opinions and biases

Cal RW
Cal RW
2 months ago

In my youth I strongly opposed capital punishment and agreed with sentiment expressed by the author. Then in 1980, I was exposed to the Steven Judy case. His crimes were heinous and at his trial he confessed, threatened to kill the judge, jury, and lawyers. He promised that if they did not convict him and put him to death he would continue to kill. Despite my opposition to capital punishment, there was no question in my mind; he needed to be executed. Same with Ted Bundy, Timothy McVeigh, and many other cold blooded murderers.

Chuck de Batz
CD
Chuck de Batz
2 months ago
Reply to  Cal RW

He needed to be executed, or he deserved to be executed?

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Chuck de Batz

Both.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Chuck de Batz

Both!

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Cal RW

I share your point of view: we need sparing recourse to that ultimate penalty for the most depraved or unrepentant killers.

Tony Price
TP
Tony Price
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

And how do you decide the point at which someone is absolutely, definitely guilty as opposed to guilty ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’?

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I don’t as a jury of one. But Dylann Roof’s public, execution-style murder of nine churchgoers, with his openly racist motives, comes to mind. So does the Las Vegas shooter. Many but not all mass shooters take themselves out before capture, yet lack the decency to start by killing themselves. Or they lack a sense of lasting “reward”.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

” They lack a sense of lasting reward?” I don’t understand that.

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Karma or an afterlife.
*Or even a proper fear of the lasting evil that can be left behind, in a real-world way, after such an act.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I can relate to the” lasting evil left behind”. Our actions have a ripple effect that’s for sure.

Grumpy Old Git
GG
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Clare, we can explain it for you but we can’t understand it for you.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

You, obviously, don’t realize that you are projecting your own ignorance, you old git.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Some cases are blatantly obvious.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Exactly. It shouldn’t be automatic if a person is found guilty but can be used if it’s very obvious that they are..

Tony Price
TP
Tony Price
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I don’t have a problem with that, but how and where do you draw that line? I don’t think that it is possible to do so.

Milton Gibbon
MG
Milton Gibbon
2 months ago

The second to last paragraph is exactly the problem, the author doesn’t understand the other side. Other phrases such as describing Kansas (which voted down anti-abortion measures in 2022) as “ultra-conservative” and describing the popularity of the death penalty’s use in line with the law as perverse or the use of MAGA lunatics to smear the other side makes a critical reader who agrees with the author think there is another motive. Indeed there is, to drag the debate into the vortex of the culture war.
Unherd, you’ve got to wheedle these sort of things out in editing – they aren’t necessary or helpful. This article could be read in the Gurdian for free, it isn’t worth paying for. Try to find journalists who do understand the other side to have a good article.

Matt M
MM
Matt M
2 months ago

In the last ten years before the death penalty was abolished (1955-1965) 47 murderers were executed in England and Wales. All of the cases have been reviewed multiple times. None of the convictions were found to be unsafe.

Every year since The Murder Act abolished capital punishment has had a murder rate 3-4 times higher than the 1955-1965 period.

In the ten years 2011-2021, 20 people in England and Wales were murdered by people who had previously served a prison sentence for murder.

Hanging was a perfectly humane method of execution. And the Singaporeans still use equipment based on the British design (ditto their caning horses for less serious criminals).

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Interestingly the Israelis have preserved the two British gallows that did such sterling work during the Palestine Mandate 1919-1948.

One is in the former ‘Russian Compound’ in Jerusalem, the other in what used to be Acre Gaol. Both were in ‘working order’ as I recall.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago

No doubt a good few Palestinian kids have been dangling from them recently knowing the Israelis, for the heinous crime of throwing stones at the IDF

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

They are no longer ‘in use’ but rather acts as shrines to Jewish terrorists we hanged for various atrocities committed during the Mandate.

mike otter
MO
mike otter
2 months ago

Well the 91 dead in the King David hotel look pretty small beer in history’s relativist rear view mirror. Recent events clearly down to Islamists at ground level, but remember the Oslo accord was de-railed by a Charadim(?) Zionist. What’s different this time is BBC/Labour etc totally missing this point and calling for Shoah #2. Their mentors spent 1933-45 trying extirpate Judaism amongst other groups, and how did that end? First sovereign Jewish state for over 2000 years, a free market democracy and packing nukes to boot. Lefites wonder why they can never win in free elections? partly due to most ppl aren’t stupid enough to fall for the “pie in the sky when you die” promise, but also cos most of us get on with other ethnic groups and certainly don’t want to get involved in their fights when its f-all to do with us!

Micheal MacGabhann
MM
Micheal MacGabhann
2 months ago

I think this publication was designed just for you Charles.

Gayle Rosenthal
GR
Gayle Rosenthal
2 months ago

And these should be used routinely on terrorists. Israel is one country that is seriously in danger of disappearing if she doesn’t get punitive toward the enemy within.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 months ago

This country is not far behind.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago

Which country?

Grumpy Old Git
GG
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Clare, if ignorance could make a noise you’d be a foghorn.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

Funny!

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

You’ve got it in for me, haven’t you? Don’t confuse a willingness to admit to not knowing something, with ignorance. We don’t know what we don’t know, but ignorance is not knowing and having no interest in knowing.

Westly LaFleur
WL
Westly LaFleur
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

No, that is literally obtuseness.

Alan Elgey
Alan Elgey
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Not really, Clare. You are equating ignorance in a pejorative sense: lack of intelligence or stupidity. That is not its real meaning which is lack of knowing (about something).
There is no shame in willing to admit to such lack of knowledge, which you did in your post which sparked this.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan Elgey

As I clarified above. There are commenters from all over the world, so saying “this country” could be any country.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan Elgey

And so in what sense of the word do you suppose Grumpy old Git meant it?

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

There are commenters here from all over the world. It seems like a valid question.

Howard S.
HS
Howard S.
2 months ago

In the enlightened Muslim world, the condemned have their heads chopped off. are publicly hanged on large cranes, or simply thrown off of a roof onto the pavement below.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago

Do they use them?

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

They are no longer ‘in use’ but rather acts as shrines to Jewish terrorists we hanged for various atrocities committed during the Mandate.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago

Thank you for educating me.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

About what?

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago

The British gallows.

Bernard Brothman
BB
Bernard Brothman
2 months ago

Then the Israelis should put them to us.

Addie Shog
AS
Addie Shog
2 months ago

It’s so weird that some very strange people manage to find a way to attack Israel when there is no relevance to the article being discussed. Such a habit is surely a pathological hatred against the Jewish state. Now let me try to think to wonder why this might be the case…..

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

The abolition perfectly illustrates what is wrong with our system.
At the time as I recall there was NO public clamour for abolition, far from it. However Parliament had discovered its ‘social conscience’ and was determined to ride roughshod over the will of the people.

Since then, as you correctly say the Murder rate has soared and this despite desperate attempts to manipulate the figures by the blatant downgrading of many murders to the lesser charge of manslaughter.

If we held a referendum today* on the issue I wonder what the result would be?

(* Which we should, if our much vaunted democracy is really worth anything.)

Mike Doyle
MD
Mike Doyle
2 months ago

I think you meant illustrates, although given the lack of serious engagement in the matter by the powers-that-be, illiterates is quite apropos.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Yes, thanks!
That damned auto- gremlin who lurks inside my I pad

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago

A bad workman blames his tools!

Alan Elgey
AE
Alan Elgey
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Indeed, but tools don’t usually bite back which, in this sort of instance, iPads certainly do.

Tony Price
Tony Price
2 months ago

The whole point of our democracy is that it is ‘representative’ – ie we elect people to represent us, and can unelect them if we don’t like the way that they do so. Start holding plebiscites on stuff and where does it end?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

We we’ve had a few already on other little issues. Besides it seems to work very well in that paragon of virtue….Switzerland.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago

That’s not really the point, is it? The point is innocent people have been killed via the death penalty and juries are reluctant to find someone guilty if the death penalty is on the table.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Derek Bently, Timothy Evans, Edith Thompson. All three hangings were widely considered to be unsafe. Its very difficult to overturn miscarriages of justice in the UK but the evidence is strong that none of these three should have been executed. Excellent article, by the way.

Matt M
Matt M
2 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

All three of those executions took place before 1955. You can find many miscarriages of justice if you trawl the archives – try Foxe’s Book of Matryrs if you want some belters.

But in the last decade before abolition – the era with the closest techniques to modern police work – there were no miscarriages. And since then the technology innovations: forensics, cctv, ubiquitous camera phones, SIM tracking etc have massively decreased the possibility of a judicial error.

As in earlier days, the Home Secretary would have the right to commute capital sentences where there was any doubt about the verdict or where insanity etc is suspected. When Winston Churchill was Home Sec, he commuted half of all death sentences to life imprisonment.

I’m sure you would agree that those 20 people who were murdered by previously convicted murderers in the last ten years suffered terrible miscarriages of justice. Had those criminals swung, those poor innocent souls would still be alive.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

At least he didn’t chuck in Ruth Ellis.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Does killing a murderer bring peace to the family of the victim? I think that’s an important point. I have always thought they should be asked what is a just punishment.

Andrew McDonald
AM
Andrew McDonald
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

The principle, I thought, is that the crime is against the state, not the victim. Otherwise we fall into the trap of judging the victim’s worth as well as the criminal’s intent.

Steven Targett
Steven Targett
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

If a member of my family particularly a child was murdered, I’d be quite happy to execute the perpetrator myself.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

The Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4 would all presumably have hanged

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

As the late Lord Denning would have wished.

Simon Boudewijn
SB
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

a long crocodile tear fest of an article. Send this guy to the Ukraine front – let him pick out the bodies and eall us how innocent they are.

Send this bed wetter to Gaza and let him say who of the dead is innocent of guilty.

F this killer – I do not care it took 15 minutes. Lots more of the same is needed, lots more.

THINK OF Victims! Oh, I forgot – the criminals Are the victims to a lefty.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago

I thought it was a well-balanced article.

Jane Awdry
Jane Awdry
2 months ago

I don’t know what a ‘lefty’ is as I have views that range all over the political spectrum, depending on the issue. But this kind of gleeful rant on a cold-blooded killing sounds deranged. If you consider it wrong for someone else to commit murder (and it is) how do you logically justify committing it yourself?

Point of Information
PO
Point of Information
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

A couple of deBoer’s worries about the risk of false convictions could be resolved as follows:

1. An automatic 10 year holding period between sentencing and execution to allow exonerating evidence, if any, to come to light. No rushing. This should deter political meddling.

2. If an executed person was later found to be innocent, substantial compensation to be paid his/her beneficiaries (with priority given to offspring/dependents, then spouses or partners, then any other nominated beneficiaries). The compensation to be paid by any parties, including public organisations, who failed to investigate properly, lied, withheld evidence, used duress, etc.

The cruelty of execution systems could be avoided if the same process were used as for assisted suicide, which many people choose to undertake and is intended to be painless.

To the moral principal one can only respond that all victims also had a right to life, as do future victims of repeat offenders, including victims who are fellow inmates in prison. Solitary confinement is also viewed as a form of torture by some authorities, so capital punishment occurs where the rights of one person (the murderer) conflict with the rights of another (a potential victim).

If you don’t believe in heaven or hell, this is always going to be a value judgement:
– uphold the right to life for all even when this results in some of the population being murdered, or
– adopt capital punishment which abridges the rights of those who pose a risk of death to others, or
– mandate solitary confinement which protects the right to life of all but may amount to torture (both legally and because the effect of solitary confinement will be different for each prisoner).

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

What does “caning horses for less serious criminals” mean?
One wonders why Texas doesn’t use the easily available and effective Fentanyl for its executions.

Sylvia Volk
SV
Sylvia Volk
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Presumably the equipment that criminals in Singapore are strapped onto before they’re caned, Clare.

Matt M
Matt M
2 months ago
Reply to  Sylvia Volk

Correct! Also known as a punishment horse or flogging frame. The British design is favoured because it protects the prisoner from the strokes of the rattan cane hitting their back which can cause permanent damage rather than their buttocks.

Corporal punishment in Singapore is mandatory, in addition to a prison sentence, for people that commit certain crimes including rape, drug dealing and overstaying a visa (to deter illegal immigration). They have their heads screwed on these Singaporeans.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Sylvia Volk

Thank you for explaining. Not to be confused with “Flogging a dead horse”!

Chipoko
Chipoko
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Hear! Hear!
The argument that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent loses its ‘oumpf’ in the face of such facts. In any case, the deterrence angle is irrelevant. If people commit the ultimate crime (unless there are any doubts or genuine mitigating circumstances to warrant imprisonment instead of death) then they have forfeited their right to continued existence. In this respect, the death penalty is a consequence, not a punishment. Continued imprisonment is a punishment.

Andrew Roman
AR
Andrew Roman
2 months ago

The author forgot to look at what other Western countries do.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

The majority don’t

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The Japanese have an interesting approach.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago

I never thought of myself as particularly soft, but the way the Japs keep them in the dark until the day makes even me feel slightly sorry for them

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

What’s wrong with CRUCIFIXION? It was good enough for Jesus.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago

Not environmentally friendly enough, having to chop down trees for the crosses

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

A good point, I hadn’t considered that!

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago

“Nail ‘em up I say! Nail some sense into them!”

R Wright
RW
R Wright
2 months ago

While i know you mean it in jest, crucifixion is agonising. Not sure anyone deserves it.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Mind you Jesus was fortunate to get off with a ‘Friday afternoon job’!
A mere three hours or so of agony rather than the normal three days.

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
2 months ago

The Roman scourging probably shortened the time.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Helen Nevitt

Yes, how very thoughtful of them. I’d never thought of Pontius Pilate being slightly ‘woke’ but I may have alter my opinion of him.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago

It’s all hearsay.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I’m not a religious man but as far as I’m aware Jesus did exist and was crucified. It’s the whole son on God business and rising from the dead where things get a little far fetched in my opinion

Grumpy Old Git
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Well, yes – apart from the eyewitness accounts and the government records.

AC Harper
AH
AC Harper
2 months ago

Pragmatically, the case against the death penalty is impregnable.

Not so. Criticism of the American way of doing things is well deserved, but some convicted killers do go on to kill others in prison or on release. Those extra deaths are an argument for the death penalty in certain cases.
Execution should be certain, swift, and rare. An expectation that the American system does not observe.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Romans 13

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Exactly.

Stephen Follows
SF
Stephen Follows
2 months ago

Nonsense. Rewarding murderers with free board and lodging for life is what really degrades a country.

Grumpy Old Git
GG
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago

And free healthcare, entertainment, recreation.

Simon Boudewijn
SB
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

As that recreation often involved tormenting hapless people who have ended up in prison for stupid mistakes – that is a real tragic consequence of the twisted ‘Humanity’ the writer talks of.

This guy sheds enough crocodile tears in his TLDR thing above they could have waterboarded him first.

Jane Awdry
JA
Jane Awdry
2 months ago

You seem nice.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

Love your user name.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I’d say more condescending than grumpy, without really making any points of their own

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Exactly.

peter lucey
peter lucey
2 months ago

Deleted

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
2 months ago

Although I am generally opposed to the death penalty, I am am more wedded to democracy. If ‘the people’ want the death penalty to be in place, it should be.

R Wright
RW
R Wright
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Nobody has offered me a referendum on it.

Christina Dalcher
Christina Dalcher
2 months ago

“ The utter finality of death ensures that no mistake can ever be fixed.”

I actually wrote a novel (The Sentence) around this theme.

For me, irreversibility in the case of a wrongful execution is the ultimate clincher. I’m not saying the DP is justified in cases of ‘ironclad’ evidence (if such a thing exists), but the idea of executing even one innocent human being triggers a visceral reaction in me.

As for botched executions—there are plenty of them, and the stories make for difficult reading
over at the Death Penalty Information Center site.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

What is astonishing is that Mr Smith seems to spent nearly 36 years on Death Row!
Back in 1960 we were all rather surprised that one Caryl Chessman was executed after a mere 12 years!

Presumably lawyers ‘wax fat’ on this extraordinary ‘flash to bang’ procedure?

Jonathan Andrews
JA
Jonathan Andrews
2 months ago

Pragmatically, the case against the death penalty is impregnable. Hundreds of people on death row in the United States have been exonerated in the past 50 years alone.

I agree and made a similar comment to an article in the Spectator. The response was that such deaths were a reasonable price to pay to punish or to deter.

Many people believe this. My response to the callous remark to question how they’d feel were it someone close to them being wrongly convicted was met with an accusation that I was emotional.

Many people believe the opposite of your very congent essay, no matter what.

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
2 months ago

Hundreds? That’s not so. There have been wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence, but there’s been no hundreds of capital cases in this equation.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 months ago

Re the botching, Canada and Dignitas seem to be able to put hundreds of people to death each year, presumably without any of the scenes depicted here.
The debate is a complex moral issue. The “he thrashed for 15 minutes” emotional appeal should not be part of the discussion.

I’m also not sure why the concept of justice was not discussed. Cost benefit, mistakes, or excusing wrong doing because of a bad background, are surrounding issues but surely the central issue is around justice. The very human concept of some sort of fairness. As always the article deals only with the perpetrator. What about the victim and their family?

If somebody killed somebody near to me I would want and expect some sort of retribution. A whole life sentence that finished up being 8 or 10 years, as so often happens, would not hack it.

Nell Clover
NC
Nell Clover
2 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Assisted dying is safe and peaceful.

Execution is unpredictable and torturous.

Go figure.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Assisted dying is quick and painless because the state is able to buy the drugs they need to make it happen. Most companies now won’t sell their products to be used in executions

Simon Boudewijn
SB
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

That is weird they would be too dainty to sell medical products to kill murderers, but killed 170 MILLION innocents with their deadly vax to make $ Billions! And still counting! Must be the money involved – and the insane political point scoring as the Bio-Medical-Pharma industry is more than happy to kill masses if it makes a profit – but not much off the death penalty – so they can claim a moral high ground although they are the most wicked industry; (with the Military Industrial Complex). ”Satan smiling with delight” is what happens at their board meetings.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago

Considering the deaths attributed to Covid stand at about 7 million worldwide (and that’s likely largely overinflated due to the way the data was collected), where on earth do you get 170 million deaths from the vaccine?

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

True. As I keep saying use Fentanyl.

R Wright
R Wright
2 months ago

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Good old Arnaud Almaric!
You can always rely on a Cistercian to get it right.

Gayle Rosenthal
Gayle Rosenthal
2 months ago

I am 100% in favor of the death penalty for heinous premeditated murder. I don’t need to spend time justifying my position because it’s obvious. To be concerned about the execution of a wrongfully convicted person is a legitimate concern however there is a solution to this problem. Our US Constitutional standard is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is perfect for the guilt phase of a trial. And then comes the sentencing phase of the trial. There is no reason the standard for imposition of the death penalty could not be even stricter – absolute certainty. We are ever more able to prove with surveillance and DNA testing, who is guilty of murder with absolute certainty. It’s good that we are a compassionate society, but to expend our compassion on depraved killers warps our own sense of justice and makes our communities less safe. A simple procedural change can insure we do not execute the wrongly convicted and we should establish this procedurally and then execute the killers who wrongly pull and manipulate our heart strings.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago

Well said.

Howard S.
HS
Howard S.
2 months ago

Check out Norman Mailer and John Henry Abbott. Author Mailer led a campaign to free convicted murder John Henry Abbot from prison. He was finally freed. Not long after his release, Abbot got into an argument with a Filipino waiter in a NY restaurant and stabbed the waiter to death. Mailer was asked to comment, but was not available, “out of the country” or something like that. Forgotten history. Our Elite, I believe, gets a sexual thrill out of the thought of a strong, violent male performing unspeakable acts on his victims (surrogates for themselves). The reason why bi-sexual Leonard Bernstein was so attracted to the extremely violent Black Panthers and regularly hosted parties where he and his elite could marvel, drool and fantasize over these violent black males who openly expressed their intentions of raping and killing them. Are any of them innocent? Ask them. Most will say that they are. Juries and our legal system said otherwise.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Howard S.

Mailer also tried to kill one of his wives, so you might be onto something here.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Howard S.

Why is Mailer so revered over there?
Surely he was no more that a bog standard pervert with a certain way with words?

N Satori
N Satori
2 months ago

More to the point: why do artists and writers such as Mailer view violent criminals with admiration? Do they see a free spirit unrestrained by petty social mores where the rest of us just see a dangerous thug?

J Rose
JR
J Rose
2 months ago

This argument exists in a vacuum. If the central argument here is everyone has the right not to be killed, that includes everyone, including potential future victims. So there exists a point where the best, perhaps not only, but best way to protect their right is to remove singular and similar threats to their right to life.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

When looking at execution practices in the US you get the impression that procedures are intentionally designed to be cruel. Why don’t they just put the delinquent to sleep with an overdose medication used in surgery? Because they want him to suffer.
It’s all about revenge, to satisfy irrational, atavistic motives buried behind the mask of civilization we are so proud of. It will require another level of evolution to get over this barbarism, but I am far from sure that it would be possible at all.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I agree, having witnesses there and dragging it out over a long timeframe seems entirely unnecessary. Most civilised countries that still have the death penalty do it quickly and in private

Allison Barrows
AB
Allison Barrows
2 months ago

Two young men kidnapped a girl, raped and tortured her with all manner of electrical implements for three weeks as she begged for death, and finally killed her when they grew bored. Both men are alive and well and enjoying life in a federal penitentiary courtesy of the American tax payer.
No. No tears from me, no moral or religious dilemma. No tribal impulses. Those two men should be gone from this world. Where is the story from deBoer about their victim and her horrific suffering? About any of the victims of demons like them?

Damon Hager
DH
Damon Hager
2 months ago

As a Briton, I remain undecided on the death penalty. There have been miscarriages of justice (Google Timothy Evans), and I don’t really believe it’s a deterrent. Conversely, my focus is on the victim and his or her family. The strongest argument in favour is that it *may* give some closure to the latter.
Having said that, when we executed people (with expert hangmen deploying the drop method) it was done within a few months of the crime. Frankly, this American business of waiting decades seems grotesque to us, and it surely torments victims’ families.
P.S. As for the scum you mention in your example, I quite take your point.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

It doesn’t bring peace and closure to all victim’s families. Perhaps they should be asked what kind of punishment the killer should get.

neil pendleton
NP
neil pendleton
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Why does that matter? The murderer offends against all members of society, not just those related to the victim. The society that nurtures the the murderer offends against all future victims of murderers.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  neil pendleton

That’s rather abstract. It’s the loved ones who suffer and grieve. Society is an abstraction. What the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve over. We’re unaware of most murders unless we happen to hear about them in the news.

Jane Awdry
JA
Jane Awdry
2 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

It’s not and it never was a deterrent. Truly dreadful criminals are psychotic or sociopathic. They do what they do because they’re insane & they don’t think about consequences. To do it apparently ‘sanely’ via cold-blooded execution makes the executioner arguably even more ghoulish than the insane perpetrator.

Simon Boudewijn
SB
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago

In the twisted Liberal, postmodernist, atheist view of the writer all three are victims.

Jane Awdry
JA
Jane Awdry
2 months ago

Hurrah for the bloodthirsty god-botherers! I guess the idea is that the criminals go to ‘hell’? So quaint!

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Jane Awdry

Unless they repent, in which case all is forgiven

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
2 months ago

Barbaric
One word suffice

Wilfred Davis
WD
Wilfred Davis
2 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

Nope.

Grumpy Old Git
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

Ever watched an abortion video?

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

You’ll never have to make that choice on either issue.

Grumpy Old Git
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I’m a 35 year old woman, FYI.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

Then you should know better. I’m an 82-year-old straight woman who lived when abortion was illegal and there was no birth control for women.
You didn’t say if you were straight or gay.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

Why are you so keen to link the death penalty with abortion?

Grumpy Old Git
GG
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Why are you so anxious to blur the distinction between killing the innocent and killing the guilty?

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

Because I don’t class a foetus as a living person, at least until it’s developed enough to survive separated from the mother

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Exactly! Judaism says life begins when the baby is born.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Babies are properly born when the desire to have them in the hearts of their parents is realized.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Or when the mum forgets to take her pill, as has been the case with my brats

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Funny, bad luck!!

Bret Larson
BL
Bret Larson
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I think that’s what I said.

Bret Larson
BL
Bret Larson
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

Worse, I was in a abortion clinic in Berkeley. They had a thing that looked like a garage vacuum cleaner that had a glass top so you could see the parts recovered.

But enough said about that.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

What were you doing there if you weren’t having an abortion? And for the judgemental here, count yourself lucky you never had to have a back-street abortion.

Bret Larson
BL
Bret Larson
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I was there not aborting my son.

Michael Coleman
MC
Michael Coleman
2 months ago

Nothing is more annoying than being told that executing a person is more expensive than a life sentence by the very segment of society (leftists) that tries to make it so!
No one ever questions those claims – we should. Recently, I read that California spends $162k/yr to incarcerate a prisoner. A 20 year old convicted of murder and sentenced to life would be expected to live another 40 plus years and cost CA at least $6.5M not including inflation.
Now consider an alternative scenario. At the end of a murder trial, the murderer is given a death sentence and an automatic SINGLE appeal to a court or grand jury whose only job is to determine beyond a reasonable doubt if the convict truly did the murder. No years spent trying to figure out if his mom was not kind to him, or if he was abused as a child, or if there weren’t enough OJ fans in the original jury. How long would it take that grand jury on average? A week? A month? Even if that process took 30 days it’s hard to reach a million dollars expense.
Most judges and lawyers I’ve met lean left. Our current process of handling a death case is one big circle jerk with many of the participants firmly opposing the one possible outcome best for society, and dragging the process out with novel and spurious legal claims.

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
2 months ago

For every opponent of capital punishment, there is a supporter. It’s odd how opponents have more sympathy for criminals than for their victims.

The idea of “humane execution” is tortured language as it is. The state is saying ‘we’re going to kill you because of your actions.’ The state didn’t cause someone to kill and the death penalty is seldom used as it is.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

What moral colour can be added to a man who raped murdered 6 yong women and two 14 year old girls? How can a tough childhood, one also experienced by his siblings who didn’t become murderers, reduce his personal agency and allow him to view females as something for him use and dispose of?

UnHerd Reader
EN
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

Seems more of a screed than an essay. I would guess that the author’s foundational philosophy is some variation of post-modernism that rejects religion as a basis for law, in other words moral relativism. The non-sequitur is that you can’t traffic in relativism and deal in moral absolutes.

Also, if you posit that executing murderers retroactively, after they are convicted, is always unacceptable, then you must likewise concede that killing in self-defense proactively is also unacceptable. Why? Because both cases rely upon human perception. A jury may have an incorrect perception of the truth and assess guilt where there is none. And also a person perceiving mortal threat might be simply misreading a situation and, in using lethal force to defend themselves, kill an innocent person. Examples of that exist and society’s response is not to condemn the notion of a right to self-defense.

There are other aspects of capital punishment that can be dispassionately contemplated from a variety of perspectives but not with moral absolutists who believe themselves to be like Moses handing down unquestionable commandments.

Grumpy Old Git
GG
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago

“On death row, the facts are stark: 41% of inmates on it are black people, who make up less than 14% of America’s population.”

Well since black people commit 55% of all murders it seems like the system is treating them preferentially.

Tom Condray
Tom Condray
2 months ago

My wife, who is a genuinely kind soul, spent her career in the local court system. first as a probation officer, and then after obtaining her doctorate a therapist for troubled families. She is a firm believer in preserving the death penalty.
I disagree with her, primarily for four reasons:
When we permit our government to take the life of a citizen we set a precedent that we may not be able to control. Once we give, or acquiesce to, a power in the hands of our officials (elected, appointed or hired) history proves that power continues to expand and grow far, far beyond the original intent. How can we expect anything else with regard to capital punishment based upon recent experience?
There are already enough incidents of wrongful conviction to ensure there are many more as yet unadjudicated. How we can permit innocent people to be executed by our government, and just let God sort out the guilty from the blameless? It is simply wrong.
Justice in the form of execution as the penalty for willfully causing the death of another is not justice at all. It is simply revenge. It’s time we come to understand that the legal killing of someone for what he, or she, does is a slippery slope down which all manner of people may be sentenced for their crimes.
Finally, when we execute someone their transgressions are largely erased. We no longer have to think about them, or the fundamental reasons why they committed their crimes. We are disposing of the detritus surrounding the taking of a human life without doing more to understand why that tragedy took place. Someone serving a life term is a continuing reminder of our need to do more to figure out why murders happen, and–most importantly–what we might be able to do to prevent them.

Flibberti Gibbet
Flibberti Gibbet
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom Condray

Justice in the form of execution as the penalty for willfully causing the death of another is not justice at all. It is simply revenge.

No it protects those in the future at danger of being a murder victim.
We hear that many murderers are deeply disturbed people, there is a reasonable chance that the prospect of their own grizzly execution is an effective last minute deterrent in these disturbed or depraved minds.
The trebling of the murder rate in the UK following the abolition of hanging confirms my point.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
2 months ago

It hasn’t trebled, it’s increased from 7 murders per 100k population to 10 per 100k population

Grumpy Old Git
Grumpy Old Git
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Nonsense. Ten murders per 100k would be roughly double the US murder rate.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Grumpy Old Git

Apologies, missed a digit. It’s 10 per million, having risen from 7 per million. Either way it’s not a trebling as was claimed