Some Words on Capital Punishment as Practiced in the United States
You are all experienced with the debates on this topic. Being that Governor Brown of California is going to be leaving office, there has been speculation in California that he may choose to commute the sentences of those on death row. I want to share some perspectives on this subject, not all..not all of them compatible with one another nor supporting the practice or the dissent.
I just want to share a few random thoughts and observations I've made myself and acquired from my time in dealing with those who this subject is of special interest.
Brown has been known for his liberal views and although California is sometimes described as leaning towards the color blue, many of the recent reform initiatives are compatible with views held by the right. There are a few pockets near the major cities like San Francisco and parts of Los Angeles that consider themselves progressive. Much of the state however is more conservative, particularly when it comes to issues such as gun control and the war on crime. There are many residents here who came out in support of the Republican party and openly back Doanld Trump, even during this period when the sanctuary city movement has gained momentum.
A Photo of the Entrance to the Death House at San Quentin Prison
Overall Voters in California Support ...
..capital punishment. In the 2016 election, there were two initiatives placed on the state ballot that gave voters the opportunity to eliminate the death penalty altogether or to place limits on the number of appeals given to the condemned, and in reality, speed up the process.
Proposition 62, designed to repeal the practice of capital punishment in the State of California was defeated by a margin of 53.15% to 46.85% according to information on Ballotpedia which provides information on various measures. This proposition, had it been made into law would have "supported repealing the death penalty and making life without the possibility of parole the maximum punishment for murder." (Ballotpedia, 2016). Results demonstrate an obvious support by California citizens, for continuing the process of sentencing those who commit certain crimes to execution.
Proposition 66, somewhat related to 62, was designed to ensure "the procedures governing state court appeals and petitions that challenge death penalty convictions and sentences, including requiring the amount of time that legal challenges to death sentences take to a maximum of five years." (Ballotpedia, 2016). In short, this would create a design that would lessen the amount of time a condemned inmate would spend waiting for his or her execution date.
The last person to be executed in California was Clearance Ray Allen, found guilty of several Fresno area murders. After spending more than 25 years on Death Row, Allen was given lethal injection in January of 2006. Since then, the state has placed executions on hold.
Clearance Ray Allen helped orchestrate several murders in Fresno, California in 1980
A Short Synopsis of the Death Penalty in California
According to state reports "Thirteen people have been executed in California since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, though 56 other people have died on death row from other causes (14 of them from suicide) as of October 25, 2007." Currently there 747 people on Death Row awaiting their sentence.
Proposition 62 and 66 were inspired by citizens - as was a 2015 lawsuit that was initiated by families of murder victims - who believed that the wait on executions was more lengthy than necessary. The attitudes in the political climate wanted the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to effectively develop a successful lethal injection protocol.
Administrations through the past several decades have adopted various attitudes that reflect a support of capital punishment as well as the opposition to it. According to citations in a Wikipedia article:
"On July 16, 2014...California's death penalty system is unconstitutional because it is arbitrary and plagued with delay. The state has not executed a prisoner since 2006.” This was eventually overturned by a three judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In comparison with a state like Texas, California fails in its implementation of the death penalty. There have been more executions in the state of Texas in 2017 than California has completed in the past decade.
One recent execution involved Tookie Williams who spent nearly 25 years in San Quent's Condemned Row block before he was put to sleep in 2005. Many other facility residents, with sentences similar to Williams, have spend fifteen or more years awaiting their penalty. As mentioned earlier, the last fulfilled execution took place in 2006 and it doesn't appear as if there will be another one soon.
Tookie Williams founded the Crips GangClick thumbnail to view full-size
What would be a good option for a last meal?
According to the website, Death Penalty Information Center, in California, prisoners can be sentenced to death if their crimes included "First-degree murder with special circumstances; sabotage; train wrecking causing death; treason; perjury causing execution of an innocent person; fatal assault by a prisoner serving a life sentence." There are a few states that will allow the death penalty in cases where there was no murder involved - usually sexually based offenses - or where the perpetrator did not kill the victim directly. The latter is usually under a Felony Murder Rule conviction or where another crime was being committed by the violator and death was the victim's final outcome.
According to the same website there are currently 31 states that have death penalty statues on the books with 19 states having either abolished or overturned the 1976 Supreme Court Ruling that reinstated capital punishment (Gregg vs Georgia) In 1972, Furman vs Georgia was the decision that had it abolished. Forty cases were effected included that of Charles Manson. Gary Gilmore was the first inmate executed after the ban was repealed. He experienced the firing squad in 1977. A book by Norman Mailer and a television movie of the same name, staring Tommy Lee Jones, called The Executioner's Song was based on Gilmore's life.
Of the states in which there is a death penalty:
Arizona, California, Missouri, and Wyoming offer the Gas Chamber as options. California also permits Lethal Injection.
Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia offer the electric chair.
Washington permits hanging. (previously so did New Hampshire and Delaware)
Utah presents the firing squad upon inmate request.
Most of the 31 states impose lethal injection unless the prisoner objects and prefers another method.
Some of of the tools used in the execution activitiesClick thumbnail to view full-size
What is the best way for the State to execute a Human Being?
The first DNA exoneration happened in 1993.
Since 1973, 153 people have been exonerated.
A majority of the exonerations occurred 30 years years after the original conviction.
In 2014, there were 3,054 persons on death row.
Texas stopped offering last meal requests in 2003 after "James Byrd Jr. more than a decade ago, asked for two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover's pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Prison officials said Brewer didn't eat any of it." This is according to a fox news report (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/09/22/texas-prisons-end-inmate-last-meal-requests-before-executions.html)
In California the last meal request and final words spoken by the inmates can be viewed at the following site (as well as a comprehensive list of the 13 inmates, descriptions of their crimes, and final words): http://graphics.latimes.com/towergraphic-see-13-men-executed-california-1978/
Whether or not that criminals convicted of heinous crimes should be executed or if the death penalty is a barbaric and archaic practice that represents punitive behavior acceptable in past centuries, is a matter of personal opinion. Decisions are made however by persons like yourself reading this piece and it is ultimately up to the governing bodies to finally authorize these decisions.
In the United States there has been a recent increase in cases where the implementation of the death sentence has been put on hiatus. Whether or not this is liberal thinking gone to an extreme awry or politicians achieving a state of sensibility is probably another matter of personal opinion.
The fact is, that in the United States, a majority of the states still appreciate the penalty as an acceptable measure. Does it really sever to deter crime or hold the person accountable or perhaps both? Well you know the answer to this. Think about where you are sitting right now. Are there persons in uniforms walking around your window? Do you know how many rungs are on the guard tower you see at the end of the fence around your yard? These are rhetorical statements.
Either way you look at it, the death penalty as practiced in the United States is still humane compared to that of other countries, particularly the third world. There are places where you are actually hung until you choke to death rather than having the benefit of a noose which usually influences the vertebres in your neck to become disconnected. In other regions you can be thrown of a high place or even set on fire.
The methods in the United States are much more tame compared to those alluded to above. Audiences who are invited as spectators - include media, friends of the victim and the prisoner, and law enforcement officials - come from diverse backgrounds to ensure fairness in the practice of this method. As mentioned earlier there are regions in this country where the inmate is permitted an option as to which method will be used to complete the final sentence.
Even though Texas abolished the last meal practice due to the exaggerated demands of a former candidate (now deceased) for the lethal injection gurney, most are willing to fulfill the final meal requests of the condemned. While silence may be demanded in the death chambers of other countries, the United States attempts to solicit some final words.
You may not agree with the practice of executions, but the United States certainly has some of the more advanced techniques in ensuring this punishment is meted out.
Some last supper optionsClick thumbnail to view full-size
© 2018 Finn Liam Cooper