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Death Penalty. Execution by appointment

Updated on September 16, 2013

Death Penalty

"One of the factors that make life bearable for all of us is the uncertainty of the hour of our deaths."

The United States today remains one of the few Western nations to maintain the Death Penalty as a sentencing practice. However change is a foot and I and many others look forward to the day that it will no longer be used in the United States

For we Australiana need only turn to the last man hanged in Australia Ronald Ryan in 1967.
These is still now, 45 years on, considerable doubt that Ryan was the guilty as charged.

Despite much loud public outcry at that time
Ronald Ryan met his maker. and swung from the gallows. The decision was left to the absolute discretion of the then Premier of Victoria, Henry Bolte.

Ronald Ryan should have had the chance to 'clear his name' but he did not.

Recently the Australian Federal Government enacted legislation that prevents any Australian State Government ever reintroducing the Death Penalty as a sentencing option.

Historic context

On 6th of April 1857, Leo Tolstoy saw a 'Guillotining' in Paris which haunted him for the rest of his life:

"When I saw the head part from the body and each of them fall separately into a box with a thud, I understood not with my mind but with my whole being--that no rational doctrine of progress could justify that act..."

Two novels The Trials(der prozess 1925) by Franz Kapka and The Outsider by(Le Estranger 1942) Albert Camus both sensitize the imperfections of the Criminal Justice System.

Many respected thinkers are convinced that the best societies are based on a firm unyielding position to all forms of violence conducted by all including instruments of the State.

During his term as prisoner Oscar Wilde wrote; The Ballad of Reading Gaol(1898) in which he invokes the emotions surrounding a hanging:

"And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,

None knew so well as I:

For he who lives more lives than one

More deaths than one must die."

George Orwell's Essay on a Hanging(1931) is a recollection of his year's as Policeman in Burma when he took part in an execution. He wrote of the condemned man being walked to the gallows:

"At once in spite of the men who gripped him at each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on a path. How incredible a sight, the feeling of such sensitivity from a man about to meet his maker...

Of course one might including myself and many others argue in certain extreme circumstances a person should be killed. Barry Jones in his book A Thinking Reed notes: " If a man held a child at gun-point, threatened to kill him/her I would probably order him to be picked off by a sharpshooter; if their was no alternative. But this is not the equivalent to the situation where an offender is captured, rendered harmless, put into a high security gaol, tried, convicted, sentenced and goes through the appeal procedure, in which his death becomes a matter of choice rather than necessity to those imposing it. "

I and many others have come to reject the notion of the eye for an eye, death for a death approach which is implied a moral equivalence between the criminal and the State: "If he can do it why can't we?"

In Australia often the decision to hang was up to the mind set of a Premier's of each State at the time. South Australia's Thomas Playford authorised several hangings between 1944 and 1964.

Capital punishment provides a reinforcement to what are sometimes regarded as common sense views about life. In the United States retentionist's argue:'The community has to defend itself. We kill the enemy in war and crime is a war on society." Well yes and no under the Geneva Convention, once captured, Prisoners of War are securely held; As signatory to The Geneva Convention they do not execute them.

Crimes of Passion

"It's always puzzled me how we can show our outrage at the crime of murder by killing the perpetrator. The murder may have been committed in a fit of passion, or it may have been provoked, or the murderer may have a mental disorder in which normal human empathy is lacking and therefore cannot understand what all the fuss is about. But the executions are carried out in cold blood by people who know full well the horror of what they're doing. The victim's family may be excused the desire to see the murderer killed, and I might feel the same way under those tragic circumstances. But the executioner must pull the switch, or inject the poison, and then go home to his family and have dinner. This has always seemed perverse to me."

  • DNA evidence freed Ray Krone after 10 years in prison, (four on Arizona's death row).
  • Without any physical evidence, Gary Gauger was sentenced to death.
  • Ronald Keine, was 10 days away from the New Mexico death chamber when another man's confession got him a new trial.
  • Dennis Williams lived on death row 25 feet away from the electric chair. If not for DNA testing he would be dead.

Financial considerations

A comprehensive study by an experienced and leading academic in the area of public policy has concluded that If the state(North Carolina alone) stopped trying to execute killers in alone it would free up $11 million a year, at 2010 figures.

Philip Cook, an economist at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy. says that "There is little return on the dollars spent on seeking the death penalty ."- Of the 1,034 people charged with murder in North Carolina in 2005 and 2006, prosecutors initially sought the death penalty against about a quarter of them. Only 11, though, were sentenced to death for their crimes.

One could imagine the financial savings alone from a change in policy that would see the elimination of the the death penalty to the whole of the United States.

Death Penalty in Australila

On the 19th of February 1951, there was triple-hanging at Pentridge Gaol in Melbourne, Australia, of Jean Lee, Robert Clayton and Norman Andrews for the atrocious murder & torture of an illegal bookmaker, William(pop) Kent in Carlton in November,1949. Convicted by a jury with no recommendation for mercy, the judge sentenced them to hang. They appealed successfully, on the admissibility of certain evidence against their conviction and sentence to the Victorian Full Court, and a new trial was ordered. However the High Court of Australia reversed the full court decision and the original verdict was restored. Eight months were spent under the shadow of the gallows. On execution day Jean Lee was the first to go at 8.00am in an understandable state of collapse, strapped to chair. She was the last woman to hang in Australia. The two men were hanged simultaneously at 10.00 am. Clayton's execution was bungled, and he twitched on the rope for more than fifteen minutes. Barry Jones [2007] A Thinking Reed.

William Makepeace Thackeray wrote after witnessing a hanging in 1840. "In abstract form we understand , what Blood demands Blood means ! " But after seeing the hanging Thackeray was left with an awful feeling of terror & shame. "It seems to me" he wrote, "that I have abetted an act of frightful wickedness & violence and I pray God that it may soon be out of the power of any man to witness such a degrading sight."

In the United States between 1930 and 1967 there were 3859 civilian executions (54 per cent were blacks) & 160 were military.

The Sentencing of Death is also racially biased. It's racist, and the statistics show it. Two-thirds of any case involving a black or Hispanic killing a white result in the death penalty. Overall, a black person is 5 times more likely to get the death penalty than a white defendant in similar circumstances.

In the 1960's the death penalty seemed to be facing extinction internationally. Most countries in Western Europe ad long been abolitionist. New Zealand in 1961; Ireland in 1963; Great Britain in1965.

Abolition of the Death Penalty is well advanced in Western democracies with the exception of the United States. The Death Penalty was last conducted in Spain in 1975 following the death of General Franco.

A major reason for the United States NOT to ratify the United Nations convention on the Rights of the Child(1990) was that it prohibited the execution of children. A protocol regarded as an 'unwarranted interference' in domestic law.

Judgements normally inflame themselves towards revenge out of horror for the crime. That is precisely what tempers mine:my horror for the first murder makes me frightened for committing the second, and my loathing for the original act of cruelty makes me loathe to imitate it... (Micheal de Montaigne:"on physiognomy" )

Gas Chamber
Gas Chamber | Source

References: A Thinking Reed" Barry Jones 2007

Death Penalty Information Centre.


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