The Widdershins

Archive for May 6th, 2014

Good afternoon Widdershins. Here’s hoping your weekend was a good one and you had a winner in your Derby pool. SocalAnnie, I hope you had $20 on California Chrome.

If you haven’t read Chat’s insightful post from last week, please make the time since it is an enlightening look at the clinical process of killing someone.  Chat’s medical expertise expanded my thinking about the mundane, routinized steps it takes for the government to actually end someone.  If you have to make a choice, read Chat’s post as opposed to this one.

Death Chamber

The botched execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett poured some salt in an old ethical wound of mine. By the way, the media’s use of the official Oklahoma spin on the execution as “botched” annoyed me. It annoyed me since the word “botched” connotes, at least to me, a missed ingredient in a cake recipe not a word to describe the lack of success in ritual killing by the government.

While most issues are bright line demarcations for me, I’m torn about capital punishment. Not to worry — I’m not torn for any of the traditional reasons. Given the current attitudes in a large number of states, I fear the cessation of capital punishment might lead to even larger instances of injustice and needless killing. Perhaps you have the same concerns. Perhaps you don’t, but here are some thoughts.

First, my ethical dilemma isn’t based on the logical underpinnings of capital punishment. Why? Because there is no logic associated with executing even the most heinous, barbaric criminal. The seven most common arguments are debunked in this article, but here are a few points:

  • The death penalty is not a deterrent or so says 88% of criminologists. The data bear this out since between 1991 and 2011, states with the death penalty had higher murder rates than states lacking a death penalty.

Death Penalty Chart

  • Because of legal costs, executions are more expensive to society than life imprisonment without parole. On average, the cost of an execution is eight (8) times higher than a life sentence.
  • One out of twenty-five death penalty defendants is innocent. Even with all the safeguards in the appellate process, it’s estimated over 300 innocent people have been killed since the spigot of death was again turned on by the Supreme Court.

Highest Executioners

Once the complete failure of a logical basis for the death penalty is established, supporters usually resort to an emotional argument. I have a problem with those arguments as well.


  • The emotional excuse of providing closure for families is nothing more than code for legislating revenge. Last I checked, providing visceral emotional satisfaction through ceremonial killing isn’t a guaranteed constitutional right.
  • Proponents say, “The despicable, cold-blooded killer never exhibited any concern for their victim; therefore, I’m exhibiting no concern for the killer.“ In other words, those who roll out this flawed circular logic are devolving to the nonexistent morality of the killer — not exactly an inspirational societal goal.
  • A life for a life retribution: He/she killed then we get to kill him/her. Retribution is just a socially acceptable word for plain old vengeance — the most base of all human emotions and the impetus for lynch mob mentality. Put simply, you can’t teach that killing is wrong by killing in turn.

I don't dial 911

So where is the ethical dilemma? It is this: With the NRA sanctioned and the ALEC enacted legislation making guns plentiful and prevalent, I question whether the cessation of the death penalty might give rise to even more contrived “stand your ground” killings. The battle cry justification and inevitable bumper sticker would read something like this: If the government is not going to rid our society of “those” people, we, the gun-toting vigilantes, will.

There’s no research on this moral dilemma of mine because it is so fraught with imponderables that any measurement would be suspect. I know that killing is wrong. I know that the government killing in my name is wrong. I know that retribution and vengeance are but temporary salves for the weakness of the human spirit. I know the mob mentality of organized revenge should have been a thing of the past.

What I don’t know is: Will outlawing the death penalty lead to more killing by vigilante-types who seem to be perpetually aggrieved and always emotionally spun-up? That’s what troubles me about the death penalty.

What do you think?


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