The Widdershins

Death be not proud…

Posted on: May 6, 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?



7 Responses to "Death be not proud…"

Very thought-provoking post Prolix.

I have to admit that I had been a person who didn’t have a problem with the death penalty when it seemed we could do it humanely with drugs. Now that we cannot seem to do that, I have to rethink my stance. And, the various states who still have the death penalty seem to want to experiment on the condemned just has to stop.

In the case with Lockett it appears that 100 mg of Versed wasn’t enough to put the guy out. Reading a piece at The Lens, it seems Louisiana’s protocol was only going to include 10 mg of Versed. That’s like a hospital dose! It really won’t accomplish a thing. So since they can’t get it right and do this humanely, the states just need to stop.

@1 — The Oklahoma situation was FUBAR’ed beyond all semblance of dignity or common humanity. From the appeals process to the stay enacted and then dissolved by the OK Supreme Court instead of the state’s Criminal Court of Appeals to Mary Fallin’s infusion of herself in the middle of the court process — it was a rush to the drive through execution chamber.

At some point there seems to be competition and some hubris in the circles of far right governors around executions. It would be denied, but there are too many “smoking syringes” to deny the fact. That is so revolting on every level I don’t know where to begin.

I am opposed to the death penalty on a number of levels. First, we have been known to get the verdict wrong. Project Innocence has freed an embarrassing number of Death Row occupants in this state, and Texas as well. Any attorney will tell you that if you can afford a top notch attorney, you stand an excellent chance of an outright acquittal unless you committed capital murder on the six o’clock news. Then, if you are sufficiently wealthy, your affluenza will limit you to house arrest in your oceanfront condo. Until such time that it can be applied equitably, it should not be applied at all. If an animal were put down in such disastrous fashion, we would close down the vet who perpetrated this mess. Further, I’m tired of hearing “an eye for an eye” from the Ostentatious Christian Right. Where might state sanctioned murder be found in the New Testament, please?
The states with no such penalty have a lower murder rate in general.

@2: Oh, exactly. Remember Carla Fay Thomas and Aileen Wournos? The Brothers Bush could not wait to execute a woman.
The thing about Wournos that gets me is that Bundy was offered LWOP if he would plead, but she was not.

@2: I agree completely about the OK situation. And Fallin was completely wrong in sticking her nose into the judicial process as well as the legislator who was going to file impeachment charges against the justices there.

@3: I can say I have evolved on the idea of the death penalty.

@3, for something thought provoking and guaranteed to make a conservative’s head explode try this: Both Camus and Dostoevsky thought the death penalty was unfair because the anticipated suffering of the criminal waiting for the execution far outweighed the anticipatory suffering of the victim.

Now those thoughts would send the whole Fox network to the moon where they could be weightless, fairly unbalanced, but still unafraid.

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