The Case Against Capital Punishment

.. n of the genetic material in blood typing procedures could yield completely erroneous results. This logically implicates the possibility that individuals may have been erroneously convicted based upon this form of evidence. In cases where new DNA forensic was tested, 26% of primary suspects in similar cases Whitehead 7 were exonerated. This has led some to conclude that a similar percentage of inmates many have been wrongly convicted prior to the advent of forensic DNA typing.

DNA testing, though a conduit for exoneration in these cases has also been challenged and the courts in at least one case have been refused to admit analyzed laboratory results because the lab failed to reveal its testing methods. Such an omission can prevent replication of the results and may result in an innocent person being wrongly convicted. The deliberate misconduct of the prosecutor’s scientific experts has been an issue in a number of cases in which formerly convicted individuals were later exonerated. The NIJ reported that the West Virginian Supreme Court indicted Fred Zain, a forensic scientist for perjury. This following his failure to disclose information relating to the high unliklihood that fluid samples could have come from the defendant.

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The subsequent investigation resulted in the courts declaring Zain’s testimony, in more than 130 cases inadmissible. Technical issues aside, the violence and barbarity of executions is considered by some as a justification to end capital punishment. Some American states continue to utilize such methods as death by electrocution, hanging, gas chambers and firing squads. Many question the humanity of these procedures. Let’s take a look at exactly what most execution methods entail.

Hanging, a method of execution that dates back to the American colonial times, is described in the official hanging protocol as developed for the state of Delaware (Execution by Hanging, 1990).The official procedure for handing involves the inmate being dropped a distance Whitehead 8 and being stopped by a rope fasten around the neck, the force of this drop-and-stop method breaks the bones of the neck, thus severing the spinal cord. This causes the inmate to become unconscious, and at this point, strangle to death due to lack of oxygen. The individual should be brain dead within six minutes and heart dead in about eight. The report indicates that the individual may experience pain-briefly. However, an error in the hanging procedure could possibly result in instances where the spinal cord is not severed and the inmate is conscious during strangulation. A drop of too far a distance will result in the decapitation of the subject.

In gas chamber executions, a cyanide pellet is placed in a container below the inmate’s seat. A switch is thrown and the cyanide reacting with a sulfuric acid solution releases lethal gas. The inmate is denied air and thus suffocates. The time that elapses from the time that the prisoner is restrained to death is about 38 minutes, though it is believed that death occurs 6-18 minutes after the gas is released. According to the 1997 sate of Florida Corrections Commissions Annual Report Michael Radelet, chairman of the University of Florida sociology department has documented 22 cases where executions have been botched.

For example, officials in Mississippi were forced to clear the room eight minutes into the execution of Jimmy Lee Gray after his desperate gasps for air repulsed witnesses. David Bruck, a writer for the New Republic, reported that Lee died banging his head against a steel pole in the gas chamber-while reporters counted his moans. Whitehead 9 Also documented is the case of John Evans. According to Radelet, after the first jolt of electricity, sparks and flames shot from the electrodes that were attached to Evan’s leg. The electrode then caught fire.

Smoke and sparks shot from underneath the hood that was attached to his head. Soon, Evan’s flesh began to smoke and burn. Doctors rushed in, discovered a heartbeat and applied additional jolts. This continued for an additional 14 minutes despite the pleas of Evan’s attorney. Lethal injection heralded by some as a more humane method of execution also has its share of problems. It was reported by Michael Radelet that in a 1989 Texas execution, inmate Stephen McCoy had such a violent reaction to the drugs (i.e. heaving, coughing, gasping) that a male witness fainted- crashing into and knocking over another witness.

In Texas, December 1988, Raymond Landry was pronounced dead 40 minutes after being strapped to the table. Two minutes into his execution the syringe came out of his vein spraying deadly chemicals across the room towards the witnesses of the execution. The U.S. Court of Appeals in 1983 made the observation that Lethal injection poses a serious risk of cruel, protracted deatheven a slight error of dosage or administration can leave a prisoner conscious but paralyzed while dyinga sentient witness to his or her own asphyxiation. Many individuals in defense of the death penalty give the argument that a life sentence as compared to execution is a waste of taxpayer money.

However, numerous studies have shown that the cost of execution far exceeds the cost of life imprisonment. Whitehead 10 In The Geography of ExecutionThe Capital Punishment Quagmire in America it is reported that Florida estimates the total cost of an average life in prison of 40 years to cost $680,000, far less than the #3.18 million average cost of a single execution. These figure correlate with those of Texas, the nation’s leader in executions, according to Department of Justice figures. In Punishment and the Death Penalty the Texas criminal justice system estimated the cost of appeal capital murder at 2.3 million dollars. The cost of life in prison totals only $750,000. Clearly, state executions are not cost effective. When given concrete figures the public’s support of capital punishment diminishes.

A 1994 Gallup poll asked that if given a choice, which would be a better choice-, the death penalty or life in prison without parole? Support for the death penalty (80%) dripped to 50% according to the 1995 Bureau of Justice Statistics Report. In conclusion, all of the above arguments support a death penalty moratorium in Illinois. The most common argument in favor of the death penalty is that it deters crime. This simply is not true. Law enforcement officials, the very individuals that deal with crime on a daily basis, doubt the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Considerable evidence indicates that racial disparities exist in the allocation of death sentences with blacks receiving a disproportionate amount of death sentences as compared to their white counterparts.

Organizations such as the American Bar Association and individuals such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas have spoken out in opposition to the death penalty. The UN has adopted a worldwide resolution calling for an eventual end to state executions. From Anthony Porter to dozens more released from Death Row since it’s Whitehead 11 reinstatement, there exists significant possibilities that there are individuals innocent of their accused crimes sitting on Death Row. Journalistic investigations have proven this possibility and DNA evidence has furthered cleared those previously convicted. An overwhelming number of factors including, overzealous prosecutors, inadequate defense counsel, the unreliability of evidence, the cost ineffectiveness of executions, the sheer brutality of executions and the decline of public support for state execution when presented with other options, all warrant at least a temporary halt to executions to allow time for these issue to be addressed.

As members of a collective American society, we are all affected by a judicial system that though designed to protect the weak and innocent, sends these very same individuals to their deaths. It must become our quest to see that true justice is at least addressed. Yesterday, Anthony Porter was almost sent to his death. Today, it may be someone you barely know. However, tomorrow it may be you or I. This call for a moratorium in Illinois is a call for justice. Thomas Jefferson once wrote Truth is [the] handmaid [of justice], freedom is its child, peace is its companion, safety walks in its steps, victory follows in its train; it is the brightest emanation from the gospel; it is the attribute of God.

These words written over a century ago still ring true today. Let’s take the time to take a look at justice. Whitehead 12 Get Your Private, Free Email at http://www.hotmail.com Bibliography Works Cited United States. U.S. Government Accounting Office.

Capital Punishment. Washington: GPO, 1994 Cheatwood, Derral and Keith Harries. The Geography of Execution: The Capital Punishment Quagmire in America. Rowman, 1996 NAACP Legal Defense Fund . Death Row.

New York: Hein, 1996 Ex-Death Row Inmate Cleared of Charges. USA Today 11 Mar. 1999: 2A Fatal Flaws: Innocence and the Death Penalty. Amnesty International. 10 Oct.

1999 23 Oct. 1999 Gest, Ted. House Without a Blue Print. US News and World Report 8 Jul. 1996: 41 Stevens, Michelle.

Unfairness in Life and Death. Chicago Sun-Times 7 Feb. 1999: 23A American Bar Association. The Task Ahead: Reconciling Justice with Politics. 1997 United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Uniform Crime Report. Washington: GPO, 1994 Wickham, DeWayne. Call for a Death Penalty Moratorium. USA Today 8 Feb. 1999: 17A Social Issues.