The Death Penalty: Legalized Murder Vallen Powell English 11 Dr. Wendy Weber October 17, 2001 “An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by legalized murder.” In this quote, Coretta King (daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), sums up in three short sentences how capital punishment should be viewed. After all, what exactly does the death penalty accomplish? It does not bring justice nor does it bring back the victim. If killing someone is illegal, then how can putting a man to death because he killed be legal? Most importantly, most of the people currently on death row and even a number of those that have been killed were innocent. In many of these wrongful cases human error or racial prejudices played a part in innocent people being sentenced to death. In a study taken over a twenty-three year period, there proved to be a national error rate of sixty-eight percent in capital punishment cases. This study shows that the legal system was wrong two out of three times (http://www.aclu.org/death-penalty/). Fortunately, for some, new evidence proved their innocence just in the nick of time, but unfortunately, many times innocence was proved too late – after the prisoner had been executed. These men fell victim to the nation’s fallible legal system. “Because human beings are fallible, innocent people have been executed in the past and will continue to be executed in the future” (http://amnestyusa.org/abolish/factsinnocence.html). Apart from questions of guilt and innocence, death sentences may be unfairly imposed in numerous ways. Racial prejudices is just one of many examples that result in unfair rulings. A report released by the United States General Accounting Office found “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty”. Such is the case with Nathson Fields, a Black man framed for double murder. There was no physical evidence in his case and the witnesses were coerced. Fields was convicted to cover up a bribe taken by Judge Thomas J. Maloney, the only judge in U.S. history convicted of taking bribes in capital cases (http://www.nodeathpenalty.org). Then there is the notorious John Burge, former Lieutenant of Chicago’s Area Two Crime Detective Unit. During his career, Burge tortured over forty Black men into signing confessions during interrogations. He used such methods as suffocation, electric shock, and burning, just to name a few. Burge’s acts were brought to the light in 1989, and he was fired February 10, 1993 (http://www.nodeathpenalty.org). There is only one solution to stop innocent men from being put to death, and that is to just do away with capital punishment completely, and give longer sentences without parole. “Why should taxpayers pay to keep a person in prison for life; why not execute the person and save money”, one may think. Contrary to what many believe, “the actual cost of an execution is substantially higher than the cost of imprisoning a person for life” (http://www.amnestyusa.org/abolish/cost.html). The Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty gives a poll every year in which they survey individuals on other punishments other than the death penalty. One alternative to sentencing someone death is giving them a minimum of twenty- five years without a chance of parole. In addition, the prisoner would have to participate in a recitation program where they work for money that would go to the families of the victim. Although, this may or may not help the families cope with their loss, at least the prisoner will be made to do something positive for the family that they may or may not have caused an excess of pain. The 2000 poll showed that 51% of the persons polled agreed with this solution. The percentage has steadily increased since 1998 (http://www.vadp.org/poll.htm). Because many people sentenced to death row have psychiatric problems or mental handicaps, they should be provided help for their problems instead of killed. The severity of their handicapped should be tested to show whether or not they are aware of extent of the crime they have committed. In such cases of a severely handicapped person, the criminal should be closely supervised and be provided with a lighter sentence, but they should have to attend strict continuous help sessions. The sessions may help the person become aware of what they have done causing them to feel remorse, and theses sessions may serve as a deterrent. “How can I help”, one may ask. There are numerous ways that one may become involved. There are even more organizations that are against the death penalty, such as the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP). This anti-death penalty group has a chapter here on campus. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill chapter of the CEDP organizes such events as protests at prisons and the governor’s mansion. They also develop petitions weeks before the scheduled execution of a prisoner. They developed a petition to stop the execution of Robert Bacon Jr. Robert Bacon Jr. was taken off of death row just weeks ago and sentenced to life without parole (http://www.unc.edu/student/orgs/cedp/index.html). Although one may think that their work or support may be insignificant, one person can drastically make a difference. Whether a person joins an organization or signs a petition, every step counts. So let us continue to help fight to stop the death penalty. In the words of Marquis de Lafayette, “Until the infallibility of human judgment shall have been proved to me, I shall persist in demanding the abolition of the death penalty.” Works Cited ACLU Death Penalty Campaign. 2001. <http://www.aclu.org/death-penalty>. Amnesty International: Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. 2001. <http://www.amnestyusa.org/abolish.html>. Campaign to End the Death Penalty. 2001. <http://www.nodeathpenatly.org>. Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. 2001. <http://www.vadp.org/poll.htm>.
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