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Face-Off: Death penalty is either necessary … or barbaric

By Zach Jarrell & Paqui Toscano

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Georgia inmate Troy Davis, convicted of murdering Savannah Police Officer Mark McPhail in 1989, was executed in a Georgia death chamber on Sept. 21, 2011. He was put to death as McPhail’s son and brother stood watching the proceedings.

Although the state of Georgia had scheduled the execution for 7 p.m., the United States Supreme Court took three hours past that time to decide whether it would stay the execution or not; the Court chose the latter option. Although Davis’ attorneys contend that the evidence did not stack up against Davis, judges in both state and federal courts – including the nation’s high tribunal – decided time and time again to rule against the defendant.

Witnesses at the original trial in 1991 said MacPhail was shot after rushing to help a homeless man who had been attacked. McPhail was off-duty and working at a nearby Burger King at the time. Although prosecutors were not able to find the gun that Davis allegedly used to murder McPhail, state officials argued that they found shell casings that were connected to a previous shooting for which a court had convicted Davis.

Despite this apparent evidence, seven of the nine original eyewitnesses recanted their testimony, and others who were at the scene even contend that yet another man who accompanied Davis that night admitted to the police that he was the true killer.

At the end of the day, however, despite all this evidence, no court saved Davis from execution by the government. Such a case should give us pause to think and weigh the issue at hand.

A conservative view from Zach Jarrell

After 22 years of trials and appeals, I would surmise that the case against Troy Davis was pretty much closed. After so many courts have given their opinion, including the Supreme Court, there’s really no room for doubt.  If this man was truly innocent, there is much more wrong with our justice system than the death penalty. Davis also committed one of the most heinous crimes possible.  He shot and murdered a police officer.

The death penalty is one of the most hotly debated topics, even within the political parties. Many conservative people I know are against the death penalty.  It’s often debated as a religious topic. I consider myself to be very strong in my faith, but I strongly believe that the death penalty is needed in our justice system.

Some crimes cannot be paid in full by life in jail. Our prisons are often a safe haven for some of the most despicable people on Earth. I do believe we can’t give the death penalty to anyone and everyone as once was the case, but it is a necessary part of our justice system.

One of the biggest arguments against the death penalty is the first right in the Declaration of Independence. We all have the right to life, the key word being “right.” But rights can be lost. When a man takes someone else’s right to life away, he deserves nothing less than a penalty of death. It’s that simple. And people don’t get the death penalty for an accidental homicide. The death penalty is reserved for the cases that are most severe. Davis killed a cop after bashing in a man’s skull. He deserves nothing less than what was given to him.

Some argue that we shouldn’t allow the death penalty because there’s always a chance that something may come to light that will prove that the person was, in fact, innocent. But let’s look at the case at hand. Davis had been making appeals for 22 years, and each time he’s been found guilty. He’d been to every level of the court system. If new evidence was going to be found, it would have surfaced. Davis was guilty of his crime and that’s that.

Other death-penalty opponents use the Eighth Amendment, which states that excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. I agree that we shouldn’t have cruel or unusual punishment. But does death really fit in this category? Let’s look at it more closely.

According to The Free Dictionary, cruel and unusual punishment is defined as such punishment as would amount to torture or barbarity, any cruel and degrading punishment not known to the Common Law, or any fine, penalty, confinement or treatment that is so disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community.

First, Davis’ death was through lethal injection, the same way most states go about the death penalty. Lethal injection is not like stoning or the electric chair. The prisoner does not feel anything. It is a peaceful death. The death penalty has also been around since the very beginning. It definitely fits in the realm of common law. Finally, when someone goes to the extent of unlawfully taking another’s life, to take the killer’s life is not disproportionate at all.

The founders’ words mean the same thing they meant 200 years ago. What they wrote is what they meant. They are words on a piece of paper and they can’t change.

Another argument put forth by death-penalty foes is that some people just can’t help but commit murder. This is bogus. Sure, some people may be psychotic, but everyone has the ability to control himself to an extent. It takes a lot of willpower to kill someone. No matter how much someone is mentally screwed up, he has the ability to keep himself from killing. And if people truly can’t control themselves, then they belong in an asylum.

Am I saying our system is perfect? No. Am I saying that everyone should be brought to the gallows? No. In fact, I don’t think the electric chair or the firing squad should be allowed. I think the needle is the best way. And I think those who may have a mental issue should be examined to see whether or not they belong in an asylum.

But if someone is willing to take another’s life, he should expect nothing less than to get the same.

A liberal view from Paqui Toscano

The French philosopher Albert Camus once said, “Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders.” It’s important to think about that when evaluating whether the death penalty deserves such prominence in our criminal justice system. This isn’t about Troy Davis – he’s just one of the many defendants who claimed he was innocent and was put to death anyway. This is about something larger than Davis; this is about modern standards of decency and a punishment that lingers from the days of barbarism.

This is about the Constitution – and premeditated murder.

The most heinous aspect of the death penalty is its premeditation. State officials have the state-sanctioned murder down to the exact time, place and date – and perhaps most of troubling of all, the government accommodates those who want to watch it.

The real question is this: what truly is the difference between a person killing someone and the government killing someone? One we say is murder; the other we justify as punishment.

I submit that many criminals commit heinous actions, but are, in fact, not heinous people. True evil can corrode the inner humanity of a person and kill it altogether. But in order for a person to be truly evil, he must have known what he was doing was evil, must have chosen it freely and happily, must have not been prone to act in such a way by biological or genetic predispositions, and must not have been influenced by situational or socio-cultural factors, the most important of which is childhood home life.

These truly evil people should be purged from our society through death, but I have yet to hear of such a person.

Too often, people are scarred for life as a child. Psychologists have discovered that serial killers and other psychopaths have a smaller amygdala and are therefore less afraid of what they’re doing than a normal person. Aggressive people have been found to have lower serotonin levels. I certainly don’t want to provide an excuse for these people or justify their actions; there are plenty of people who resist genetic tendencies and prevail against their bodies or socio-cultural backgrounds. But a system in which humans are put to death for actions over which they may not have 100 percent control is repugnant to the very spirit of American liberty and compassion.

From a more Constitutional perspective, the death penalty is in conflict with the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment. Although the death penalty is certainly not an unusual punishment, it can, by all standards, be considered cruel. Electrocutions have resulted in excruciating pain, such as those in which electrodes have erupted, as in the case of John Evans, who would not die despite three lethal jolts of electricity. Only after 14 minutes, at which time the air smelled of burning flesh, did doctors declare him dead.

Similarly, lethal injection involves a drug that paralyzes the body, masking the excruciating internal pain that those being put to death feel as a subsequent drug in the cocktail puts an end to bodily functions.

Although it is true that our nation’s founders most likely never intended for the Eighth Amendment to put an end to the death penalty, this fact alone does not preclude modern judges from putting an end to it. The Constitution would have no value if it was rendered stagnant, stale and useless because it was written by brilliant men two and a half centuries ago. Rather, in order for the Constitution to be effective and act as the true law of the land, it must be dynamic – it must be living and breathing and must evolve throughout the ages to encompass more things, protect more rights and adjust to compensate for novel inventions and new understandings.

The death penalty also doesn’t stand up well in light of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause, which states that all citizens will be entitled to equal protection under the laws. The death penalty is not applied equally. As Justice Potter Stewart put it, the death penalty is “cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual,” and that “petitioners are among a capriciously selected handful upon whom the sentence of death” has been imposed.

Such arbitrariness is especially unjust when it comes to the issue of race. According to an American Bar Association study, 33 percent of African-American inmates on death row in Philadelphia would have received life imprisonment sentences if they had not been black; likewise, a Yale University study shows that in the state of Connecticut in 2007, African-American defendants received the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where white victims are involved.

But the battle to outlaw the death penalty in our nation is not lost. We can still take action through the legislature.

This battle is crucial to save our American system of justice and to save innocent people, hundreds of whom have been released since the development of DNA testing. We must fight to lower crime rates, which, statistics show, only increase when the death penalty is present. We must also fight to abolish the death penalty because it is economically unsound. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice has found that the present system in California costs $137 million per year with the death penalty; however, it would cost $11.5 million if the maximum penalty was lifetime incarceration.

Proponents of the death penalty fail to address any of these issues. Instead, they take a sadistic approach and advocate the snuffing of human life by the government. Every statistic shows that the death penalty does not benefit anyone. It is simply a barbaric ritual that should no longer have a place in modern society.

7 Comments

7 Responses to “Face-Off: Death penalty is either necessary … or barbaric”

  1. Jilly Hall on October 12th, 2011 9:45 am

    I agree with Paqui. I believe that murder is murder (no matter how “necessary” it is). The government doesn’t have the right to decide who lives and who dies. They can’t play God. I was taught that two wrongs don’t make a right. Instead, we can forgive and forget and move on with our lives. I understand why they need to be punished, but life in prison in a secluded cell would be just as awful, and maybe even more awful because some feel that death is an escape.

    [Reply]

  2. Caroline on October 13th, 2011 9:02 am

    Oh, that is bogus. How on earth would you find out if people were put to death because they were black, Paqui? Do people answer the “studies” with “oh yeah, that man was black so we killed him” or were the studies just biased into showing that more black people were killed than white? Not to be racist at all, I’m Chinese myself, but there are many more studies that show black people are a bit more inclined toward crime (percentage-wise) than white people in America.

    Also, if somebody raped then killed my sister, I don’t care if they had mommy issues when they were little. Killing them without pain is more than they deserve. You might say that I shouldn’t get a say in that because I am “affected by my emotions,” but as you said, the Constitution should be a living, breathing thing based on human emotion, not cold hard laws. If it was meant to be cold, hard laws, then what’s the point of having the judicial system? Just punish people for breaking the law, no matter why they did it.

    On the other hand, I’m not here to bash you, Paqui. I totally agree with your view of how the Constitution should be changing with the times, but sadly people slaughtering other people is not something that’s been changing.

    [Reply]

  3. Niki on October 19th, 2011 9:46 am

    I agree completely with Zach.

    [Reply]

  4. randal on October 19th, 2011 1:26 pm

    Well said, Caroline. Statistically, there are more crimes committed, especially violent ones, by African Americans than whites.

    [Reply]

  5. Carl Hoskins on October 26th, 2011 10:48 am

    I am completely on Zach’s side except I think that you should be executed in the same way that you killed that person … an eye for an eye.

    [Reply]

  6. Brian on December 13th, 2011 8:27 am

    I have to say that any form of killing another human being is barbaric. That being said, I would much rather have the taxpayers’ money go to taking people either off the streets or out of the system. More money goes to that than most other things in this country, and many of the inmates are in there for heinous crimes much worse than what would happen if they took the needle. On the other hand, Paqui is right about the cruel punishment; there are many other ways in which someone can be humanely put to rest. You also have to look at it this way: People can “humanely” kill their pet without problems. Really, what’s the difference? I mean, we are putting them out of their misery in the system with taxpayers in mind.

    [Reply]

  7. Harmony~ on January 16th, 2013 5:25 pm

    I believe that if you kill someone intentionally, as in you MEAN for them to die, then you should be killed, plain and simple. I’m sorry that’s harsh, but that’s the way I see it. Statistics have proven that if people, who are killers, kill once, they often do it again if not caught. If they’re killed, people can live in peace. That’s my sight on it.

    [Reply]

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The school newsmagazine of Kettering Fairmont High School.
Face-Off: Death penalty is either necessary … or barbaric