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Killing the death penalty
by Asa Butcher
2008-04-21 09:17:34
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The death penalty has been a regular issue discussed among the Ovi team and there is never any harm in broaching the subject again, especially after this week's news that an innocent man spent 26 years in prison because an attorney could not break the rules of attorney-client privilege. Alton Logan was imprisoned in 1982 for killing a guard in Chicago and has spent almost three decades protesting his innocence.

Whether you would describe it as luck, the jury at Alton Logan's trial gave him life in prison without parole as punishment, yet it could so easily have been the death penalty. Illinois is among the 34 American States that permit execution and since 1976 the state has executed a total of 12 individuals convicted of murder to be killed by lethal injection, one of which was the serial killer John Wayne Gacy in 1994.

Earlier this year there was another acquittal and this time the man was on Death Row and in 1994 had been within an hour of death before a stay of execution was issued. This man is Kenny Richey, born in Holland to an American father and Scottish mother, and he was released from prison in January after a number of dramatic twists, including his conviction being overturned twice, the prospect of retrials and an eventual plea bargain that secured his release.

Richey was sentenced to death after his conviction for killing a two-year-old child in Ohio in 1986 and he joined 191 other Death Row inmates in the State of Ohio, which has executed 26 people by lethal injection since February 1999. There are approximately 3,300 people currently on Death Row in the U.S. and since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 there have been 1,099 executions (as of October 2007). However, with improvements in forensic science and revelatory statements, as shown in Alton Logan's case, begin to cast doubt over some convictions.

Can you believe that over the past ten years almost 60 wrongfully-convicted people have won release because of DNA testing, ten of which were on Death Row? According to Northwestern University School of Law Center on Wrongful Convictions, almost 40 executions have been carried out in the U.S. in the face of compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt. These may be a small percentage of the overall figures and the majority are probably guilty but how can the death penalty be justified?

Some may claim that no system is perfect, but at least legal systems that don't execute people may finally uncover the truth and release the falsely accused. Posthumous free pardons may help the families, but they don't really help the individual injected, gassed, electrocuted or hanged wrongly. Did you know that the case of Timothy Evans, who was executed for murder and later found innocent, was partly responsible for the United Kingdom abolishing the death penalty for murder in 1965?

In the UK there have been a number of posthumous pardons for individuals executed, with one of the most famous being Derek "Let him have it" Bentley who had to wait almost 45 years to have his original conviction quashed. When the appeal trial judge overturned the original conviction he stated that the original trial judge had denied the defendant "the fair trial which is the birthright of every British citizen." We can only be thankful that the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six were not executed…

Gandhi's famous 'eye for an eye will make the whole world blind' may now be classed as cliché, but there is so much truth in his observation. How can lowering ourselves to the same level as a murderer permit us the moral high ground? I believe that capital punishment cheapens human life and certainly isn't a deterrent, as if somebody will stop in the heat of the moment and muse, "Hmm, I won't pull the trigger because I might receive the death penalty…" However, the way these things turn out somebody else may get the blame and take the punishment instead.

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Rinso2008-04-21 12:40:14
I think the real issue here is the far from perfect legal system. No punishment can be undone. Imprisonment is time lost, never to be recovered. And even a fine can have implications on ones life. (not much of a punishment if it wouldn't)
Any line you draw between punishments to prevent the innocent from legal mistakes is arbitrary.

Asa2008-04-21 12:51:27
Time lost compared to a life lost is still preferable.

Emanuel Paparella2008-04-21 14:30:43
Indeed, Ghandi and the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI have it on target too: all human life is sacred and humans do not have the authority to decide who lives and who dies; that decision is up to God. Both the death penalty and abortion usurps an authority that simply is not ours. We have no “freedom of choice” when it comes to life for we are not gods. Dostoyevsky too had it on target: if there is no God anything is permitted. I have always found it intriguing that often the very same people and societies who claim the moral high ground by vaunting their opposition to capital punishment and war turn a blind eye, to stay with the metaphor of the world of the blind, toward abortion which is also, if truth be told, the terminating of a life that has begun and that has done absolutely nothing to warrant such a harsh penalty. Either all life is sacred or no life is sacred. Ought we not wrap our mind around that thought and debate it extensively too?

Thanos2008-04-21 15:30:24
I think there is one more question rising here, attorney-client privilege and how far this privilege can go. In this case it nearly coasted an innocent life and it definitely coasted a lost life time.

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