Sages of the New Covenant
Application of the death penalty is arbitrary. Prosecutors in various counties differ widely on whether they will seek it—meaning where a crime is committed determines who gets the death penalty. And the death penalty is not reserved for the “worst of the worst” or ‘rarest of the rare’—some of the worst mass murderers in Washington’s history have received life sentences.
In sixteen countries across Asia, drug smuggling is punishable by death. Asia is under enormous pressure from the West to crack down on the drug trade which is mostly funded by consumers in Western countries. However, those who produce and sell the drugs rarely face prosecution. The mules trafficking the drugs – usually because of a combination of economic duress and coercion – end up facing the ultimate punishment.
The "strike hard" policy in China parades alleged criminals in public, with details of the crime they committed. Public sentencing is attended by thousands of people. In 1996, 1,000 people were executed in only two months' time. Executions are also driven by economics. Organs are taken from the executed and sold. Families are often not informed of the execution, leaving them in a state of utter despair and hopelessness. Could the booming transplant industry be in fact, the other hidden factor driving the death penalty?
"20 years spent on death row before exoneration shows a failure of the system, not its success." - Marc Callcut
Many people are simply born with defects to their brain that cause them to act a certain way. No amount of drugs, schooling, rehabilitation, or positive reinforcement will change them. Is it fair that someone should be murdered just because they were unlucky enough to be born with a brain defect. Although it is technically unconstitutional to put a mentally ill patient to death, the rules can be vague, and you still need to be able to convince a judge and jury that the defendant is in fact, mentally ill.
Capital punishment is a barbaric remnant of uncivilized society. It is immoral in principle, and unfair and discriminatory in practice. It assures the execution of some innocent people. As a remedy for crime, it has no purpose and no effect. Capital punishment ought to be abolished now.
There have been and always will be cases of executions of innocent people. No matter how developed a justice system is, it will always remain susceptible to human failure. Unlike prison sentences, the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable. The following story is illustrative of this truth:
A few years ago, a poor German came to New York and took lodgings, where he was allowed to do his cooking in the same room with the family. The husband and wife lived in a perpetual quarrel. One day, the German came into the kitchen, with a clasp-knife and a pan of potatoes, and began to pare them for his dinner. The quarrelsome couple was in a more violent altercation than usual, but he sat with his back towards them, and, being ignorant of their language, felt in no danger of being involved in their disputes. But the woman, with a sudden and unexpected movement, snatched the knife from his hand, and plunged it into her husband's heart. She had sufficient presence of mind to rush into the street, and scream murder. The poor foreigner, in the meanwhile, seeing the wounded man reel, sprang forward to catch him in his arms, and drew out the knife. People from the street crowded in, and found him with the dying man in his arms, the knife in his hand, and blood upon his clothes. The wicked woman swore, in the most positive terms, that he had been fighting with her husband, and had stabbed him with a knife he always carried.
The unfortunate German knew too little English to understand her accusation, or to tell his own story. He was dragged off to ' prison, and the true state of the case was made known through an interpreter; but it was not believed. Circumstantial evidence was exceedingly strong against the accused, and the real criminal swore that she saw him commit the murder. He was executed, notwithstanding the most persevering efforts of his lawyer, John Anthon, Esq., whose convictions of the man's innocence were so painfully strong, that, from that day to this, he has refused to have, any connection with a capital case. Some years after this tragic event, the woman died, and on her deathbed confessed her agency, in the diabolical transaction; but her poor victim could receive no benefit from this tardy repentance. Society had .wantonly thrown away its power to atone for the grievous wrong.
George Ryan, Governor of Illinois, who appointed a 14-member commission on capital punishment to examine Illinois's death penalty and declared the nation's first moratorium on executions, said the following:
"The Illinois capital punishment system is so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare: the state's taking of innocent life."
Professionals in the justice system know that innocent people have been executed. In the absence of any official study, since 1973, 138 people have been sentenced to death in the US, and then later exonerated. 1,227 individuals have been found guilty and executed, suggesting a rate of wrongful convictions of 11.2% (1 exoneration for every 8.8 executions).
“The level of faith, support from family and friends, and education proved to be critical factors in positive reintegrations.” - Joan Cheever’s book Back from the Dead
Further to the Furman v. Georgia decision that the death penalty constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment in 1972, 322 people were released from death row in the USA. In nearly 90% of cases, released prisoners never again committed any violent felonies. In 7 out of 10 cases, the reason for re-incarceration has been technical violations (such as failing to inform a parole officer of a change of address) or non-violent crimes (such as an alcohol offence).
“That’s what he wanted to tell me on the phone, when we arranged to meet. That it is possible to change. That a life can be turned around. That he’s not the same as he was when he was 21. He knows many people, especially the victim’s families, will never be able to forgive him. It’s even harder, Leroy says, to forgive yourself (…). He says he knows he can never give back the life he took and he says he struggles daily, trying to give something back to his community. (…) Leroy frequently gets calls from friends and neighbors for advice on how to help their own troubled sons. He appears to be a model citizen and a good neighbor”.
- Joan Cheever’s book Back from the Dead
The following are some of the cases, where innocents were wrongly executed:
Over 130 people have been sentenced to death and later found to be innocent. They are the fortunate few who were exonerated. The appeals system in any country is not set up to review questions of actual innocence, but to determine whether the trial was in accord with constitutional standards of fairness. There is no constitutional bar to the execution of a factually innocent person.
A study published in the Stanford Law Review documents 350 capital convictions in this century, in which it was later proven that the convict had not committed the crime. Of those, 25 convicts were executed while others spent decades of their lives in prison. Fifty-five of the 350 cases took place in the 1970s, and another 20 of them between l980 and l985.
In Texas, Reverend Caroll Pickett who worked as a death row chaplain for 15 years said, “Out of the 95 inmates that were executed, I believe 15 were innocent” (source: Victoria advocate). 65% Texans believe the state has executed innocent people. (Scripps Howard Texas poll, Feb 2003, 1000 people interviewed)
In Louisiana, Clive Stafford Smith and his team proved that the state wrongfully charged people 73.4% of the time (126 out of 171 cases). Clive Stafford Smith said:
“One of the executions I witnessed was one of an innocent man: Edward Earl Johnson, who was executed in a Mississippi gas chamber in 1987. Many amongst the correctional officers believed in Edward’s innocence.”
Even Chief Justices believe that innocent people have been executed. Harry Foggle, Chief Justice of VI Judicial Circuit, Florida has said:
“In my own experience, I know of four persons convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death who later were found to be innocent."
Illinois Governor George Ryan appointed a 14-member commission on capital punishment to examine Illinois's death penalty. He declared the nation's first moratorium on executions. The Governor commented that his state's death penalty was fraught with error, noting:
"The Illinois capital punishment system is] so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare: the state's taking of innocent life."
Our criminal justice system cannot be made fail-safe because it is run by human beings, who are fallible. Executions of innocent persons occur. In the absence of any official study, it is believed that over 300 innocent people may be on death row in the USA today. There may be thousands more who have been wrongfully convicted and awaiting execution elsewhere in the world.
In 1950, Timothy Evans was tried and executed for the murder of his baby daughter Geraldine. An official inquiry conducted 16 years later determined that it was Evans's fellow tenant, serial killer John Reginald Halliday Christie, who was responsible for the murder. Christie also admitted to the murder of Evans's wife, as well as five other women and his own wife. Christie may have murdered other women, judging by evidence found in his possession at the time of his arrest, but it was never pursued by the police. Evans was posthumously pardoned in 1966. The case had prompted the abolition of Capital Punishment in the UK in 1965.
In 1953, Derek Bentley, a mentally challenged young man was executed. He was convicted of the murder of a police officer during an attempted robbery, despite the facts that it was his accomplice who fired the gun and that Bentley was already under arrest at the time of the shooting. The accomplice who actually fired the fatal shot could not be executed due to his young age.
In 1984 - Wei Qingan (Chinese: 魏清安) was a 23 years old a Chinese citizen who was executed for the rape of Liu, a woman who had disappeared. The execution was carried out on 3 May 1984 by the Intermediate People's court. One month after the execution, Tian Yuxiu (田玉修) was arrested and admitted that he had committed the rape. Three years later, Wei was officially declared innocent.
1989 - Teng Xingshan (Chinese: 滕善) was a Chinese citizen who was executed for supposedly having raped, robbed and murdered Shi Xiaorong (石小), a woman who had disappeared. An old man found a dismembered body, and incompetent police forensics claimed to have matched the body to the photo of the missing Shi Xiaorong. The execution was carried out on 28 January 1989 by the Huaihua Intermediate People's court. In 1993, the previously missing woman returned to the village, saying she had been kidnapped to Shandong. The absolute innocence of the wrongfully executed Teng was not admitted until 2005.
In 1995, Ne Shubin (Chinese: 斌) a Chinese citizen was executed for the rape and murder of Kang Juhua (康菊花), a woman in her thirties. The execution was carried out on April 27, 1995 by the Shijazhuang Intermediate People's court. In 2005, ten years after the execution, Wang Shujin (Chinese: 王金) admitted to the police that, in fact, he had committed the murder.
With 1,712 executions in 2008, China kills more prisoners than the rest of the world put together. Thousands of people are executed by a dysfunctional criminal justice system. A lawyer in China has said:
“It is painful being a lawyer in China. 99.99% of those accused of a crime and face the death penalty are found guilty and executed. Lawyers are no use at all. In every death penalty case that I defended, all my clients were executed."
Families are left with a sense of helplessness and anger towards the state who killed their loved ones. Sometimes the family is not even informed of the execution.
Mistaken identity has not surfaced in India; but that can be construed as absence of such cases in India; and the suicidal note of Abdul Iqbal Bargir confirms the prosecutors are under pressure to book innocent people for early closer of the investigation. Inspector Abdul Iqbal Bargir, the investigation officer in Armogam Munnaswami Kounder case, committed suicide on January 25, 2001, by jumping off the seventh floor of a Millat Nagar building in Andheri where he stayed. Bargir reportedly left a suicide note, accusing the then Assistant Commissioner of Police Nandakumar Chougule of pressurizing him to register false cases against innocent people, including Kounder, which ended in conviction.
In 2006, bombs go off on a holy night, Badi Raat or Shab e Bara’at, outside the mosque in Malegaon, which is a predominantly Muslim town. Nine boys are arrested, and charged with having executed these bomb blasts. Nine confessions are recorded. Police claims that they seized RDX, explosive material, from their homes. Police also claims that one of these nine boys has agreed, because his conscience is troubling him so much, to become an approver, and to give evidence on behalf of the state, against his colleagues. Charge sheets are filed; sanctions are given. Because of the hue and cry raised in Mumbai, the case is transferred to the CBI. The CBI filed a supplementary charge sheet verifying the investigation done by the Mumbai Police. And then the NIA (National Investigation Agency) which is investigating the Samjhauta Express blasts, arrests Swami Aseemanand, who confesses to having carried out these blasts in Malegaon as well. He says that it was his Right wing Hindu terror group that did these Malegaon blasts. So then what happens to all that evidence, the confessional evidence, the RDX? Where did the RDX come from? If you put yourself in the position of a judge, adjudicating a case, and the Police produce RDX in Court, saying it was seized from the house of the accused. The defense lawyer says that evidence has been fabricated. The Judge asks: “Where did the Police get it from?” How do you answer that question? You are at a loss for an answer. The judge is going to believe that evidence, that the RDX was actually seized, because where do people get RDX from otherwise? Normal people don’t have RDX. But for Swami Aseemanand’s confession coming to light, these nine boys would be facing the gallows.
False confessions, mistaken eyewitness accounts, incompetent counsel and jailhouse snitches are often the cause of an innocent person's conviction. Why would an innocent person admit to a crime he did not commit? Duress, physical torture, fear of violence, exhaustion, incomprehension about their situation or about the law and diminished capacity are known to induce false confessions. In the aftermath of highly publicized crimes, there is pressure to charge and convict someone and mistakes are made.
Singapore is the world’s leading country for use of death penalty per capita, with one hanging every 9 days. There are no juries, with a small group of judges making the final decision. People are hung without fair trials. When the Singapore Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong was asked in 2003 about the execution rates, he stated: “I’ve got more important things to worry about”.
To date, only 4 death row prisoners have been exonerated. The process of finding their innocence took 28 to 34 years. There were 53 death row prisoners in Japan at the end of December 2000. Among them, 25 people claimed they were totally innocent, or partly innocent, of the charges against them and were making appeals for retrial. Even in cases where journalists agree there has been a miscarriage of justice, the door to retrial will not open.
"Reversal of an erroneous conviction demonstrates not the failure of the system but its success" - Justice A. Scalia
One of the witnesses against the death penalty before the Senate committee last year was Earl Charles, a man who spent over three years on a Georgia death row for murders he did not commit. Another witness remarked that, had Mr. Charles faced a system "where the legal apparatus was speedier and the death penalty had been carried out more expeditiously, we would now be talking about the late Mr. Charles and bemoaning our error."
What happens when the mistake is discovered after a man has been executed for a crime he did not commit? What do we say to his widow and children? Do we erect an apologetic tombstone over his grave?
These are not idle questions. A number of persons executed in the United States were later cleared by confessions of those who had actually committed the crimes. In other cases, while no one else confessed, there was great doubt that the condemned were guilty. Watt Espy, an Alabamian who has done intensive research on American executions, says that he has "every reason to believe" that 10 innocent men were executed in Alabama alone. Mr. Espy cites names, dates and other specifics of the cases. He adds that there are similar cases in virtually every state.
Death Penalty is commonly executed by in olden times by burning and crucifixion and in current times, hanging, beheading, shooting, Electric shock and injecting poison and in India always by hanging.
Whether it's a firing squad, electric chair, gas chamber, lethal injection, or hanging, it's barbaric to allow state-sanctioned murder before a crowd of people. How could we condemn people like Ahmadinejad, Qaddafi, and Kim Jong Il who had murdered their own people while our own States continue to do the same (although our procedures for allowing it are obviously more thorough).
All executions are painful, whether botched or not, and all executions are certainly cruel. The history of capital punishment is replete with examples of botched executions.
“Six of my clients have been executed. Two were by gas chamber, two by electric chair and two by lethal injection. Executions are disgusting. Of course, as a witness you don’t see everything, they cover the face of the condemned with a hood or they are paralyzed by chemicals but you know that they suffer terribly.”
- Clive Stafford Smith
Stoning and Beheading:
During a stoning, men are buried in a hole to the waist whilst women are buried up to the shoulders. The public hurls stones of a certain size at the convicted, often resulting in a slow death. The condemned may be spared their life if they can free themselves from the hole.
A man describes a beheading in Riyadh:
"At 9 a.m., the executioner gently lowers the blade to jab at the condemned’s neck, which jerks the prisoner’s body to attention. Then the real blow: the blade is drawn high up, and then swung back down. It cleaves skin, muscle, and bone with a hollow, echoing thud. A lurid crimson waterfall chases the head to the granite with the sound of a wet rag being wrung out over a stainless steel sink. The body sways forward, snaps up, and slumps off to the right."
The Gas Chamber:
The gas chamber was invented during the First World War. The Nazis used gas chambers to carry out their agenda of genocide. It is still the method of choice for execution in 5 US states.
The prisoner is placed in the gas chamber and strapped to a chair, the door is sealed. When the warden gives the signal, the executioner, in a separate room, pulls the lever, turning cyanide into liquid. This causes a chemical reaction releasing hydrogen cyanide gas. The gas rises through holes in the chair where the prisoner sits. Prisoners are advised to take deep breaths after the gas is released, told this will considerably shorten their suffering. Imagine forcing yourself to deeply inhale the substance you know will kill you, but the deeper you breathe, the less you will suffer. Suicidal isn’t it! Reports from the chamber include this horrifying testimony:
"At first there is evidence of extreme horror, pain, and strangling. The eyes pop, the skin turns purple and the victim begins to drool."
Executions by shooting:
Shooting does not guarantee instant death. An interview with Thailand's last executioner (by shooting):
Question: "Has he missed?"
Executioner: "They all died. But not all of them die instantly. I needed to keep shooting for 3 to 5 minutes for some of them to die."
The Malaysian star, Chavoret Chauboon, in an interview with Philip Golingai, commented:
"If the escort did not tie the convict to the cross tightly, the convict could wriggle. And when the bullets missed his heart there would be lots of agonizing screams."
The Electric chair:
The electric chair is infamous for terribly botched executions, requiring multiple jolts before ending the prisoner's life. Clive Stafford Smith has attended such executions. He says:
"When the executioner throws the switch that sends the current through the body, the prisoner cringes from torture, his flesh swells and his skin stretches to the point of breaking. He defecates, he urinates, his tongue swells and his eyes pop out. In some cases, the eyeballs rest on the cheeks of the condemned. His flesh is burned and smells of cooked meat. When the autopsy is performed the liver is so hot it cannot be touched by the human hand."
Not convinced? Listen to the botched execution of Alpha Otis O’Daniel Stephens, killed by electric chair.
To work, the rope used in the hanging must be properly adjusted to the weight of the condemned. If not done correctly, the executed may be violently decapitated, as seen in the execution of Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s younger half-brother. On the other hand, the prisoner may suffer a slow death lasting 10-20 minutes. Recently a Sri Lankan was executed in Middle East, by hanging. After releasing the rope, he was moving his legs and he died only after five hours.
Lethal injection is the latest technique, first used in Texas in l982, and now mandated by law in a large majority of states in US that retain capital punishment. Although this method is defended as more humane, efficient, and inexpensive than others, one federal judge observed that even "a slight error in dosage or administration can leave a prisoner conscious but paralyzed while dying, a sentient witness of his or her own asphyxiation."
The prisoner is strapped to a gurney and injected with a barbiturate which knocks them out. This is followed by pancuronium, a paralytic. It is then topped with potassium chloride, stopping the heart. Lethal injection was introduced as a more “humane” way of killing, but all too often it has gone wrong. Romell Broom even walked away from his execution still alive after repeated failed attempts to locate a suitable vein.
If the dose of barbiturate is not sufficiently concentrated or the IV is not inserted properly, the prisoner remains awake, able to feel pain but frozen in silence due to the paralytic effect of the pancuronium. He suffocates slowly until the potassium chloride shocks the heart so severely it stops beating. If the prisoner remains conscious at this point the pain is excruciating. On average, prisoners suffocate for 15 minutes before dying. It was reported in one case that it took up to 34 minutes until the condemned died.
In Texas, there have been three botched injection executions since 1985. In other states, dozens of botched executions have occurred, leading to suspensions of executions in Florida, California, and other states.
In 2006, it took the Florida Department of Corrections 34 minutes to execute inmate Angel Nieves Diaz by way of lethal injection, usually a 15 minute procedure. During the execution, Diaz appeared to be in pain and gasped for air for more than 11 minutes. He was given a rare second dose of lethal chemicals after the execution team observed that the first round did not kill him. A medical examiner reported the second dose was needed because the needles were incorrectly inserted through his veins and into the flesh in his arms. Not only did Diaz die a slow and excruciating death because the drugs were not delivered into his veins properly, his autopsy revealed that he suffered 12 inch chemical burns in his arms by the highly concentrated drugs flowing under his skin.
More recently, an Ohio inmate did not die when his injections were incorrectly administered. Minutes into the execution, he raised his head and said, "It don't work, it don't work."
Eyewitness accounts confirm that execution by lethal injection and other means is often an excruciatingly painful, and always degrading, process that ends in death.
There is no decent way to kill a prisoner. Hanging, stoning, beheading and electrocuting all constitute cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment.
This issue has been much discussed in recent years because several states have provided for execution by lethal injection. In 1980 the American Medical Association, responding to this innovation, declared that a doctor should not participate in an execution. But it added that a doctor may determine or certify death in any situation. The A.M.A. evaded a major part of the ethical problem. When doctors use their stethoscopes to indicate whether the electric chair has done its job, they are assisting the executioner.
For those awaiting execution, the mental anguish they suffer is in breach of their right not to experience torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Such mental anguish has become so common on death row that in legal circles it is simply known as “the death row phenomena”. Accordingly, the European Court of Human Rights refused the extradition of a German national to the US. The UK's Privy Council has also decided that executing an individual “after holding [them] in an agony of suspense” for more than five years would be inhuman and degrading.
In Japan, 97 inmates currently await death by hanging. Each day they wait for execution, facing a sentence that could be enforced at only a few hours' notice. Some live like this year after year, sometimes for decades, not knowing when they will be executed. This can lead to the development of serious mental disorders.
One victim's innocent family is obviously forced to suffer from a capital murder, but by enforcing a death sentence, you force another family to suffer. Why double the suffering when we don't have to? Should the Offenders family suffer from seeing their loved one put to death by the state, as well as going through the emotionally-draining appeals process?
In India, in the 50s, when Master’s degree in Social Work was introduced in India, there used to be specialization: “Criminology and Correctional Social Work”. As, most of the lucrative jobs were from the Labor Welfare specialization and not much job potential was available in Correctional Social Work, now hardly any institution seems to be having such specialization, expect Madurai Institute of Social Work, which is running a generic course, without a specialization. We need to revive this area of study and use these professionals to reform the prison system, with some studies done on this issue of ‘Capital Punishment Vs Life Imprisonment without Parole’.
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Sages of the New Covenant