Sunday, 7 October 2007

Death penalty: Eye for eye

But opponents want moratoriumS to halt 'murder of murderers.'

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Express-Times

The Supreme Court of the United States will soon be considering one of the most important death penalty cases in decades.

The issue centers on the use of lethal injection as the executioner's tool in a case involving two inmates on Kentucky's death row.

Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. sued the Bluegrass State in 2004, claiming the needle amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Locally, some say any form of capital punishment is just plain wrong.

Lehigh University Chaplain Lloyd Steffen is a longtime opponent of the death penalty. He's even written a book about it -- "Executing Justice: The Moral Meaning of the Death Penalty."

Steffen is a professor of religion and a minister with the United Church of Christ, which is taking a strong stand against the death penalty.

Karen Berry, head of the Social Action Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley, says her church adopted a moratorium resolution earlier this summer and is hoping for formal action from the Pennsylvania Legislature to make some type of death penalty moratorium official statewide.

And during the weekend of Oct. 19-20, Amnesty International is sponsoring the 2007 National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty when churches throughout the country will hold events to bring attention to the issue.

The fight is in the courts

This connection between religious and secular organizations is at the forefront of the struggle to rid states of what organizers see as a barbaric and unfairly administered penalty for the crime of murder.

The courts are where the fighting has begun.

All 37 states that perform lethal injection use the same three-drug cocktail, but at least 10 of those states suspended its use after opponents alleged it was ineffective and cruel, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The three consist of an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer, and a substance to stop the heart. Death penalty foes have argued that if the condemned prisoner is not given enough anesthetic, he -- or she -- can suffer excruciating pain without being able to cry out.

Baze, 52, has been on death row for 14 years. He was sentenced for the 1992 shooting deaths of Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe.

Bennett and Briscoe were serving warrants on Baze when he shot them. Baze has said the shootings were the result of a family dispute that got out of hand and resulted in the sheriff being called.

Bowling was sentenced to death for killing Edward and Tina Earley and shooting their 2-year-old son outside the couple's Lexington, Ky., dry-cleaning business in 1990.

Lethal injection is just one battle; the war consists of opponents fighting against all forms of capital punishment.

'Seamless garment of life'

When asked if churches have any business getting mixed up in the politics of whether states should, or should not, execute criminals for the most heinous crimes, Steffen says, "Sure they should. All the mainline churches have taken positions opposing the death penalty, and Pope John Paul II has said the death penalty is inimical to the 'seamless garment of life.' "

Steffen is not encouraging the justice system to let the most vile criminals out onto the streets, he's just looking for the same kind of consideration parents use when their kids act out -- give them a time out.

"If people took a time out to study the problem," he says, "they would be against the death penalty."

Perhaps the Bible verse from Hebrews 10:30 applies here: "'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord." And from Deuteronomy 32:36: "For the Lord will be judge of his people."

But what do the people do when a Timothy McVeigh blows up an office building in Oklahoma City, snuffing out 168 souls? Or -- much closer to home -- when Martin Appel robbed the bank in East Allen Township, executing three to leave no witnesses. Appel was sentenced to death, but got off death row through appeals.

Death for 'horrific crimes'

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli still chafes at that decision.

"We need to keep the death penalty on the books for any horrific crimes that come along," Morganelli says. He maintains Appel is one of those criminals. Besides, Morganelli says Pennsylvania has had a "de facto" moratorium on death sentences for decades.

"We've only had three executions, and all of those came after they stopped appealing their cases.

Steffen refers to those same three cases as "voluntary" executions. He has visited death rows in Pennsylvania and Tennessee and says death row confinement usually means solitary confinement for years.

"There are a lot of suicides," he says. "It's torturous for them. All three executions have been volunteers. They drop all appeals; it's a mental illness situation."

Pennsylvania's primary method of execution is by lethal injection which, according to Amnesty International, is the same method used by China, Guatemala, the Philippines and Thailand.

New Jersey's method of execution is also by lethal injection. However, The Garden State does have a formal moratorium on executions, due to legislation passed in 2006.

Steffen says too many convicts who were innocent slip through the cracks.

"There have been 124 nationwide," he says.

Return to Martin Appel case

When Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted his state's death sentences in a blanket order in January 2003, he was making a statement against the death penalty. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for that action and has stumped in Harrisburg for a moratorium on the death penalty in the Keystone State.

Morganelli, who authored his own book about the Appel case, says those seeking a death penalty moratorium in Pennsylvania "are all do-good organizations that don't believe in punishment and that everybody can be rehabilitated. They're just anti-law and don't carry much credibility."

Morganelli's book is titled "The D-Day Bank Massacre: The True Story Behind the Martin Appel Case."

Morganelli says he's more concerned about inmates who manage to get paroled and end up killing again. He names Reginald McFadden and "Mudman" Simon as two examples.

He also says the American justice system already has a built-in safeguard against making mistakes -- a jury of 12 who must vote unanimously for the death penalty.

"We just had a case where it went 11 to 1," Morganelli says, citing the Andrew D. Paschal verdict. Paschal was convicted of gunning down Marcellus McDuffie outside Larry Holmes Ringside Restaurant and Lounge, in Easton on May 14, 2006.

Death penalty not logical

Maria Weick of the Lehigh Valley Committee Against Killing and the Pennsylvania Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International, says "Pennsylvania is a really hard case when it comes to the death penalty."

Both she and Steffen say the single most difficult roadblock to a moratorium is politicians.

"Pennsylvania politicians," Weick scoffs, "are married to the idea that supporting the death penalty means they're tough on crime."

Weick says Pennsylvanians are split 50-50 for and against the death penalty.

She admits, "Moratoriums are an act of desperation. But they are a way of getting people to think about the issue."

Steffen says they act to increase public awareness.

Weick adds that the death penalty makes no logical sense.

"Think about it," she says, "Do we drug the drug dealer? Do we rape the rapist? Then why do we murder the murderer?"

Tony Nauroth is a features writer with The Express-Times. He can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

1 comment:

dudleysharp said...

A few of the most common anti death penalty deceptions were in the aricle. Hopefully, this, below, will lift that fog, a bit.

The Death Penalty in the US: A Review
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
NOTE: Detailed review of any of the below topics, or others, is available upon request
In this brief format, the reality of the death penalty in the United States, is presented, with the hope that the media, public policy makers and others will make an effort to present a balanced view on this sanction.

Innocence Issues
Death Penalty opponents have proclaimed that 124 inmates have been "released from death row with evidence of their innocence", in the US, since the modern death penalty era began, post Furman v Georgia (1972).
That number is a fraud.
Those opponents have intentionally included both the factually innocent (the "I truly had nothing to do with the murder" cases) and the legally innocent (the "I got off because of legal errors" cases), thereby fraudulently raising the "innocent" numbers.
Death penalty opponents claim that 24 such innocence cases are in Florida. The Florida Commission on Capital Cases found that 4 of those 24 MIGHT be innocent -- an 83% error rate in death penalty opponents claims. If that error rate is consistent, nationally, that would indicate that 21 of the alleged 124 innocents MIGHT be actually innocent -- a 0.3% actual guilt error rate for the over 7800 sentenced to death since 1973. 
It is often claimed that 23 innocents have been executed in the US since 1900.  Nonsense.  Even the authors of that "23 innocents executed" study proclaimed "We agree with our critics, we never proved those (23) executed to be innocent; we never claimed that we had."  While no one would claim that an innocent has never been executed, there is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.
No one disputes that innocents are found guilty, within all countries.  However, when scrutinizing death penalty opponents claims, we find that when reviewing the accuracy of verdicts and the post conviction thoroughness of discovering those actually innocent incarcerated, that the US death penalty process may be the most accurate criminal justice sanction in the world.  Under real world scenarios, not executing murderers will always put many more innocents at risk, than will ever be put at risk of execution.

Deterrence Issues
12 recent US studies find a deterrent effect of the death penalty.
All the studies which have not found a deterrent effect of the death penalty have refused to say that it does not deter some.  The studies finding for deterrence state such.  Confusion arises when people think that a simple comparison of murder rates and executions, or the lack thereof, can tell the tale of deterrence.  It cannot. 
Both high and low murder rates are found within death penalty and non death penalty jurisdictions, be it Singapore, South Africa, Sweden or Japan, or the US states of Michigan and Delaware.  Many factors are involved in such evaluations.  Reason and common sense tell us that it would be remarkable to find that the most severe criminal sanction -- execution -- deterred none.  No one is foolish enough to suggest that the potential for negative consequences does not deter the behavior of some.  Therefore, regardless of jurisdiction, having the death penalty will always be an added deterrent to murders, over and above any lesser punishments.

Racial issues
White murderers are twice as likely to be executed in the US as are black murderers and are executed, on average, 12 months more quickly than are black death row inmates.
It is often stated that it is the race of the victim which decides who is prosecuted in death penalty cases.  Although blacks and whites make up about an equal number of murder victims, capital cases are 6 times more likely to involve white victim murders than black victim murders.  This, so the logic goes, is proof that the US only cares about white victims.
Hardly.  Only capital murders, not all murders, are subject to a capital indictment.  Generally, a capital murder is limited to murders plus secondary aggravating factors, such as murders involving burglary, carjacking, rape, and additional murders, such as police murders, serial and multiple murders.  White victims are, overwhelmingly, the victims under those circumstances, in ratios nearly identical to the cases found on death row.
Any other racial combinations of defendants and/or their victims in death penalty cases, is a reflection of the crimes committed and not any racial bias within the system, as confirmed by studies from the Rand Corporation (1991), Smith College (1994), U of Maryland (2002), New Jersey Supreme Court (2003) and by a view of criminal justice statistics, within a framework of the secondary aggravating factors necessary for capital indictments.

Class issues
No one disputes that wealthier defendants can hire better lawyers and, therefore, should have a legal advantage over their poorer counterparts.  The US has executed about 0.15% of all murderers since new death penalty statutes were enacted in 1973.  Is there evidence that wealthier capital murderers are less likely to be executed than their poorer ilk, based upon the proportion of capital murders committed by different those different economic groups?

Arbitrary and capricious
About 10% of all murders within the US might qualify for a death penalty eligible trial.  That would be about 60,000 murders since 1973.  We have sentenced 7,600 murderers to death since then, or 13% of those eligible.  I doubt that there is any other crime which receives a higher percentage of maximum sentences, when mandatory sentences are not available.  Based upon that, as well as pre trial, trial, appellate and clemency/commutation realities, the US death penalty is likely the least arbitrary and capricious criminal sanctions in the world.  

Christianity and the death penalty
The two most authoritative New Testament scholars, Saints Augustine and Aquinas, provide substantial biblical and theological support for the death penalty. Even the most well known anti death penalty personality in the US, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, states that "It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical 'proof text' in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this.  Even Jesus' admonition 'Let him without sin cast the first stone,' when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) -- the Mosaic Law prescribed death -- should be read in its proper context.  This passage is an 'entrapment' story, which sought to show Jesus' wisdom in besting His adversaries.  It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment."  A thorough review of Pope John Paul II's current position, reflects a reasoning that should be recommending more executions.

Cost Issues
All studies finding the death penalty to be more expensive than life without parole exclude important factors, such as (1) geriatric care costs, recently found to be $69,0000/yr/inmate, (2) the death penalty cost benefit of providing for plea bargains to a maximum life sentence, a huge cost savings to the state, (3) the death penalty cost benefit of both enhanced deterrence and enhanced incapacitation, at $5 million per innocent life spared, and, furthermore, (4) many of the alleged cost comparison studies are highly deceptive.

Polling data
76% of Americans find that we should impose the death penalty more or that we impose it about right (Gallup, May 2006 - 51% that we should impose it more, 25% that we impose it about right)
71%  find capital punishment morally acceptable - that was the highest percentage answer for all questions (Gallup, April 2006, moral values poll).
81% of the American people supported the execution of Timothy McVeigh, with only 16% opposed. "(T)his view appears to be the consensus of all major groups in society, including men, women, whites, nonwhites, "liberals" and "conservatives."  (Gallup 5/2/01).
81% of Connecticut citizens supported the execution of serial rapist/murderer Michael Ross (Jan 2005).
While 81% gave specific case support for Timothy McVeigh's execution, Gallup also showed a 65% support AT THE SAME TIME when asked a general "do you support capital punishment for murderers?" question. (Gallup, 6/10/01).
22% of those supporting McVeigh's execution are, generally, against the death penalty (Gallup 5/02/01). That means that about half of those who say they oppose the death penalty, with the general question,  actually support the death penalty under specific circumstances, just as it is imposed, judicially.
Further supporting the higher rates for specific cases, is this, from the French daily Le Monde December 2006 (1): Percentage of respondents in favor of executing Saddam Hussein:USA: 82%; Great Britain: 69%; France: 58%; Germany: 53%; Spain: 51%; Italy: 46%
Death penalty support is much deeper and much wider than we are often led to believe, with 50% of those who say they, generally, oppose the death penalty actually supporting it under specific circumstances, resulting in 80% death penalty support in the US, as recently as December 2006.
Whatever your feelings are toward the death penalty, a fair accounting of how it is applied should be demanded.
copyright 1998-2007 Dudley Sharp
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-Span, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
Pro death penalty sites 


www(dot)  (Sweden)

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