In Cold Blood: The Death Penalty


Capital Punishment has been part of the criminal justice
system since the earliest of times. The Babylonian
Hammurabi Code(ca. 1700 B.C.) decreed death for crimes as
minor as the fraudulent sale of beer(Flanders 3). Egyptians
could be put to death for disclosing the location of sacred
burial sites(Flanders 3). However, in recent times
opponents have shown the death penalty to be racist,
barbaric, and in violation with the United States
Constitution as "...cruel and unusual punishment." In this
country,although laws governing the application of the
death penalty have undergone many changes since biblical
times, the punishment endures , and controversy has never
been greater.
A prisoner's death wish cannot grant a right not otherwise
possessed. Abolitionists maintain that the state has no
right to kill anyone; . The right to reject life
imprisonment and choose death should be respected, but it
changes nothing for those who oppose the death at the hands
of the state.
The death penalty is irrational- a fact that should carry
considerable weight with rationalists. As Albert Camus
pointed out, " Capital punishment....has always been a
religious punishment and is reconcilable with humanism." In
other words, society has long since left behind the archaic
and barbarous" customs" from the cruel "eye for an eye"
anti-human caves of religion- another factor that should
raise immediate misgivings for freethinkers.
State killings are morally bankrupt. Why do governments
kill people to show other people that killing people is
wrong? Humanity becomes associated with murderers when it
replicate their deeds. Would society allow rape as the
penalty for rape or the burning of arsonists' homes as the
penalty for arson?
The state should never have the power to murder its
subjects. To give the state this power eliminates the
individual's most effective shield against tyranny of the
majority and is inconsistent with democratic principles.
Family and friends of murder victims are further victimized
by state killings. Quite a few leaders in the abolishment
movement became involved specially because someone they
loved was murdered. Family of victims repeatedly stated
they wanted the murderer to die. One of the main reasons-
in addition to justice- was they wanted all the publicity
to be over. Ye, if it wasn't for the sensationalism
surrounding an execution, the media exposure would not have
occurred in the first place. Murderers would be quietly and
safely put away for life with absolutely no possibility for
The death penalty is often used for political gain. During
his presidential gain, President Clinton rushed home for
the Arkansas execution of Rickey Ray Rector, a mentally
retarded, indigent black man. Clinton couldn't take the
chance of being seen by voters as " soft on crime."
Political Analysts believe that when the death penalty
becomes an issue in a campaign, the candidate favoring
capital punishment almost inevitably will benefit.
Capital punishment discriminates against the poor. Although
murderers come from all classes, those on death row are
almost without exception poor and were living in poverty at
the time they were arrested. The majority of death-row
inmates were or are represented by court-appointed public
defenders- and the state is not obligated to provide an
attorney at all for appeals beyond the state level.
The application of capital punishment is racist. About 40
percent of death-row inmates are black, whereas only 8
percent of the population as a whole are black(Flanders
25). In cases with white victims, black defendants were
four to six times more likely to receive death sentences
than white defendants who had similar criminal histories.
Studies show that the chance for a death sentence is up to
five to ten times greater in cases with white victims than
black victims(Flanders 25). In the criminal justice system,
the life of a white person is worth more than the life of a
black person.
The mentally retarded are victimized by the death penalty.
Since 1989, when the Supreme Court upheld killing of the
mentally retarded, at least four such executions have
occurred. According to the Southern Center for Human
Rights, at least 10 percent of death row inmates in the
United States are mentally retarded(Long 79).
Juveniles are subject to the death penalty. Since state
execution of juveniles also became permissible in the
decision cited above, at least five people who were
juveniles when their crimes were committed have
executed(Long 79).
Innocent people can-and have been- executed. With the death
penalty errors are irreversible. According to a 1987 study,
23 people who were innocent of the crimes for which they
were convicted were executed between 1900 and 1985 (Long
79). Until human judgment becomes infallible, this problem
alone is reason enough to abolish the death penalty at the
hands of the state more dedicated to vengeance than to
truth and justice.
Executions do not save money. There are those who cry that
we, the taxpayers, shouldn't have to "support" condemned
people for an entire lifetime in prison- that we should
simply " eliminate" them and save ourselves time and money.
The truth is that the cost of state killing is up to three
times the cost of lifetime imprisonment(Long 80). Judges
and others are reluctant- as they should be- to shorten the
execution process for fear that hasty procedures will lead
to the executions of more innocent people.
The death penalty has been imposed most for murders
committed during the course of another felony. Aggravating
circumstances for murder are defined in the applicable
death penalty statute. Circumstances considered for murder
include: -The crime was particularly vile, atrocious, or
cruel. -There were multiple victims. -The crime occurred
during the commission of another felony. -The victim was a
police or correctional officer in the line of duty. -The
offender was previously convicted of a capital offense or
violent crime. -The offender directed an accomplice to
commit the murder or committed the murder at the direction
of another person. (Flanders 12) 

In the novel, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, the main
characters Dick and Perry were guilty of several of the
circumstances that eventually led to their demise: the
multiple victims included all four of the Clutter family,
the event occurred during an attempted robbery, both were
former inmates and had previous dealings with the law, Dick
had chosen Perry for his instinct as a "Natural Born
Killer". Further,it seems that both Dick and Perry fell
almost directly under the common background of one
convicted of death. 

The death penalty is flawed in many facets. Juries in rural
counties are more likely to impose the death penalty than
those in urban areas. Dick and Perry were convicted in
Garden City, a small to moderate sized town. Both Dick and
Perry were unemployed, poor, white criminals whose actions
wrecked havoc not only on the remaining Clutter family and
relatives, but on the entire town of Holcomb and
surrounding areas. This only justifies and reinforces the
points stated above that capital punishment is biased,
racist, and is harmful not only to the offenders
themselves, but to the entire community.
Opposition to the death penalty finally achieved its goal
when in 1972 the Supreme Court struck down death penalty
laws, finding fault not with the theory, but with the
method. However, all was lost when four years later, the
decision was once more revised and ruled the death penalty
once more legal.
Death row will continue to expand. It is almost certain
that the rising level of executions will be widely
condemned. The future of capital punishment may finally
come down to the question of expense. A single capital
trial now costs millions of dollars. The enormous volume of
continuing appeals strain both federal and state court
systems. Unless workable solutions are found to the
practical difficulties involved in the administration of
the death penalty. American society eventually may decide
to significantly restrict or even abandon capital
Works Cited 

Flanders, Stephen A. Capital Punishment. New York, NY:
Facts on File, 1991. 

Long, Robert Emmet. Criminal Sentencing. New York, NY: H.W.
Company, 1995.


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