Chris Cronin
Staff Columnist

The United States stands virtually alone among developed countries for its continued use of the death penalty. Capital punishment has been completely abolished in every country in Europe except for Belarus, a bastion of Soviet-era repression. Most countries in Latin America have either abolished capital punishment or placed an unlimited moratorium on executions. In East Asia, Japan and South Korea condemn prisoners in only the rarest of cases, and even then, execution orders are often overturned.

43 people were officially executed in the United States in 2011, the fifth largest total in the world for that year, and putting us in the company of such detestable and authoritarian states as Iran (second place) and Saudi Arabia (third place). The People’s Republic of China is ranked in first place by a large margin. Even if we are to accept that authoritarian regimes are under-reporting the number of people put to death, the United States is the only country in the top 10 ranked “Free” under the non-profit group Freedom House’s annual report of world liberty. The report, which assigns a ranking of “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free” based on a number of factors like freedom of the press and fair elections, ranked every other country in the top 10.

But the sad fact of the matter is that many Americans simply don’t care about how we are viewed abroad. Some of our “unique” ideas on liberty and personal freedom don’t carry over to every other liberal democracy in the history of the world. Even discounting the fact that our obsession with government executions has put us in an exclusive club with some of the worst dictatorships in the world, there are several other compelling reasons for immediately abolishing the death penalty.

The first is that there is clear and demonstrable discrimination when determining whether a criminal will receive the death penalty. Race is an overwhelmingly dominant factor in this calculus. A 2007 study for the American Bar Association concluded that a full third of the black death row inmates in Philadelphia would have received life sentences instead if they had not been black. A Yale study from the same year determined that black criminals who killed white victims were three times more likely to receive the death penalty for similar crimes committed by white criminals.

The United States is also virtually unique in that several states have passed laws allowing both mentally disabled and criminals who were minors at the time of the crime to be executed. Earlier this year, Warren Lee Hill, whose IQ of 70 qualifies him as mentally disabled, came within minutes of being executed before a last-second court decision delayed the sentence. And in 2003, the state of Oklahoma executed Scott Allen Hain, who was just 17 at the time of his crime.

But the number one argument against the death penalty is that despite the numerous safeguards in place, American citizens have been executed for crimes they did not commit. For instance, in 1992, the state of Texas executed Johnny Frank Garrett for the rape and murder of a 76-year-old nun; he was 17 at the time of the crime and described as mentally disabled by some sources. DNA evidence in 2004 discovered that he had in fact not committed the crime, and another man was arrested and subsequently confessed.

Regardless of the arguments supporting the death penalty—closure for the victim’s family, justice, deterrence—the policy of capital punishment in the United States has consigned our nation to an exclusive group populated by some of the world’s most deplorable countries. Our national laws don’t do enough to protect at-risk groups like minorities, mentally disabled people, and minors, and despite all our safeguards, it has led to the deaths of innocent people. There’s no excuse to justify that cost.

The Elm

7 thoughts on “Nothing can Justify the Cost of the Death Penalty

  1. The Obsession

    I think you misplace the “obsession” with the death penalty. It is not USA’s obsession with the death penalty. We only execute about 0.2% of our murderers and, then, only after about 11 years of appeals, on average.

    By any measure, that is far from an obsession. In fact, it is the reverse. A very rare pursuit, the opposite of an obsession.

    The obsession is that of anti death penalty folks, who have an obsession with bending the truth and with saving our worst murderers, at any cost..

    By Dudley Sharp Apr 14,2013 @ 7:17 am

  2. Chris writes: “Oklahoma executed Scott Allen Hain, who was just 17 at the time of his crime.”

    Do you really care if he was 17 or 18?

    Let’s say he was 17 years 364 days 59 minutes and 59 seconds when he committed the murder. Had he waited one more second, and become 18, would he have, somehow, been more culpable? Of course not.

    Do we all know some 17 year olds who are more mature, morally and mentally, and than those 18, 25 or 35? Of course, we all do.

    Chris contnues: “Warren Lee Hill, whose IQ of 70 qualifies him as mentally disabled, came within minutes of being executed before a last-second court decision delayed the sentence.”

    You should have said “mentally retarded”, as that is what you are referrencing.

    Now, his IQ was measured at 70, what if it had measured 71? 70 is considered midly retarded. 71 is not. There is at least a +/- factor of 5 in all IQ tests.

    Plus, many other factors go into such evaluations, not just IQ.

    Please note:

    “Hill was sentenced to death for the 1990 beating death of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike. Authorities say he used a board studded with nails to bludgeon Handspike while he slept as other prisoners watched and pleaded with Hill to stop. At the time Hill was already serving a life sentence for murder in the 1986 slaying of his girlfriend, Myra Wright, who had been shot 11 times.”

    By Dudley Sharp Apr 14,2013 @ 7:58 am

  3. The Garrett case

    I have found no evidence that DNA excluded Garrett. So, you were factually wrong.

    I think you have confused cases.

    Leoncio Perez Rueda was arrested, confessed and was sentenced for another rape/murder, not the one Garrett was executed for.

    There is also an alleged confession by Rueda, to the crime Garrett was executed for. I have not been able to confirm that alleged confession, which, if made, was not made to legal authorities.

    Thank you for mentioning this case. There might be some important things, here, but you really need to wrok on your fact checking.

    Thank you for bringing this case to my attention.

    By Dudley Sharp Apr 14,2013 @ 8:38 am

    1. Hi Dudley,

      Garrett’s innocence is widely reported, so I’m not sure where you’re looking. Here are some sources:

      His file from the Northwestern Law Center for Wrongful Convictions:
      http://www.law.northwestern.edu/wrongfulconvictions/issues/wrongfulexecutions/txgarrettjfsummary.html

      And here’s a documentary based on his innocence:
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1553919/

      A two-minute google search of his name will net you plenty of other evidence. You can disagree with me all you want, but I stand by the facts that I print.

      Thanks,
      Chris

      By Chris Cronin Apr 19,2013 @ 4:39 am

    2. There was physical evidence that almost certainly wasn’t Garrett (black hair, a shirt, prints). Also more damningly the cops themselves thought that the cases were linked because of how similar they were. There was another man in the church that night, and given the similar MO it’s almost certain Rueda was the one.

      Numerous foreign prints not belonging to Garrett were found at the scene
      Numerous foreign curly, black hairs not belonging to Garrett were found at the scene
      A foreign, bloody V-neck T-shirt not belonging to Garrett was found at the scene
      A foreign, athletic sock not belonging to Garrett was found at the scene
      Shoe prints found outside the convent did not match Garrett’s
      Blood on an exit door was not tested by by the police
      A 14-year-old boy testified, outside the presence of the jury, that he had gone with Garrett into the convent 2 days before the murder to steal necklaces, just as Garrett claimed.

      “Numerous foreign prints not belonging to Garrett were found at the scene
      Numerous foreign curly, black hairs not belonging to Garrett were found at the scene
      A foreign, bloody V-neck T-shirt not belonging to Garrett was found at the scene
      A foreign, athletic sock not belonging to Garrett was found at the scene
      Shoe prints found outside the convent did not match Garrett’s
      Blood on an exit door was not tested by by the police
      A 14-year-old boy testified, outside the presence of the jury, that he had gone with Garrett into the convent 2 days before the murder to steal necklaces, just as Garrett claimed.”

      Rueda DID murder Benz. The DA knows it, and that’s why they allowed Rueda to plead guilty to murdering Bryson. Because they would have to reopen the case.

      By Ryan Aug 24,2016 @ 3:01 am

  4. Dudley Sharp

    The idea that some subjective definition of civilized countries (or some objective description of industrialized countries) might matter in regard to the death penalty is nonsense.

    There are countries that some may consider “not civilized enough” (or not industrialized enough) that don’t have the death penalty, such as:

    Algeria , Burma, Mexico, Congo, Rwanda, Angola, Uzbekistan, Croatia, Togo, Tunisia, Senegal, Nicaragua

    So what?

    And then there are some countries that some may consider “civilized enough” (or industrialized enough) such Bahamas, Barbados, United States, Belize, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, South Korea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Singapore, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines that retain the death penalty

    So what?

    Of much greater importance is that most people are good people and that it seems the majority of people in all countries support the death penalty for some crimes (1). Why? Justice.

    Folks find the death penalty just and appropriate for some crimes, the same moral foundation of support for all criminal sanctions.

    Let’s say I am right, that innocents are more protected with the death penalty (2). What is so civilized about countries that knowingly spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocents?

    In complete disregard for the truth, some say that jurisdictions with the death penalty have higher crime rates than those without it. Such claims are absolute nonsense (3)

    FOOTNOTES

    ACTIVE LINKS SEEM TO BE A PROBLEM, here, so I removed them.

    By Dudley Sharp Apr 14,2013 @ 9:56 pm

  5. Dudley,

    Why don’t you return to the Middle Ages? You’d be much happier there.

    By Dahn Shaulis May 22,2015 @ 5:26 am

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