Death Penalty

Nordskog Publishing is pleased to offer the following essay “Death Penalty,” first submitted as a paper for Matthew’s English 12 class in Ventura, California, December 14, 2009. In this essay, Matthew cites NPI publication Death Penalty on Trial.—ed.

Death Penalty
by Matthew Carobini

In Physics, there is a rule that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The same may be said for rules in the political arena where the death penalty continues to be highly controversial.  I believe, however, that instituting the death penalty for those who commit premeditated murder, is an acceptable, legitimate consequence for the crime. The U.S. Supreme Court has wavered, but now agrees with that position, so the states may impose the death penalty.

In 1972, the case Furman v. Georgia resulted in the Supreme Court issuing a statement that the death penalty was “wantonly” and “freakishly” imposed and that it ultimately violated the Eighth Amendment.  The Eighth Amendment states that “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” (Monk).  The result was a moratorium on executions until three-fourths of the states had enacted a new law. Soon after, in 1976, the Court ruled in Gregg v. Georgia that the death punishment was not “unusual,” and the moratorium ended.

The Fifth Amendment states that ‘no persons shall be held to answer for a capital…crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…nor be deprived of life…without the due process of law.’ Clearly, the founding fathers contemplated the punishment of death. This shows that even under the eighth amendment, killing murderers is not “cruel and unusual” (Casey).

Teacher John Calvin once said, “All murder is killing, but not all killing is murder” (Gleason).  We must break down the difference between murder and killing.  If a person breaks into your home and holds a gun on you and threatens to shoot, but you in an act of self-defense grab the gun and shoot him first, that is justifiable killing.  Not murder.  Murder must be premeditated. Under our laws, the death penalty is reserved for premeditated murder. The death penalty also is justifiable killing because, like an act of self-defense, it is imposed for the purpose of stopping further killing.

Execution of a convicted murderer is not an act of murder, it is an act of justice, a killing carried out in order that one person may not hurt anyone else again.

Around Christmas 1991, Collen Reed, was kidnapped, raped, tortured and ultimately murdered by Kenneth McDuff. Previously McDuff had been convicted for two other murders in 1966, and would have been executed if not for the ruling of the Supreme Court in 1972 setting aside death penalties. In 1989 he was given parole due to overcrowding in the Texas prison where he was held. After McDuff was released, he murdered Reed and eight other women. Thankfully, Governor George W. Bush approved the execution of McDuff in 1998. If the Supreme Court would not have set aside the death penalty in 1972, Reed may still be alive (Cassell).

John McAdams has said “If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call” (Hall). To be an effective deterrent for further murder, it should be carried out in a timely manner. Another example of this is the story of the Ryen family. Kevin Cooper was convicted for the 1983 murder of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10 year old daughter Jessica, and a neighbor, Christopher Hughes, age 11. My mom remembers this case because Christopher was the son of one of the professors at Cal Poly Pomona, where she attended college.  The students and community were stunned and grief-stricken by the crimes (Hurley).

Although this crime occurred in 1983, the convicted murderer is still alive today, and living on death row. This is a good example of how the death penalty is legal, but is not being enforced because opponents are challenging it, and have been successful. In this case, Cooper has repeatedly petitioned the courts to throw out his conviction. However, no evidence has exonerated Cooper. Even though Cooper’s conviction has been upheld, now 26 years later, he has still not suffered an acceptable consequence for his crime.

The death penalty is a hard concept to grasp. Do we kill for justice? Is it morally permissible? The answer is that we are not killing innocent victims under the death penalty punishment; we are providing justice for the American people. “Before any person is executed in this country, twelve members of a carefully selected jury have to decide — beyond a reasonable doubt — that a defendant is guilty. The possibility of an innocent person being executed is extremely small, and continues to decrease with the improvement of forensic science. It is true that death row prisoners have been released, but it is not always true that they were innocent” (Casey).

Many oppose this punishment in all circumstances.  My apologies to those who disagree with the use of the death penalty, but terrorists clearly should not be exempt from the death penalty. Those who attack our nation should be aware that they must suffer the ultimate penalty for doing so. 

Let’s look at September 11, 2001.  On that morning, men carried out a plan against our great nation.  These men were enemies bent on killing citizens of the United States and so filled with hatred for our country that they purposely commandeered planes carrying civilians, and set out to kill those passengers and thousands more on the ground when they crashed them into buildings (or tried to do so).

The passengers in the plane that crashed into the field in Sommerset County, Pennsylvania rebelled against the terrorists hijacking their plane.  They did so in self-defense and presumably saved the lives of men and women at the White House or the Capitol Building, which are believed to be the intended target.

The United States, through efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, have now captured several of the leaders of that terrorist group who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks.  They will be subjected to a trial in our criminal court system in the near future.  When convicted, their punishment should be equal to the price their victims paid. These men murdered our family and friends on 9/11 and it would not be appropriate to give them a same kind of trial that one would give to someone who stole money. This is a disgrace to allow this kind of trial in this great county, it is like spitting on those who died on 9/11 and their families. It is rude and should not be happening.

However death penalty opponents would not even concede that the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks, one of the most horrific crimes ever committed in our country, should be subjected to the death penalty. “Abolitionists claim that the death penalty is a means of revenge. It is not. One way for the victim’s family to get revenge would be to go out and murder a member of the murderer’s family in order to get him to experience the same type of suffering he put them through. If the purpose of the state in executing murderers was retribution or revenge, then criminals would be executed in the same way that they murdered their victims. The point of the death penalty, however, is not to see how much pain can be unleashed on the murderer but to bring him to justice” (Casey).

So, is it morally acceptable to kill murderers for the point of justice and the safety of others? The definition of morality is “the principles of right and wrong” and as humans we strive to do good deeds, and are punished for our bad deeds. It is all about the “redeeming value” (Casey) in the punishment. Basically, the death penalty allows for the punishment to be the same as the deed, theoretically. Let’s take rape. I believe that it is not morally permissible to rape rapists for punishment. This would not necessarily stop the rapist from raping again. However, when we execute murders we prevent them from committing that crime over and over again. This ultimately protects the citizens for they will not be in danger of becoming victims of murder.

Works Cited
Carmical, Casey. “The Death Penalty: Morally Defensible?” Casey’s Critical Thinking. Web. 9 Dec. 2009.
Cassell, Paul G. “We’re Not Executing the Innocent.” Casey’s Critical Thinking. Web. 9 Dec. 2009
Gleason, Ron. The Death Penalty On Trial. Ventura: Nordskog, 2008. Print.
Hall, Charlene. Pro-death penalty.com. Web. 9 Dec. 2009.
Hurley, Lawrence. “Killer Nears End of Legal Options.” Daily Journal. 25 Nov. 2009. Web. 9 Dec. 2009.
Monk, Linda R. Words We Live By. New York: Hyperion, 2004. Print.
Used with permission © 2010

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