Death Penalty Is Cruel But Not Unusual in the U.S.

On September 21, 2011 the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis, despite serious doubts about his guilt.  It is quite possible that Georgia put an innocent man to death.  And Troy Davis is not the only person convicted and executed on shaky evidence.  There are at least 10 men put to death, 6 in Texas, the most recent in 2004, who more likely than not, did not commit the crime in question.  130 prisoners have been exonerated of charges and taken off death row.  Currently, 3261 have been sentenced to die; 27 executions have been scheduled for the next two years – 13 in Texas, the state with the most  executions overall.  Since Rick Perry has been Governor of Texas, 236 executions have taken place in the Lone Star State, 40% of all executions in the U.S. in the last 10 years.

Troy Davis was not the only man put to death on September 21, 2011. In Texas, Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist convicted of murdering a black man in a racially motivated hate crime, died by lethal injection.  The following day, Alabama executed Derrick Mason.  In the last two years, 82 people have been executed in the U.S.   Worldwide, only China, Iran and Yemen have executed more.   Since the death penalty became a legal form of punishment in 1976, states have put to death 1,258  men and 12 women.

Though permitted by law, the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.  And unusual it is.  Of the 196 countries in existence today, only 29% carry out executions.

Given the probability of a wrongful execution, the death penalty should never be carried out.  DNA evidence has exonerated a number of death row inmates in recent years.  And there have been convictions and executions based on sketchy evidence.  That black men have been executed in much larger proportion to their numbers in the general population is another concern raising questions of inadequate council, and unfair trials plagued by discriminatory views and racism.

There is also an economic argument against the death penalty.  Statistics show that it costs nearly three times as much to try a death penalty case with all the appeals procedures involved than it would cost to keep the inmate incarcerated.  Cost estimates are as high as 3 million for each execution.  From a purely economic standpoint, the 34 states with death penalty laws on the books should reconsider.

And there is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty deters crime.  If anything, it promotes violence, revenge and Old Testament vigilante justice.  Americans are armed to the teeth and know how to shoot.

From a Christian standpoint, the killing of Jesus would seem to provide the ultimate example of a wrongful execution.  However, the Christian community and perhaps even all world religions are split on the question with arguments both for and against the application of the death penalty.  If you were to ask Jesus what he thinks of the death penalty, based on his teachings, I would say he would be against it.  “Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”.  “Judge not, that ye be not judged”. “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.”

Statistics cited come from the following sources:

Death Penalty Information Center

Huff Post World

Amnesty International