An Eye For An Eye?

Last month, the American Bar Association issued a report in which it identified numerous problems with Ohio’s existing death-penalty scheme including botched lethal injections. Unfortunately, botched legal injections are a reality and not fictional. They are becoming increasingly documented and more and more prisoners are dying in agony. The State of Ohio underwent the killing of inmate Joseph Lewis Clark last May. Those who witnessed his execution said it took over an hour and a half to kill him. Reports were that after uttering his final words, Clark lay still, breathing shallowly. A witness described the scene as one where Clark appeared to have fallen asleep, except for the occasional movement of his feet. But after a few moments, Clark raised his head, shook it back and forth, and declared over and over, “it don’t work”! The execution team closed the curtains to block the view of the execution chamber but witnesses said they could still hear Clark’s moans and groans through the glass.

No doubt many of those same problems exist in other states’ death penalty systems as well. And now, the United States Supreme Court has decided to hear oral arguments regarding the issue of whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. (To learn more about this important case, go to the website for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.)

The death-penalty system that currently exists in 37 states and in the federal judicial system is fatally flawed and needs to be discarded entirely. Why not have a system of justice in which individuals who are convicted of first-degree murder are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison with no possibility of early release? That system would be much less expensive than housing a death row inmate through years and years and years of appeals. That system would bring finality to cases much more quickly than the current system. Many people believe that the death penalty is a deterrence to crime. However, after interviewing many defendants convicted of murder, defendants purport that they weren’t thinking of the death penalty in any way when committing their crime. Then there is the issue of killing an innocent man. Fortunately, the Innocence Project has uncovered many wrongful convictions thanks to DNA evidence. However many wrongfully convicted will never be exonerated because no DNA evidence existed in the case. Its likely that some of those wrongfully-convicted individuals are currently located on death row awaiting their execution. I’ve heard many lay reasons why the Death Penalty should remain but none of those reasons are legally based. The first and foremost is “An Eye for an Eye”. Dead Man Walking is a film written and directed by Tim Robbins and is based on the true story of Sister Helen Prejean, a compassionate New Orleans Nun who became the spiritual advisor to Matthew Poncelet, a vicious, angry and complex murderer awaiting execution. Her dedication was to help Matthew find salvation before the State of Louisiana killed him. In the film, as Poncelet is displayed before the spectators observing his execution, the executioner asks if Poncelet would like to say his last words…they were…”killing is wrong no matter who does it. Me or the government”. I agree.

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