Texas and the Killing Chamber

‘At the execution facility in Texas, there is seating for people who have come to take their satisfaction from seeing an act of death.’

By Greg Moses / The Rag Blog / January 31, 2009

I don’t know much about death. I’ve seen very little of it up close, and I’d like to see less of it on TV. But I have this idea that the less death we cause each other, the better.

However, the death penalty seems to be based on another kind of idea. The world will be better, says the death penalty, if we all get together and make one death more.

At the execution facility in Texas, there is seating for people who have come to take their satisfaction from seeing an act of death.

I think I understand what satisfaction they are taking from the scene as they watch a person die who has killed one or two or three or more people. I think I understand what it must be like to live with a killed friend, daughter, or child while the killer lives. I think I understand the sense of how that state of things would seem absolutely unfair.

Why should any thief be allowed to keep what he has stolen? Has the killer not stolen life itself?

On another side of the killing chamber, Texas provides seats for the family and guests of the executee. Now it must be terrible enough to be told that your loved one has been killed. But to mark on your calendar a date and then travel to Huntsville and take a seat at some appointed time and watch? I have trouble seeing how that can seem like a fair thing to put somebody through.

At least three times recently in Texas, the people who watched the death act did not see a killer killed, because the executee was later discovered to be innocent. In those three cases, what would we call what the witnesses to death are going through today as they think about watching the killing of an innocent man?

We live in an age of pop probabilities. People who hate statistics most of the time can argue pretty quickly that the percentage of wrongful killings on death row is acceptable. It’s like the way we average the news of collateral damage. In the effort to kill rightly we sometimes kill wrongly. Doesn’t make right wrong, does it?

Last week in Texas they held two scheduled killings. One was filled with witnesses and a real, last-minute act. The executee accused one of the victims of at least two of the killings as the victims’ families looked on.

The other execution was silent, apparently. Nobody came to watch. Nothing was said.

Will Texas next week be a better state thanks to last week’s two killings? Have two thieves been forced to return what they had stolen?

There is no returning a stolen life.

[Greg Moses edits the Texas Civil Rights Review.]

The Rag Blog

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2 Responses to Texas and the Killing Chamber

  1. Mariann Wizard says:

    Thanks, Greg — this issue is ever more urgent here in Texas, as we once again rush to the top of the “death-penalty-state-killing-rate”. What do we call what everyone in the state ought to feel when we learn that an innocent person has been killed in our names? Personally, it makes me feel soiled, and I don’t like it.

    Locking up serial killers for life is more satisfying to victims’ families, I believe, over time. The killer is punished repeatedly (yes I know that prisons are pretty horrible places but it is the loss of freedom that is key), yet the door is not closed to discovery of error, or even some attempts at restitution, and neither victims’ families nor the general public is forced to take part in cold-blooded murder.

  2. dudleysharp says:

    Folks support the death penalty because they find it a just and appropriate sanction for some crimes – the same foundation of support that exists for lesser sanctions.

    In addition,

    The Death Penalty Provides More Protection for Innocents
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
    Often, the death penalty dialogue gravitates to the subject of innocents at risk of execution. Seldom is a more common problem reviewed. That is, how innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.
    To state the blatantly clear, living murderers, in prison, after release or escape,  are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.
    Although an obvious truism, it is surprising how often  folks overlook the enhanced incapacitation benefits of the death penalty over incarceration.
    No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law.
    Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed.
    That is. logically, conclusive.
    16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence.
    A surprise? No.
    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.
    Some believe that all studies with contrary findings negate those 16 studies. They don’t. Studies which don’t find for deterrence don’t say no one is deterred, but that they couldn’t measure those deterred.
    What prospect of a negative outcome doesn’t deter some? There isn’t one . . . although committed anti death penalty folk may say the death penalty is the only one.
    However, the premier anti death penalty scholar accepts it as a given that the death penalty is a deterrent, but does not believe it to be a greater deterrent than a life sentence. Yet, the evidence is compelling and un refuted that death is feared more than life.
    Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it’s a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out.
    Reality paints a very different picture.
    What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
    What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
    What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.
    This is not, even remotely, in dispute.
    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.
    Furthermore, history tells us that lifers have many ways to get out: Pardon, commutation, escape, clerical error, change in the law, etc.
    In choosing to end the death penalty, or in choosing not implement it, some have chosen to spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives.
    Furthermore, possibly we have sentenced 25 actually innocent people to death since 1973, or 0.3% of those so sentenced. Those have all been released upon post conviction review. The anti death penalty claims, that the numbers are significantly higher, are a fraud, easily discoverable by fact checking.
    The innocents deception of death penalty opponents has been getting exposure for many years. Even the behemoth of anti death penalty newspapers, The New York Times,  has recognized that deception.
    To be sure, 30 or 40 categorically innocent people have been released from death row . . . (1) This when death penalty opponents were claiming the release of 119 “innocents” from death row. Death penalty opponents never required actual innocence in order for cases to be added to their “exonerated” or “innocents” list. They simply invented their own definitions for exonerated and innocent and deceptively shoe horned large numbers of inmates into those definitions – something easily discovered with fact checking.
    There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.
    If we accept that the best predictor of future performance is past performance, we can, reasonably, conclude that the DNA cases will be excluded prior to trial, and that for the next 8000 death sentences, that we will experience a 99.8% accuracy rate in actual guilt convictions. This improved accuracy rate does not include the many additional safeguards that have been added to the system, over and above DNA testing.
    Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty?
    Full report -All Innocence Issues: The Death Penalty, upon request.
    Full report – The Death Penalty as a Deterrent, upon request
    (1) The Death of Innocents: A Reasonable Doubt,
    New York Times Book Review, p 29, 1/23/05, Adam Liptak,
    national legal correspondent for The NY Times
    copyright 2007-2009, Dudley Sharp
    Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas
    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
    Pro death penalty sites 
    http://yesdeathpenalty.googlepages.com/home2   (Sweden) http://www.wesleylowe.com/cp.html

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