Death Penalty News

Not to be outdone by Georgia in the area of death penalty barbarism, the state of Texas has decided to stop serving "last meals" to death row inmates.  Think I'm kidding?  No, it's true!  Turns out yesterday's last meal (served to a white supremacist executed for a notorious vehicular dragging murder) was the last last meal.  He ordered too much barbecue, ice cream, and the like, didn't touch any of it, and now Texas legislators are taking away that tradition.


About Troy Davis's execution in Georgia ... I'm about to say something that may make you lose all confidence in me, dear reader. So let me first emphasize:  I'm against the death penalty, and do think the Troy Davis execution looks to be a procedural mess.  If there's no place in the system for taking into account withdrawn testimony, it seems inevitable that innocent people will be executed.  In fact, it seems quite possible that Troy Davis was innocent of the crime for which he was executed.  So he shouldn't have been executed.

OK ... here's my provocative point.  In all the passionate talk about Davis's possible innocence in the last couple of days, something seems to have been lost. It's not consistent with the undisputed evidence that Davis was innocent in every single respect. He was in fact part of a group that was assaulting a homeless man when McPhail intervened and got shot. In fact, under the laws of some jurisdictions, sheer participation in that joint venture could have been enough to make Davis guilty of some offense--though perhaps not a capital offense.  (Full disclosure:  I was once on a jury that convicted a man of manslaughter under a joint venture law.)

Maybe that's actually obvious, and all the protests about Davis's execution were about the right thing--the procedural mess, not his blamelessness.  I suspect people do get confused though.  The sheer effort to defend someone against an injustice can make you vulnerable to a a sort of fallacy of victimhood. If X is a victim of injustice, X must be a saint or a hero.  Mysteriously enough, the concept of a victim and the concept of a saint or hero seem to be next door neighbors in our brains.


Erik said...

"Mysteriously enough, the concept of a victim and the concept of a saint or hero seem to be next door neighbors in our brains."

I'm not sure if you're sarcastic here, but I see nothing mysterious about this. It's an artifact of the Western world, inherited from Christianity, which is full of iconic images such as the whipped-and-bleeding Jesus standing before the clad-in-authority Pontius Pilate, and the latter says "You know I can order you killed, right?"

Glorification of the underdogs and sacralization of perceived victims doesn't happen to anywhere near this degree outside those parts of the world that used to be 'Christendom'.

Jean Kazez said...

Not sarcastic...I do find it puzzling. What you say is illuminating!

Wayne said...

Hmm... Why is denying inmates a last meal a bad thing? Assmuedly they have done something really really bad. (let's just assume this is true of death row inmates, and pretend that this is a perfect world where no innocents are executed.)

Why should we give, as a matter of procedure, a luxurious meal? Would it make any more or less sense to give them a luxurious stay in a highly secure mansion?

It seems like this token gesture is more to alleviate guilt on the part of the executioner, than really to benefit the condemned.

Full disclosure: I don't think we should do away with the death penalty, but I do think that we use it FAR to often. I think it should be reserved for truly horrible crimes. The bar shouldn't be a life for a life.... Just like we artificially raise the burden of proof for guilt, the burden for "this person deserves to be killed for their actions" needs to be artificially high as well.

Osama Bin Laden, deserves, the death penalty. A person who killed another person, maybe might deserve the death penalty, but the bar should be much higher than that, just so we can be sure, that those we execute are truly deserving of the punishment.