Essay: On the Death Penalty

wbTerrorism Boston Bomber
By Dave Hood

Killing anyone in cold blood is the most heinous and reprehensible crime in any civilized society. The person who commits murder must be punished for his or her crime. Many believe the convicted murder must be executed. Others believe that the death penalty is nothing more than legalized murder and immoral. Recently, the jurors in the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deliberated over 14 hours before unanimously choosing to execute him. He is a 21-year-old former college student who bombed the marathon with his older brother. Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line on April 15, 2013. This raises a moral question: Should the state have the legal right to put someone to death for the heinous crime of murder or terrorism? Or should society punish convicted killers by locking them away for their natural lives, which means we are embracing the sanctity of life?

Many countries around the globe still use capital punishment.  As of 2012, Amnesty International reports that only 200 countries around the world have abolished the death penalty on moral grounds.  According to a 2013 Gallup Poll, 64% of Americans, 48% of Canadians, and 55%  of citizens from Great Britain support the death penalty for heinous crimes such as murder.

I live in Canada where the death penalty has been abolished. The last execution in Canada took place on December 11, 1962 when Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas were hanged for killing a police officer. In 1976, the Federal Parliament of Canada abolished Capital punishment, replacing it with life imprisonment with no eligibility of parole for 25 years. Last year, a young man named Justin Bourque went on a rampage, killing several cops. This premeditated murder sparked some people to support the idea of bring back the death penalty.

Why do many people support the death penalty? There are many reasons. Some believe it is morally right. Others believe that capital punishment protects society. The dangerous criminal is permanently removed from society and can do no further harm. Others believe in retributionan eye for an eye. The death penalty is a just punishment. If you willfully murder another person, the state has the right to take your life. Just punishment. The punishment must be equal to the crime. Many feel that capital punishment is a deterrent. Some people have the desire to take another person’s life in cold blood, but are stopped by the fear of being apprehended and executed. Some argue that it costs the state much less to execute a criminal than to lock them away in prison for the remainder of their natural lives.

Many public people support the death penalty. The former president of the United States, George W. Bush, once said, “I support the death penalty because I believe, if administered swiftly and justly, capital punishment is a deterrent against future violence and will save other innocent lives.” Former Vice President Al Gore also said, “I support the death penalty. I think that it has to be administered not only fairly, with attention to things like DNA evidence, which I think should be used in all capital cases, but also with very careful attention. If the wrong person is put to death, then that’s a double tragedy. Not only has an innocent person been executed but the real perpetrator of the crime has not been held accountable for it, and in some cases may be still at large. But I support the death penalty in the most heinous cases.”

How does the state execute those who are sentenced to death?  Over the years, the state has used several methods. For many years, in the United states, electrocution was the most popular method of execution. The convict killer was strapped to a chair and then assaulted with 500 to 2000 volts of electricity. As the convict fried, smoke would rise from the body and witnesses could  smell of burning flesh, and see the eyes pop out of convict’s head. Sometimes, the body would cat catch fire. It is no longer used. However, there are exceptions. In 2013, Robert Gleason, who murdered two fellow inmates, was the last American to be executed by this method.

Some countries use the gas chamber to executer prisoners on death row The prisoner is  strapped to chair in an airtight chamber, and then  lethal gas is administered, often cyanide. Five states use this method of capital punishment.

Some countries use the firing squad to execute prisoners on death row. In the United States, the state of Utah uses this method. A black hood s placed over head of prison. Then five shooters with rifles stand at 20 feet and shoot into the heart.

Until the 1890s, hanging the convicted killer was another popular method of execution. A Hood and noose were placed over the prisoner’s neck, who was then dropped through a trap door. Sometimes the neck broke. Other times the prisoner dangled and twitched, until suffocation. It was a gruesome death.

Lethal injection is now the most common method of execution in the United States. It is considered less painful than other methods of execution. Thirty two states currently use this method. The convict is strapped to a gurney, injected with sodium thiopental, an anesthetic resulting in unconsciousness. Next pancuronium bromide is injected into the blood stream, causing muscle paralysis. Finally, potassium chloride is injected, which stops the heart and results in cardiac arrest.

Why do some people oppose the death penalty? The state risks executing an innocent person. There have been many people wrongly convicted of murders they did not commit. For instance, in Canada, three convictions have been overturned in the past three decades, including Donald Marshall, David Milgaard, and Paul Morin, Steven Truscott.

Most types of executions are cruel and barbaric punishment, such as electric chair and firing squad and hanging.  In fact, many executions are botched. For instance, last year, on July 23 2014, in the state of Arizona, prisoner, Joseph R. Wood was given Lethal Injection of chemicals. “Following the injection Mr. Wood repeatedly gasped for one hour and 40 minutes before he was pronounced dead. Michael Kiefer, a reporter for the Arizona Republic who witnessed the execution, said that he counted 640 gasps from Wood before he finally died. During the ordeal, Mr. Wood’s attorneys filed an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court and placed a phone call to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in a failed effort to halt the botched execution.” (Death Penalty Information Centre) Consequently, capital punishment is often cruel and unusual punishment.

Capital punishment violates of the moral code of a civilized, humane, democratic society. Most countries have a human rights code, protecting its citizens from cruel and unusual punishment. Civilized societies set an example by imprisoning a murder rather than engaging in vengeance.

Others oppose capital punishment for religious reasons. Christians embrace the  “Ten Commandments, including the moral imperative “Thou Shall Not Kill.” And so many Catholic Church oppose the death penalty on the grounds that it is a sin against God.

The statistics indicated that there is no evidence that death penalty deters people from committing murder. And so, it is more just to punish a convicted murder to by imprisoning him or her.

Many who commit murder are mentally ill, not of sound mind. So to execute them is inhumane.

Many international organizations oppose the death penalty.  Amnesty International  under all circumstances. It is a violation of the person’s right to life and the right not to be endure cruel or inhumane punishment. The death penalty disproportionately affects the poor, visible minorities, and the marginalized.  Many innocent people are executed, sometimes the result of evidence acquired through torture. Similarly, the United Nations has called for a moratorium on all types of capital punishment.

Final Comments
I oppose capital punishment in all cases, whether someone commits murder in cold blood or terrorists detonate a bomb in a public place, resulting in the death of innocent civilians. The death penalty is legalized murder by the state.  As well, far too many innocent people have been convicted of murders they didn’t commit. Some have been executed. The death penalty is also a vengeful act—an eye for an eye, which makes it barbaric. Albert Camus once said, “Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders.” And so, the best way to protect society and to punish convicted killers is to lock them up in prison for  the remainder of their natural life, without eligibility of parole.

Additional Reading


About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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