Monday, July 28, 2008

In which I attempt to commit the impossible....

I can recall with some pride as a Libertarian that this is what North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Mike Munger said he would do first if elected:

First priority: I issue an executive order placing an immediate moratorium on capital punishment in the state. Then I commute the sentences of everyone on death row to life in prison without parole.

On the other hand, I read with emotions and thoughts that are difficult to describe the Question of the Day at Delawareliberal, Does not giving a crap if someone is dying and having nothing good to say about “said” dying person make you a bad person?, where I found comments like this:

[Dorian Gray] So everyone deserves our respect because they just so happen to have been born…like a blind compassion… now I understand why there are so many people who still believe this quaint religious shit.

[Joe M] I think it’s sad that a guy like Falwell died. Not because I thought he held any value as a human being, but for the pain of loss his loved ones will feel.

DV is restricting the question to compassion for the person who is dead/dying and I’m led to agree with him.

Sometimes the world is made better through the loss of someone.

[Sharon] "The point that DV is making is that compassion has to, to some extent, be earned."

The very essence of compassion is that it is unearned. But I guess if someone can’t understand that, then maybe it explains a lot of the comments.

[Joe M] Sharon, you are very much oversimplifying the idea. Consider LGs question: Do you have compassion for the death of Charles Manson (when it happens)? Jeffrey Dahmer?

I don’t mean compassion for whatever made them what they were, but simple compassion that they were humans dying?

How about Pol Pot? Would you weep for Stalin? Mao Tse Tung?

If not, then where’s your unconditional compassion?

[pandora] Unconditional compassion doesn’t exist. It’s just tossed out there when people criticize someone you like.

[donviti] oh ok Sharon,

so I get it, you get to be “sort of” a dick while you are alive and IF inflicted with some painful life threatening illness I can’t speak ill of you? got it, great. cool, it’s lifes equalizer.

being a dick + debilitating possibly life ending diagnosis = all forgiven

got it. Sweet. I’m hoping i get pancreatic cancer so you can say I was a nice guy.

And then I come to today's story of George W. Bush signing the first execution death warrant for the military that any President has signed since 1951.

And no doubt Spec 4 Ronald Gray is one of the scumbags of modern American history:

Gray was held responsible for the crimes committed between April 1986 and January 1987 in both the civilian and military justice systems.

In civilian courts in North Carolina, Gray pleaded guilty to two murders and five rapes and was sentenced to three consecutive and five concurrent life terms.

He then was tried by general court-martial at the Army's Fort Bragg. In April 1988, the court-martial convicted Gray of two murders, an attempted murder and three rapes. He was unanimously sentenced to death.

The court-martial panel convicted Gray of:

_Raping and killing Army Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay of Fayetteville on Dec. 15, 1986. She was shot four times with a .22-caliber pistol that Gray confessed to stealing. She suffered blunt force trauma over much of her body.

_Raping and killing Kimberly Ann Ruggles, a civilian cab driver in Fayetteville. She was bound, gagged, stabbed repeatedly, and had bruises and lacerations on her face. Her body was found on the base.

_Raping, robbing and attempting to kill Army Pvt. Mary Ann Lang Nameth in her barracks at Fort Bragg on Jan. 3, 1987. She testified against Gray during the court-martial and identified him as her assailant. Gray raped her and stabbed her several times in the neck and side. Nameth suffered a laceration of the trachea and a collapsed or punctured lung.

So I reached the decision a couple years back, based on both Libertarian philosophy and that quaint religious shit, that I oppose capital punishment.

There are plenty of people I think probably deserve to die, that the world would be better off without, and even some that I can sense in myself a quite visceral willingness to throw the switch.

But in a society that possesses the resources to confine Jeffrey Dahmer or the UnaBomber for the rest of his life, it is no more ethically acceptable to execute criminals than it is to order area bombing against a target of minimal military significance.

Which means, I think, that I am affirming the belief that even Pol Pot or Saddam Hussein was a human being worthy of unearned compassion. In my parish I have heard prayers offered for Saddam and for Osama, and I ascribe my difficulty in joining them wholeheartedly to my failings, not theirs.

I do not oppose the death penalty because it might take the life of an innocent person; I oppose the death penalty because allowing the State to impose boutique death along with mass mayhem diminishes us all.

I do not accept that the argument of the death penalty's effectiveness as a deterrent has anything to do with the morality of the death penalty.

Gouging eyes would also have a deterrent effect. (And please, don't start drawing the meaningless cruel and unusual distinction. It's not germane to the comparison.)

I realize that this is a somewhat (severely?) muddled post. The issue is a muddling one.

But when I come right down to it, I both agree and disagree with pandora (a position in which I too often find myself, dear lady), when she says, "Unconditional compassion doesn’t exist." She's right: it doesn't.

Yet it should--and I find it a worthwhile goal to strive for.

Executing Ronald Gray won't bring his victims back, and given that he was convicted twenty years ago, I have to face the lurking suspicion that all sorts of interesting political calculations went into finding a victim for the first military execution in half a century who wouldn't excite sympathy from anyone.

Except me, and the others who follow that quaint religious shit.

By the way: the military has also identified the second (and then presumably the third, and so on) person they want Dubya's approval to kill.

Things are apparently overcrowded at Fort Leavenworth.


Anonymous said...

I think it falls back to the question in Heinlein's "Moon is a Harsh Mistress" - When and under what circumstances is it moral and ethical for a government to do that which it is not moral and ethical for a citizen of that government to do?

My answer mostly boils down to "Never" - Your Mileage May Vary...

Thus I see no problem with capital punishment, WHEN it is applied by the would be victim, (or someone acting on his behalf) at the time and scene of the offense... (if anything this is good as it saves all sorts of hassles...)

OTOH, If it's wrong for the victim to chase down the crook and shoot him later, (arguments considered on this one, but I haven't heard any convincing ones yet) It should be wrong for the government to kill the crook later...

However I don't have an inherent problem with the victim requiring restitution / and / or prevention of repeat offenses, so I don't have a big problem with the gov't acting as an agent for this

(Note that I do NOT think the perpetrator owes ANY kind of "debt to society" - the debt is to the VICTIM, and should be repaid to the victim (w/ possible "administrative surcharge" going to the collecting body, which could be a free market entity) I am a big fan of "restorative justice"...)

In the case of the soldier in question, executing him does little good. Neither does simply locking him up w/ a not too miserable bed and three squares a day at taxpayer expense do much to restore the victims or their families... More useful, though probably would only be a token in this case, would be to say "You owe the victim (or her estate) $1M for each rape, $10M for each murder, to be paid pro-rata. Since you are a danger to the public, and don't have the money, you may hire out to any company that is willing to give you a job and insure that you do not offend again - w/ pay going to victims fund..."

Agreed this isn't going to cure all the damage he called, but it's more than the current system does!


Anonymous said...

Agreed, Steve.

I had a couple of short articles regarding lethal injection that lead to some interesting evidence that it may not be the humane process that people think it is.

dudleysharp said...

The penalty of death is provided for the same reason all other punishments are, that they are just and appropriate for the crimes committed.

Secondarily, the death penalty saves additonal innocent lives in at least three ways.

The Death Penalty: 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.
Living murderers, in prison, after release or escape or after our failures to incarcerate them, are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.
Although this is, obviously a 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 20-25 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.
6 inmates have been released from death row because of DNA evidence. An additional 9 were released from prison, because of DNA exclusion, who had previously been sentenced to death.
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 reasonable 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 2007-2008, Dudley Sharp
Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail 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 


www(dot) (Sweden)

Steven H. Newton said...

The penalty of death is provided for the same reason all other punishments are, that they are just and appropriate for the crimes committed.

Secondarily, the death penalty saves additonal innocent lives in at least three ways.

Mr Sharp,

It is telling that in your first sentence you claim that the death penalty is "just and appropriate," but that the rest of your comment exclusively deals with the pragmatic issue of deterrence and innocence.

I didn't say that I don't believe the death penalty is a deterrent (even though there is serious room to challenge the methodology of all the studies you cite), I said it doesn't matter to me whether the death penalty is a deterrent. That fact cannot make it either "just" or "appropriate."

I intentionally picked a case to discuss in which there is no question of innocence and no question that the perp is somebody I'd personally like to snuff out.

The question is one of whether or not it is morally justifiable in a free society for the government to kill people.

The question is also one for me as a Christian is to whether or not it is justifiable for me to support a criminal justice system that kills people.

I am not a pacifist. I would do my dead level best, if it became necessary, to kill you if you broke into my house and threatened my family. I served 21 years in the US military and I have no trouble pulling the trigger in combat.

That's not the issue I'm raising. I am raising precisely the issue you raised in your first sentence, but never discussed thereafter: "just and appropriate." I submit that with respect to those two categories you asserted a conclusion rather than advancing an argument.

However, if you'd like to actually make such an argument from anything other than a strictly utilitarian or vengeance-based stance, I'm open to listening.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

Steven H. Newton said...

Oh, and Art:

The one irony of MIAHM is that Prof is a rational anarchist who participate in the building of a State that, during its formation and the bombardment of Earth, engages as a State without any consequences (moral or otherwise) in the bombardment death of millions of innocent people.

I always found it problematic that Manny never shows a hint of regret about what he had to do with the big rocks or that Heinlein even placed a passing reference to the ethical problems creating by killing millions to "free" far fewer millions.

Anonymous said...

Unconditional compassion doesn't exist... but that doesn't mean I don't wish it did. We all have our imaginary "hit lists" - god, that sounds crass! But it's true. Every time a child molester confesses to hurting a child I could care less what happens to them. In fact, I know that they won't last long in prison and that's a big "oh well" in my book.

I'm uncomfortable in my statement, because I could never enforce the death penalty myself. Perhaps this makes me a coward, willing to let others carry out a punishment I could never personally inflict. Perhaps it makes me human. I'll let you decide.