Good Afternoon, I am honored to be here, and I thank you for having me. Today I would like to speak to you about a very controversial issue-capital punishment.
What do those two words mean to you? To mostpeople they mean a murder victims family receiving justice for theirdeceased. Let me see a show of hands. How many people in the audiencebelieve in the death penalty? I conducted a weeklong survey of twohundred people of all ages. The purpose was to see how many peoplebelieved in the death penalty and how many opposed it. My results areshown on this overhead. As you can clearly see, 98% believe in the death penalty.Order now
57% believethat the death penalty is a deterrent for murder. A high of 97% of thepeople favor capital punishment, where 1% think that our justice systemshould not be more lenient on death row inmates. Only 89% think thatonce convicted of murder, an inmate should be sentenced to deathimmediately. I would like to take this time to tell you a story. On August 15,1997, the Reverend John Miller preached a sermon at the Martha VineyardsTabernacle in New Hampshire.
He told his congregation, which includedthe vacationing President Clinton and his wife, that capital punishmentis wrong. I invite you to look at a picture of Timothy McVeigh and toforgive him, said Miller. If we profess to be Christians, then we arecalled to love and forgive. Once the sermon ended, Rev. Miller,Clinton, and their wives got together for brunch at the Sweet Life Cafi. What the Rev.
did not know was that 24-year-old Jeremy T Charron; anEpsom New Hampshire police officer was gunned down in cold blood justhours before Millers sermon on forgiving murderers. That Sunday markedCharrons 44th day as a full time police officer, the job he dreamed ofsince he was 6 years old. Jeremy Charron leaves behind his parents, two sets of grandparents, twosisters, two brothers, a wide circle of friends, and a girlfriend whoseengagement ring he had begun to shop for. Maybe the Reverend Millerwould advise those grieving for Charron to look at pictures of GordonPerry, the robber accused of pumping the bullets into Charrons heart,and 18 year old Kevin Paul, the accomplice, and forgive.
The state of New Hampshire has opted not to forgive, but to prosecute. Perry has been charged with capital murder. If he is convicted, thestate will seek the death penalty for the first time since 1939. Jeanne Shepard, the democratic governor, says a capital murderprosecution will put criminals On notice that if they kill a policeofficer in New Hampshire, they will face the death penalty. What ifthey kill someone other than a cop? Should criminals not be put onnotice that they will face the death penalty if they kill a cashier incold blood? A farmer, or a schoolteacher? They should- but the lawsays otherwise.
In New Hampshire as in all states with the deathpenalty, murder can be punished with execution only in specificcircumstances. The murder of an officer in the line of duty is one ofthem. Among others are murder combined with rape, murder for higher,and murder in the course of kidnapping. First degree murder is notpunishable by death. One who willfully murders a cashier is no lessevil then the murderer of a police officer.
Both have committed theworst crime. Both should be subjected to the worst possiblepunishment. That is justice. Standing in the way of that justice, however, are the likes of Rev. Miller, who brim with such pity for criminals that they have none leftover for the victims. Forgive Timothy McVeigh, he says, as if we havethat right.
Absolve the man who slaughtered 168 innocent men, women,and children in Oklahoma City. Pardon the killer of Officer Charron. Nothing could be more sinful and indecent. How sad that Miller,enjoying his brunch with the president at the Sweet Life Cafi, shouldlack compassion for the sweet life of others.
Executions at U. S. prisons reached a 40- year high last year. There aregoing to be more executions in the future as these cases are speeded up,as a result of federal and state laws shortening the appeal process. Iwould now like to direct your attention to the overhead.
The following chart shows statistics of the number of executions perstate for the 1997 year. Currently there are only 12 states without thedeath penalty. Those states are Hawaii, Alaska, West Virginia,Washington D. C. , Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Michigan,Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North Dakota. The U.
S. has over 1. 5 million incarcerated in prisons, by far thelargest system in the world, and that does not include those in jail. The tough-on-crime politicians, of course, are elected by promisingbigger and better jails for those scum bags. I once heard someone say,Building jails to lessen crime is like building more cemeteries toprevent AIDS.
Prison building is the fastest growing industry inAmerica. In fact, prisons can no longer be called prisons. Thepolitically correct term is correction-industrial complexes. Gene Amole is a writer for the New York Times who opposes the deathpenalty. As experiences show, there is no closure, when the one whodid the killing is executed. There is a very real climate of revengeand retribution in this country.
What we need is restorative justiceand healing. Mr. Amole comments on the sixth commandment, (it) is so simple, so easyto understand, Thou Shalt Not Kill. There is nothing that I can seethat permits us to commit premeditated institutional murder, which isexactly what capital punishment is. Gene Amole is not the only one against capital punishment.
In May of1998, Newsday magazine spoke out against capital punishment, saying thatits only purpose is revenge, that it is not a deterrent to murder, andthe goal of our society should be keeping killers off the streets. Murder deserves Life In Jail, Not Death Penalty, May 26. GeraldDeutsh, of Port Washington, speaks out against the article in a letterto the editor. I am not sure that the death penalty is a deterrent,but if it is not, we certainly need to have some sort of deterrencebuilt into our criminal justice system.
Keeping killers Off theStreet is not sufficient, especially if where we put them is a placethat may (to them) be a better place then where they came from. Deutsh has an important point. Suppose to a killer, prison is not soterrible. Suppose the killer is used to a prison environment where allof his needs are taken care of, and suppose, further, that he is able tocommand respect from his fellow inmates. Is it not possible that such aperson can prefer a life in prison rather than having to go out into ourworld to earn a living? To such a person it is conceivable that aprison sentence maybe more of a reward than a punishment. Deutsh said whether the death penalty is a deterrent, I think we mustphilosophically consider suitable punishments to incorporate into ourcriminal justice system that will serve as a deterrent for violentcrimes, not only those crimes that now provide for the death penalty.
Denver Archbishop Charles Chadput placed a statement on his Internetsite last year, condemning capital punishment. Killing our guilty isstill wrong. It does not honor the dead. It does not ennoble theliving, said Chadput. Frank Keating counteracted the Bishops statement by saying (he) hopesthat I dont get driven into the sea because I am a catholic, forsupporting the death penalty. Most Catholics would agree that murderersshould die.
How many people do we have to see killed before it isjustified? he asked. The Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke on CBS Face The Nation on June 91997. The concept of an eye for an eye ultimately leaves us blind anddisfigured. Psychiatrist James Gilligan has studied societys most violent people. The experience has left Gilligan discounting what he describes as theunderlying theory pervading our criminal justice system. The theory ofrational self-interest.
This theory assumes that violent people actout of common sense, do not want to go to prison, and do not wish todie. According to this premise, Gilligan writes, All we have to do toprevent violent crime is threaten violent people with capitalpunishment. There are four things wrong with this theory, said Gilligan. It istotally incorrect, hopelessly naove, dangerously misleading, and basedon complete and utter ignorance of what violent people are really like. Gilligans theories are based on his experiences as Director of MentalHealth for the Massachusetts prison system, Medical Director of theBridgewater (Mass. ) State Hospital for the Criminally Insane andDirector of the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard UniversityMedical School.
A heinous crime occurs and most people ask the inevitable question: Whoare these people capable of such inhuman acts? According to Gilligan,they generally are ordinary people who often describe themselves asrobots, zombies, nonentities, and even vampires. In a 1977 courtroom,convicted serial killer Ted Bundy said many things about himself. Amongthose descriptions were; Sometimes I feel like a vampire, and Im themost cold blooded son of a bitch youll ever meet. Murderersfrequently mutilate themselves in prison, cutting their arms, swallowingrazor blades, blinding or castrating themselves- because feelingsomething, even pain, is better than feeling nothing.
People who windup committing murder are often the survivors of attempted murderthemselves, or of a child abuse that is so severe, that if they were notstrong, they would not have survived. David Berkowitz was the Son ofSam serial killer. The press at one time asked him why he killed somany people. He replied, I always had a certain fetish for murder anddeath. Berkowitz was jolted to kill when he found out a familysecret.
He was an accident, a mistake, never meant to be born. He hadalways been told that his birth mother had been killed during labor. What he found out was it was just a lie to cover up the fact that hisreal mother did not even care about him. Once he discovered the truth,he vowed to find the woman that cast him aside. When asked by a friendwhat he would do when he found her, he said, Im not going to rob her. Im not going to touch her or rape her.
All I want to do is kill her. Gilligans hypothesis is that the common underlying cause of violenceis shame. Violent behavior only results when three other conditionsoccur: 1) The individual does not see himself as having any nonviolentmeans to gain respect or find justice. 2) The shame and humiliation areso overwhelming they threaten to destroy the persons sense of self. 3)The violent impulses stimulated in all of us by feelings of humiliationare not inhibited by guilt, remorse, empathy, or love.
The characterHannible Lechter, as shown in this clip from the movie Silence of theLambs explains it best. Rather than punishment, Gilligan said, one proven approach to reducingviolence is education, especially a college degree. Several years ago,Gilligan conducted a study in the Massachusetts Prison system in whichmore than two hundred inmates, including those that were convictedmurderers, earned degrees and were released from prison. So far, notone repeat offender has been found. Gilligan said We know that the single most effective factor whichreduces the rate of recidivism in the prison population is education,and yet education in the prisons is the first item to be cut when anadministration gets tough on crime. If our goal is to reduce crimeand violence, we would benefit all law abiding members of society if wemade college education available in the prisons.
Gilligan said he isamazed by how inarticulate and incoherent many violent prisoners are. They have never learned to express themselves. They have never hadanyone to listen to them and take their thoughts seriously. If we canget them to talk about their life experiences, we immediately give theman alternative.
If we can provide these men with an alternative toviolent behavior, they will use it. The best way to get people to actlike human beings is to treat them like human beings. Gilligan acknowledges that some violent criminals are so severelydamaged and dangerous they simply can never live out in society again. But the emphasis, he said, must be on restraining and quarantining,rather than punishment. Over time, even the most deeply damaged peoplecan recover a great deal of the humanity that they have lost; even thedeadest could be restored to some semblance of humanity if given ahumane enough environment, said Gilligan. I now leave the decision up to you.
I have given you both the pros andcons on the issue of capital punishment. If you choose to remember onlyone point of my speech tonight let it be this quote of human beings byHenry Ford. None are good but all are scared. Even the mosthorrendous criminal is a human being with a soul, and that soul isscared.