The Harsh Reality of Capitol Punishment

Capitol Punishment is the harshest punishment there is for a crime in the United States. Just like most ideas and policies in our nation people agree with Capitol Punishment and people don’t agree with it. As time goes on more and more Americans support the death penalty. Despite the increase in support there are still questionable factors about Capitol Punishment. It is said that the death penalty is overcrowding our prisons, that there are racial bias, and poor representation for poor defendants when it comes the cases where lawyers are seeking the death penalty.

Polls from the 1960’s prove that most American’s opposed the death penalty. Most western nations had eliminated the death penalty completely or had modified its use. Polls from the 1990’s show that 75-80 percent of Americans support the death penalty ( Monk, 252).

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Then there are Americans such as Justice Brennan that says the death penalty is “uncivilized,” “inhuman,” ‘inconsistent with’ “human dignity” and with “the sanctity of life.” He also says that the death penalty “treats the human race as nonhumans, as objects to be toyed with and discarded, that it is uniquely degrading to human dignity and by its very nature, [involves] a denial of the executed persons humanity” ( Monk, 270).

There is a lot of people these days don’t like the fact that we have government programs that cost a great deal of money and produce less results. These are the programs that people want to due away with. The death penalty is “ one of the least efficient government programs in America is also among the most popular. Capitol Punishment is favored by more than three- quarters of the American voters.” Case studies have also proven that the cost to carry out a death sentence is far more expensive than it is it hold a prisoner for life. In the year 1994 death row exceeded 3000 prisoners nationwide and only 31 were executed ( Monk,255).

In the United States the state of Texas has the most inmates on death row, exceeding more than 300. Texas only executes one for every four that are sentenced to death. In America the ratio is only one for every twenty sentenced to die ( Monk, 255) Even retired Justice Lewis Powell thinks that the death penalty is a waste of time. “ ‘I have come to think that Capitol Punishment should be abolished.’ ‘The death penalty’ “ brings discredit on the whole legal system,’ ‘Powell said, because the vast majority of death sentences are never carried out” ( Monk, 265).

On an evening in October of 1973 a man named James Curtis “Doug” McCray raped and beat to death a women jogger. A hand print of blood matched McCray’s and proved his guilt. McCray on the other hand had no recollection of the murder. McCray suffered from epilepsy, a type called temporal lobe seizure disorder. This type of epilepsy causes violent blackout and can be triggered by alcohol. This was not brought to the jury’s attention nor was it research properly. The jury sentenced him to life in prison but the judge overturned the sentence and gave him the death penalty. After a series of appeals, in May of 1991 his sentence was overturned again and he was sentenced to life in prison. This is an example of why the death penalty is a waste of time.

People have tried different things to control the vast increase in death sentences. California tried by getting rid of their liberal chief justice in 1986 and since then only two executions have taken place (Monk, 264). California has over 300 prisoners on death row. Despite the cost of an execution, is there another reason why the execution level is so low? If one kills does that give us the right to kill? What are the reasons to kill? Cesare Beccaria feels that there are only two reasons that make it right for the death penalty. One: “when it is evident that even if deprived of liberty he still has the connections and power such as to endanger the security of the nation when, that is, his existence can produce a dangerous revolution in the established form of government.” Second: “ if his death were the only real way of restraining others from committing crimes” (Roberson and Wallace,59).

Even some of the most vicious killers don’t get executed quickly. A inmate named Gerald Stano, who in the 1980’s admitted to killing more than two dozen women, Thomas Knight who killed a prison guard, and Jesus Scull who burned down a house around two people that he had killed in 1983 are just a few of the vicious killers that are still alive and waiting their execution (Monk, 264).

It is also said that the death penalty also has it’s share being racially bias. Between 1930 and 1967 2,066 blacks were executed compared to 1,751 whites at a time when blacks only constituted ten percent of the population (Monk, 253). In the last four years the number of black people sentenced to death row has decreased but more prisoners have been sentenced to die (Records show death, 1981).

In the state of Texas a report was put out by a broad critique of capitol punishment saying that Texas death penalty system needed to change due to problems with prosecutorial misconduct, racial bias, phony experts and inadequate lawyers for poor defendants. This report followed one put out by a committee of the State Bar of Texas that critiqued the state’s system of providing legal representation to the poor as “ a national embarrassment” (Yardely, 2000).

Since George W. Bush has become Governor of Texas, Texas has become the leading state in executions. When Bush has been asked about the state’s system he repeatedly defended the state’s system as fair and unbias (Yardley, 2000).

On the other hand there are those such as a lawyer for the Texas Defender Service, Maurie Levin, who disagree with Bush. Levin’s group has examined hundreds of capitol punishment trials and appeals since 1976. “We did this because the administration of the death penalty in Texas is in crisis.” The group examined 103 appeals cases and found that 79 percent of these cases, the judge never actually heard the case but instead relied on the documents that had been submitted to the courts. The group also found out that the defense attorney’s did a poor job in representing the inmate. The attorney’s failed to conduct new investigations in search of new evidence and also neglected to raise new issues for review (Yardely, 2000).

Also in the Texas Defender Service report are accusations against the defence attorney’s and their reliability. In one case a poor inmates attorney sniffed lines of cocaine before the trial. This inmate is now sitting on death row while waiting for a new sentence since his cases remains under appeal of the federal court. As far as race goes the study shows that prosecutors would seek the death penalty if the victim of the crime were white. Most blacks and Hispanics were excluded from being able to serve on capitol juries and at the same time were most likely to be condemned to die ( Yardely, 2000).

Again back to false representation, in a Texas case were a man named Lee Burton admitted to killing a female jogger. He first tried to rape her and when she screamed he strangled her with her show laces. Within thirty minutes the jury had sentenced him to die by lethal injection. The judge had previously told the jury that Mr. Burton would not be eligible for parole for forty years if he were to be sentenced to life in prison. The prosecutor later told the jury that Burton could be released in a few years if the legislation changed the law. In stead of objecting to that statement he told the jury that the law would be changed in Texas because of its reputation for being rough on criminals. The lawyer was cited for not objecting to false statements made about his client (Texas Court Cites, 2000).

The inmates were also being sentenced to die by unreliable psychiatric diagnoses. In particular case Dr. James Grigson was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association “ for arriving at psychiatric diagnoses without first having examined the individuals in question.” Dr. Grigson had testified in at least three hundred and ninety capitol cases stating that the defense was a “ future danger to society” (Yardely, 2000). Levin’s group also found that prosecutors had used jailhouse informers that were all deemed unreliable in forty-three cases. In another forty-one cases the report shows that state officials “ intentionally distorted the truth- seeking process,” which includes the prosecutor presenting false evidence to win convictions (Yardely, 2000).

In another case in Texas two men were convicted for the murder of a deli shop owner who was shot and killed by one bullet. In both Willie Williams and Joseph Nichols punishment phases of their case the prosecutor argued that each of them were the gunmen. Each man had his own punishment phase trial. How can a man be shot by two men and with one bullet? Did the two gunmen pull the trigger on one gun at the same time? Mr. William was executed in January of 1995, just after Bush came to office and Nichols is still on death row (Yardely, 2000). Great system you have there Mr. President. How can Bush say that his capitol punishment system in Texas is fair?

In the 1930’s the average number of executions per year was up to one hundred and fifty two. It slowly decreased to were in 1962 there was only forty-seven executions and in the year 1966 there was only one execution. Then with the polls of the 1990’s showing and increase in the percentage of Americans in support of capitol punishment there were twenty-three executions in the year 1990. In 1998 there was ninety-eight executions. Since 1976 there has been a total of six hundred executions. Between the years of 1900 and 1985 there was seven thousand executions. Of those seven thousand twenty five were innocent due to false representation (Monk, 252&267).

There is no reason to have as many men sitting on death row if there is no way for us to find a way to execute them. There are men that have been waiting years on death row and are going to have to wait even longer. Like Lewis Powell says capitol punishment should be abolished since the sentences never get carried out. Those that are sentenced to death should just get life since it is cheaper to hold a man in prison for life than it is to execute them.


Monk, Richard C.(2001). Taking Sides: Crime and Criminology. Guilford, Connneticut:
The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Roberson, C.,& Wallace, H.(1998). Introduction to Criminology. Incline Village,Nevada:
Copperhouse Publishing Company.

( 1981). Records Show Death Row Population At Its Highest.Jet, V.60. Pg. 40.

Yardely, J. ( 2000, October 16). Lawyers Call for Changes In Death Penalty in Texas.

The New York Times, Pg. A16.

Texas Court Cites Lawyer In Overturning Death Penalty. (2000, October 26). The New
York Times, Pg.A22.

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