The Death Penalty: Should Wisconsin Reinstate?

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Wisconsin is one of the 12 states, along with Alaska, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia (Rohn, 2002), where the death penalty is prohibited. Nonetheless, there is an ongoing contentious discussion about possibly reinstating the death penalty in Wisconsin.

It is challenging to make the decision to execute an individual for a serious crime because there is always a risk of wrongfully convicting an innocent person. Nonetheless, there are those who argue that severe crimes, particularly those involving children, should be punished in accordance with their severity. Wisconsin became one of the initial states to eliminate the death penalty approximately 150 years ago after experiencing a horrific execution in 1851.

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On July 23, 1850, John drowned his wife, Bridget McCaffary, in a barrel located in their backyard. This act alarmed the neighbors who heard Bridget’s pleas for help and saw John coming out of the barrel. With the assistance of a neighbor, Bridget was saved from the barrel and this led to John’s arrest by the police. He was then brought to Racine county jail. After a 10-day trial, on May 16, 1851, John was convicted of intentional murder by the jury.

The trial of John McCaffary, which occurred in 1851, was the inaugural murder trial in Kenosha (Pendleton & Renfert, 2003a). His execution was carried out via hanging on August 21, 1851. It took 18 minutes for the physicians to declare him deceased, with an audience of 2000 to 3000 spectators present (Pendleton & Renfert, 2003b). The death penalty has been in existence since ancient Chinese law.

In ancient times, the death penalty was carried out for various crimes, including magic, besides murder. The methods of execution included burial alive, burning, hanging, beheading, drowning at sea, beating to death, self-infliction of death, impalement, crucifixion, drinking poison, stoning, throwing the criminal from a rock, sawing asunder, use of a quagmire, being drawn and quartered, and pressing. The means of execution varied based on whether the person was noble or a freeman or slave.

Different cultures had different approaches to the death penalty. Some cultures used it for all crimes, while others only applied it to certain offenses (Reggio, 1999). In ancient times, Greek philosopher Socrates was punished by drinking poison around 399 BC due to his heresy and influence on young people (Reggio, 1999, para. 2). British history played a significant role in the use of capital punishment and greatly influenced the colonies in their adoption of the death penalty (Reggio, 1999). In fact, in Britain, the number of crimes that carried the death penalty continued to increase until the 1700s and eventually reached two hundred and twenty-two offenses (Reggio, 1999).

Multiple offenses were committed, including theft from a house valued at forty shillings, theft from a shop valued at five shillings, robbery of a rabbit warren, tree cutting, and counterfeiting tax stamps. Nonetheless, juries were reluctant to convict people when the punishment outweighed the crime. As a result, reforms were introduced and in 1823, five laws were passed to eliminate death as a penalty for approximately one hundred crimes.

From 1832 to 1837, Britain abolished many capital offenses. Although there was a failed attempt in 1840 to fully eradicate capital punishment, European countries, including Britain, gradually started eliminating it during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As of 1999, only a few European countries continue to enforce the death penalty (para. 5).

In 1608, George Kendall of Virginia became the first person to be executed in the English American colonies. His death sentence was a result of plotting to betray the British to the Spanish. After 1612, Virginia established the death penalty for even minor offenses. However, the state later reduced the number of crimes punishable by death after realizing that it was deterring potential settlers (Reggio, 1999).

According to Reggio (1999), by 1776, most of the colonies had similar death statutes, encompassing crimes such as arson, piracy, treason, murder, sodomy, burglary, robbery, rape, horse-stealing, slave rebellion, and often counterfeiting. The common punishment for these crimes was hanging. Opponents of the death penalty started writing books arguing against it and claimed that the murder rates did not decrease. This was attributed to some juries refusing to bring guilty verdicts for crimes punishable by death, thus allowing convicted murderers to go unpunished (Reggio, 1999).

In 1888, the nation’s first execution chair was built in New York after the Edison Company found that alternating current could be utilized to euthanize animals. This led some people to consider its potential use for human execution (Reggio, 1999). Senate President Alan Lasee and State Rep. Dean Kaufert support bringing back the death penalty in Wisconsin through their proposed legislation, which aims to limit it to certain crimes committed by individuals aged 16 and above. They argue that the death penalty should only be used in specific cases, such as the murder of young children, police officers, and serial killers.

Governor Doyle opposes the reinstatement of the death penalty and will veto any legislation in support of it. In November 2004, a referendum on this issue will be included on the ballot. Representative Lasee provides examples to justify the use of the death penalty, including the murders of 2-year-old Amy Breyer in 1991, 10-year-old Ronelle Eichstedt in 1992, and 12-year-old Cora Jones and 5-year-old Nancy Thao in 1994 (Dipko, 2003). There is also an article from May 1, 2003 that discusses a recent Badger poll that focuses on the death penalty.

Despite the availability of a life sentence as an alternative, approximately 66% of individuals in Wisconsin are in favor of the death penalty, as per the poll results. However, opinions on personally administering a death sentence varied. The majority (around 90%) of respondents were against broadcasting executions on television, although many believed that if it were to be televised, it would garner a considerable viewership.

A poll conducted in April 2003, with a margin of error of four percentage points, surveyed 509 residents. The results showed that roughly half of the participants believe that implementing a death penalty will not decrease the number of murders. Reasons cited against capital punishment include concerns about wrongful executions, valuing human life, and discrimination-related issues.

Sentencing someone to the death penalty and later discovering their innocence, be it through DNA evidence or a confession, is an irreversible mistake. At present, if an innocent individual is wrongly convicted and subsequently proven innocent, they are unable to reclaim the time they lost in prison but can strive to move on. Certain adversaries argue for upholding all life, even that of murderers. Moreover, there is a concern regarding discrimination in determining who should qualify for capital punishment.

When discussing the death penalty, concerns about discrimination and racial bias are often brought up (Haas, 2003). In recent times, advancements in forensic evidence, specifically the utilization of DNA, have offered more dependable methods for establishing guilt (Fitzgerald, 2003). Nevertheless, there is still a chance of obtaining forced confessions as exemplified by the situation involving Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger who were erroneously found guilty for the murder of Nancy DePriest in Austin, TX in 1988 (Article, October 27, 2000).

< p > The detectives manipulated the two men by exploiting their fear of the death penalty, causing them to falsely confess to a murder they did not commit. By tricking each man into believing that the other had implicated them in the crime, both individuals admitted guilt and received life imprisonment sentences. However, in 1996, Achim Josef Marino, now a devout Christian, confessed to being the true murderer when he approached the Austin police. Subsequently, DNA evidence proved Ochoa and Danziger innocent as it revealed that Marino’s semen was found on Nancy DePriest’s body.

Both men were eventually released, but Danziger, from beatings in prison, has mild brain damage (Jackson, 2000). Through DNA testing, numerous convicted individuals have been set free. “Although no one on New Jersey’s death row has been exonerated, 27 people on death rows in other states have been cleared of their crimes since 2000, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington” (Fitzgerald, 2003, para. 16).

Controversial issues are always influenced by discrimination against specific races. Statistics reveal a discrepancy in execution rates between Afro Americans and Caucasians in southern and northern states (Bedau, 1997). This brings up the inquiry of whether this is because there is a higher Afro American population in the south or if it stems from flaws within the justice system itself. Bedau (1997) highlights that “Of the 3,200 prisoners on death row in 1996, 40% were black” (para. 4).

A comprehensive statistical study on racial discrimination in capital cases in Georgia revealed that cases with white victims were 4.3 times more likely to receive a death sentence compared to other indicted cases. This indicates that cases involving victims of other races accounted for 60% of the total percentage of cases.

Bedau (1997) argues that the death penalty demonstrates bias in two ways: minorities are disproportionately sentenced to death, and cases involving white victims are more likely to result in a death sentence. In Wisconsin, the cost of reintroducing the death penalty is another factor against it. The state would need to spend around $2,000,000 for constructing the death row and execution chamber, as well as allocate an annual budget of $516,000 for operational expenses.

According to a study conducted by Duke University in 1993, the implementation of the death penalty in North Carolina resulted in an additional cost of $2.16 million compared to a non-death penalty murder case that resulted in a prison sentence (Weier, 2003, para. 37). The same article also reports findings from a study conducted by Indiana’s Criminal Law Study Commission in 2002, which revealed that the total costs associated with the death penalty were approximately 38 percent higher than the costs of life without parole sentences (Weier, 2003, para. 36) as stated by the Death Penalty Information Center.

In summary, I believe that Wisconsin does not need to implement capital punishment. There is not enough solid evidence to show that bringing back the death penalty would lower murder rates in Wisconsin. Personally, I think it’s better to sentence convicted murderers to life imprisonment instead of giving them the ease and convenience of death.

Implementing the death penalty would only give murderers more attention since they commit acts of violence to seek attention. Additionally, the current reinstatement cost of the death penalty in Wisconsin is considered unnecessary. Although my perspective might differ if I belonged to a family affected by murder and lead me to desire the perpetrator’s demise, I currently oppose the death penalty.

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The Death Penalty: Should Wisconsin Reinstate?. (2018, Feb 05). Retrieved from

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