Sunday, February 21, 2021

READER WEEK: DEATH PENALTY

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Readers, today starts another Readers’ Week, both because I still have readers’ items to post and because I have received some interesting emails in the last week. Hope you enjoy and keep sending.

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The first cab off the rank is Steve M’s email responding to yesterday’s post about the last man hanged in Australia, Ronald Ryan in 1967, and Derek Bentley, the mentally challenged “Let him have it” defendant who was hanged at 19 in 1953 and posthumously pardoned.

Steve has been actively supporting the Victims’ Support Group, parents who have lost children through homicide, and indeed donated the proceeds of one of his novels (The Skinny Girl, about DV) to that organisation.

His views and comments may not be shared by everyone.

Gandhi once said: 

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Against that, Barack Obama stated:

“While the evidence tells me that the death penalty does little to deter crime, I believe there are some crimes–mass murder, the rape and murder of a child so heinous that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment.” 

(The Audacity of Hope 2006)

The issue is complex and not clear cut . . .
Are there circumstances in which members of society forfeit their right to remain a part of it?
Does the State have a moral right to kill a person who for killing someone?
If one objects on the ground of cruelty, is it any less cruel to incarcerate the inmate? Recent reports are that Port Arthur mass murderer Martin Bryant, detained in solitary since 1996, has become an obese, disturbed, suicidal individual.

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Steve’s email:

What an interesting Bytes today, Otto. Thank you. Very thought provoking. In this technological age where science is more proven than ever before and with the introduction of DNA, there is less chance of someone being executed wrongly because of an incorrect verdict .

There are cases in Australia for instance, heinous murders where you would be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees that the foul, disgusting people who murdered Janine Balding, Ebony Simpson and Anita Cobby (for example) should not be put to death. Instead, as Peter Simpson famously said on the steps of the court after his daughter’s killer was sentenced – He got bed and breakfast, we got a life sentence.

The true measure of fair sentencing is the public’s expectation, and it is there that the Justice System has it all wrong. Generally speaking, I believe that most of us don’t care about the rehabilitation of vile murderers, paedophiles, rapists and the like – lock them away, shove a cup of water and a tin of cold baked beans under their cell door twice a day and forget about them. The world is a much better place without them as they contribute nothing to society – would they if they were rehabilitated? Who cares?

They had their chance and failed to take it – many of them, several times over. Don’t give them another chance, for they all know the difference between right and wrong.

That is real justice - justice for their victims and their victims’ families, who do not get a second chance.

The lawyer in you may well say that emotions should not interfere with sentencing, and again, that is where the Justice system has it wrong, in my opinion. Emotions mean everything, because they come from surviving family members whose lives have been shattered and can never be repaired. How about we think about rehabilitating them?

The old argument that I am talking about ‘revenge’ could well come to the fore, but I would argue that am talking about fairness and reasonable expectation.

Look forward to a debate with you and Thomas one day soon, over lunch.

I will leave with the famous quote from Mr Bumble, no offence intended:

"The law is a ass — a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience — by experience.”

With best regards always,

Steve m

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Thanks, Steve.

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Some facts and information about the death penalty:

In the US, drug manufacturer Pfizer announced in 2016 that it would no longer sell any of its products for use in lethal injections. They joined over 20 other drug companies who had made the same decision. With Pfizer leaving the market, there are no FDA-approved drugs currently available for use in the process. States have countered by using less-than-reputable suppliers and attempting to keep the details hidden from public view. This has caused delays in procuring the new drugs, as well as concerns about their effectiveness.

Around 621 BC, the lawgiver Draco established a particularly brutal code of laws in ancient Greece. The death penalty was prescribed for many offenses, both big and small. Everything from stealing a cabbage to killing your neighbor resulted in a gruesome end. In fact, we still use the term “draconian” to refer to a type of brutal or unjust law.

A 2009 US survey found that 88% of the country’s top criminologists don’t believe the death penalty is a proven deterrent to homicide. In addition, 87% believe the repeal of the death penalty would have no effect whatsoever on the murder rate.

According to Amnesty International, 20 countries are known to have performed executions in 2019. There are countries which do not publish information on the use of capital punishment, most significantly China and North Korea, Amnesty International having provided estimates for same.

Excluding China, three countries were responsible for more than 80% of executions - Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. According to Amnesty's figures, China consistently executes more people than any other country.

Amnesty International recorded at least 657 executions in 20 countries worldwide in 2019. The total was a 5% decrease from the at least 690 executions recorded in 2018 and was down 60% from the 25-year-high total of 1,634 reported executions in 2015.

As in previous years, the execution total does not include the estimated thousands of executions carried out in China, which treats data on the death penalty as a state secret. Excluding China, 86% of all reported executions took place in just four countries:
Iran (251)
Saudi Arabia (184)
Iraq (100+)
Egypt (32+).

The 22 executions in the U.S. were the sixth most of any nation, although Vietnam’s and North Korea’s execution totals are not known.

In the industrialised world, only the US, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan still use capital punishment. While still legal in South Korea, there is currently a moratorium.

The percentage of Americans who support the death penalty has fallen from a high of 80% in 1996 to its current level of 49%, versus 42% who are opposed.

The last woman executed in Australia was Jean Lee (1919-1951), hanged with her two male companions at Pentridge prison in Melbourne, Victoria for the murder of 73 year old dwelling house landlord and bookmaker, William "Pop" Kent. On the morning of her execution she became hysterical and had to be sedated. She fainted when the executioner came to her cell and she was strapped semi-conscious to a chair. She was dropped through the trapdoor strapped to the chair. The situation was made more bizarre by the hangman and his assistant wearing large felt hats and goggles, a strange Australian practice.

Jean Lee

The last woman executed in Britain was Ruth Ellis (1926 – 1955), a British escort and nightclub hostess who was hanged in 1955 after being convicted of the murder of her lover, David Blakely.

She has been the subject of a Bytes post in 2014, which can be accessed by clicking on:

Ruth Ellis

The last woman executed in the US was Lisa Montgomery (1968-2021), who received a lethal injection at a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, after a last-minute stay of execution was lifted by the US Supreme Court. The case attracted attention because her lawyers argued she was mentally ill and suffered serious abuse as a child.

The 52-year-old strangled a pregnant woman before cutting out and kidnapping her baby in Missouri in 2004. Her victim, 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett, bled to death but her baby was safely recovered and returned to her family.

Montgomery was the first female federal inmate to be put to death by the US government in 67 years.

Lisa Montgomery

The last man executed in Australia was Ronald Ryan, in 1967.

Ronald Ryan

On 13 August 1964 Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen were simultaneously executed in separate prisons, Strangeways prison in Manchester and Walton prison in Liverpool, the last persons to be executed in Britain. They had bludgeoned a man to death to steal £10. They were unlucky with their timing. Two months after they were executed Labour came to power, bringing a Commons vote to suspend capital punishment for five years in the 1965 Murder Act, a move made permanent in 1969.

Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen

The last man executed in the US was Dustin John Higgs (1972-2021), executed on January 16 2021 in Indiana for his role in the January 1996 murders of three women in Maryland.

His case, conviction, and execution were the subject of multiple controversies. The main contention was that Higgs did not personally kill any of the three victims, but waited in a vehicle nearby. The man who shot them, Willis Mark Haynes, was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole plus 45 years. The prosecution argued that although Higgs did not kill anyone, he was the ringleader, ordering and bullying Haynes. Higgs and his defense team maintained his innocence to the end, arguing that although he was involved, he was merely a witness, and was set up by Haynes and another witness, Victor Gloria. In 2012, Haynes swore in an affidavit that Higgs did not force or threaten him into killing any of the victims.

Because the murders had happened on federal land, the offences were treated federally. Higgs was executed via lethal injection on January 16, 2021, the thirteenth and final person executed by the federal government during the presidency of Donald Trump, when federal executions returned after a 17-year hiatus.

The execution was also controversial in taking place in a “lame duck period’, the period after another official is elected but has not yet taken office.

On January 16, 2021, Higgs, 48, was executed by lethal injection of pentobarbital. His last words were "I'd like to say I am an innocent man. I did not order the murders."

Dustin John Higgs

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