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 most
people they mean a murder victims family receiving justice for their
deceased. Let me see a show of hands. How many people in the audience
believe in the death penalty? I conducted a weeklong survey of two
hundred people of all ages. The purpose was to see how many people
believed in the death penalty and how many opposed it. My results are
shown on this overhead.
As you can clearly see, 98% believe in the death penalty. 57% believe
that the death penalty is a deterrent for murder. A high of 97% of the
people favor capital punishment, where 1% think that our justice system
should not be more lenient on death row inmates. Only 89% think that
once convicted of murder, an inmate should be sentenced to death
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 Vineyards
Tabernacle in New Hampshire. He told his congregation, which included
the vacationing President Clinton and his wife, that capital punishment
is wrong. I invite you to look at a picture of Timothy McVeigh and to
forgive him, said Miller. If we profess to be Christians, then we are
called 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; an
Epsom New Hampshire police officer was gunned down in cold blood just
hours before Millers sermon on forgiving murderers. That Sunday marked
Charrons 44th day as a full time police officer, the job he dreamed of
since he was 6 years old.
Jeremy Charron leaves behind his parents, two sets of grandparents, two
sisters, two brothers, a wide circle of friends, and a girlfriend whose
engagement ring he had begun to shop for. Maybe the Reverend Miller
would advise those grieving for Charron to look at pictures of Gordon
Perry, 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, the
state will seek the death penalty for the first time since 1939.
Jeanne Shepard, the democratic governor, says a capital murder
prosecution will put criminals On notice that if they kill a police
officer in New Hampshire, they will face the death penalty. What if
they kill someone other than a cop? Should criminals not be put on
notice that they will face the death penalty if they kill a cashier in
cold blood? A farmer, or a schoolteacher? They should- but the law
says otherwise. In New Hampshire as in all states with the death
penalty, murder can be punished with execution only in specific
circumstances. The murder of an officer in the line of duty is one of
them. Among others are murder combined with rape, murder for higher,
and murder in the course of kidnapping. First degree murder is not
punishable by death. One who willfully murders a cashier is no less
evil then the murderer of a police officer. Both have committed the
worst crime. Both should be subjected to the worst possible
punishment. 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 left
over for the victims. Forgive Timothy McVeigh, he says, as if we have
that 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, should
lack compassion for the sweet life of others.
Executions at U.S. prisons reached a 40- year high last year. There are
going 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. I
would now like to direct your attention to the overhead.
The following chart shows statistics of the number of executions per
state for the 1997 year. Currently there are only 12 states without the
death 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 the
largest system in the world, and that does not include those in jail.
The tough-on-crime politicians, of course, are elected by promising
bigger and better jails for those scum bags. I once heard someone say,
Building jails to lessen crime is like building more cemeteries to
prevent AIDS. Prison building is the fastest growing industry in
America. In fact, prisons can no longer be called prisons. The
politically correct term is correction-industrial complexes.
Gene Amole is a writer for the New York Times who opposes the death
penalty. As experiences show, there is no closure, when the one who
did the killing is executed. There is a very real climate of revenge
and retribution in this country. What we need is restorative justice
Mr. Amole comments on the sixth commandment, (it) is so simple, so easy
to understand, Thou Shalt Not Kill. There is nothing that I can see
that permits us to commit premeditated institutional murder, which is
exactly what capital punishment is.
Gene Amole is not the only one against capital punishment. In May of
1998, Newsday magazine spoke out against capital punishment, saying that
its only purpose is revenge, that it is not a deterrent to murder, and
the goal of our society should be keeping killers off the streets.
Murder deserves Life In Jail, Not Death Penalty, May 26. Gerald
Deutsh, of Port Washington, speaks out against the article in a letter
to 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 deterrence
built into our criminal justice system.Keeping killers Off the
Street is not sufficient, especially if where we put them is a place
that may (to them) be a better place then where they came from.
Deutsh has an important point. Suppose to a killer, prison is not so
terrible. Suppose the killer is used to a prison environment where all
of his needs are taken care of, and suppose, further, that he is able to
command respect from his fellow inmates. Is it not possible that such a
person can prefer a life in prison rather than having to go out into our
world to earn a living? To such a person it is conceivable that a
prison sentence maybe more of a reward than a punishment.
Deutsh said whether the death penalty is a deterrent, I think we must
philosophically consider suitable punishments to incorporate into our
criminal justice system that will serve as a deterrent for violent
crimes, not only those crimes that now provide for the death penalty.
Denver Archbishop Charles Chadput placed a statement on his Internet
site last year, condemning capital punishment. Killing our guilty is
still wrong. It does not honor the dead. It does not ennoble the
living, said Chadput.
Frank Keating counteracted the Bishops statement by saying (he) hopes
that I dont get driven into the sea because I am a catholic, for
supporting the death penalty. Most Catholics would agree that murderers
should die. How many people do we have to see killed before it is
justified? he asked.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke on CBS Face The Nation on June 9
1997. The concept of an eye for an eye ultimately leaves us blind and
Psychiatrist James Gilligan has studied societys most violent people.
The experience has left Gilligan discounting what he describes as the
underlying theory pervading our criminal justice system. The theory of
rational self-interest. This theory assumes that violent people act
out of common sense, do not want to go to prison, and do not wish to
die. According to this premise, Gilligan writes, All we have to do to
prevent violent crime is threaten violent people with capital
There are four things wrong with this theory, said Gilligan. It is
totally incorrect, hopelessly naove, dangerously misleading, and based
on complete and utter ignorance of what violent people are really like.
Gilligans theories are based on his experiences as Director of Mental
Health for the Massachusetts prison system, Medical Director of the
Bridgewater (Mass.) State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and
Director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard University
A heinous crime occurs and most people ask the inevitable question: Who
are these people capable of such inhuman acts? According to Gilligan,
they generally are ordinary people who often describe themselves as
robots, zombies, nonentities, and even vampires. In a 1977 courtroom,
convicted serial killer Ted Bundy said many things about himself. Among
those descriptions were; Sometimes I feel like a vampire, and Im the
most cold blooded son of a bitch youll ever meet. Murderers
frequently mutilate themselves in prison, cutting their arms, swallowing
razor blades, blinding or castrating themselves- because feeling
something, even pain, is better than feeling nothing. People who wind
up committing murder are often the survivors of attempted murder
themselves, or of a child abuse that is so severe, that if they were not
strong, they would not have survived. David Berkowitz was the Son of
Sam serial killer. The press at one time asked him why he killed so
many people. He replied, I always had a certain fetish for murder and
death. Berkowitz was jolted to kill when he found out a family
secret. He was an accident, a mistake, never meant to be born. He had
always 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 his
real 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 friend
what 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 violence
is shame. Violent behavior only results when three other conditions
occur: 1) The individual does not see himself as having any nonviolent
means to gain respect or find justice. 2) The shame and humiliation are
so overwhelming they threaten to destroy the persons sense of self. 3)
The violent impulses stimulated in all of us by feelings of humiliation
are not inhibited by guilt, remorse, empathy, or love. The character
Hannible Lechter, as shown in this clip from the movie Silence of the
Lambs explains it best.
Rather than punishment, Gilligan said, one proven approach to reducing
violence is education, especially a college degree. Several years ago,
Gilligan conducted a study in the Massachusetts Prison system in which
more than two hundred inmates, including those that were convicted
murderers, earned degrees and were released from prison. So far, not
one repeat offender has been found.
Gilligan said We know that the single most effective factor which
reduces the rate of recidivism in the prison population is education,
and yet education in the prisons is the first item to be cut when an
administration gets tough on crime. If our goal is to reduce crime
and violence, we would benefit all law abiding members of society if we
made college education available in the prisons. Gilligan said he is
amazed by how inarticulate and incoherent many violent prisoners are.
They have never learned to express themselves. They have never had
anyone to listen to them and take their thoughts seriously. If we can
get them to talk about their life experiences, we immediately give them
an alternative. If we can provide these men with an alternative to
violent behavior, they will use it. The best way to get people to act
like human beings is to treat them like human beings.
Gilligan acknowledges that some violent criminals are so severely
damaged 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 people
can recover a great deal of the humanity that they have lost; even the
deadest could be restored to some semblance of humanity if given a
humane enough environment, said Gilligan.
I now leave the decision up to you. I have given you both the pros and
cons on the issue of capital punishment. If you choose to remember only
one point of my speech tonight let it be this quote of human beings by
Henry Ford. None are good but all are scared. Even the most
horrendous criminal is a human being with a soul, and that soul is