Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Not exactly topical, but something made me think of this the other day.

How could you not be in favor of killing this guy? Well, I suppose I could think of a few reasons:
1. Keep him alive to torture him.
2. Let the other prisoners have their way with him.
3. Perform experiments on him to understand the nature of evil.
4. Give him a chance to reform, to find peace, to watch TV in a comfortable cellblock, to let him think about why he's been a bad boy.

Ok, you probably guessed I don't believe that last one.

Some will argue for a version of #4, that it's actually a worse punishment to let him live his life in jail. If that's the case, then perhaps lesser killers should be executed because life in prison would be the cruel and unusual punishment reserved only for the worst of the worst of the worst.

Anyway, I know that he received 10 life sentences instead of death, but I wonder what the over/under is on when some other sadistic mf will give him his just sentence. And how much longer it would be before some wacko libertarian will bitch about the violation of his rights.

PS. I had to renounce my libertarian teachings because I think they're just too weak on national security and they're too isolationist. Plus even in my heyday, I always thought the ACLU was ridiculous (headline from the once-funny Onion: ACLU Fights for KKK's Right to Burn Down ACLU Headquarters) for arguing that psychotics have some right to be psychotic even when innocent (but random) people will be harmed or killed.


Total said...

There's no reason not to execute the BTK killer. But that's not quite all you're asking, is it?

The problem is that not all killers are like the BTK guy. So, if you say that the only killers who should be executed are those who confessed, you'd limit it, but you'd also reduce the number of confessions drastically, with the likelihood (small but still there) that someday a BTK-like killer would be let off at trial.

And without a valid confession, the criminal justice system has shown it incapable of convicting and sentencing to death only the guilty. Instead, a fair number of innocent people are put on death row. Illinois is only the most obvious example.

So you lock them up for life, and if ten years later new evidence exonerates them, you can let them out instead of apologizing to a headstone. Sometimes that means that somebody like the BTK killer ends up behind bars instead of dead.

Which is better? (I'm not being snarky--I think there's a genuine argument to be made for both sides).

Edward Lee said...

And without a valid confession, the criminal justice system has shown it incapable of convicting and sentencing to death only the guilty. Instead, a fair number of innocent people are put on death row. Illinois is only the most obvious example.

OK, but how does the frequency of overturned death sentences compare with the frequency of people (inmates, jailers or others) being killed by life prisoners?

luke said...

edward, I don't see your point. But i'm kind of foggy this morning.

Jim, sure, kill him. But it doesn't address the absurd state of our criminal justice system. I've not seen it, but there is a reason the show is called Oz. Mandatory minimums for non-violent drug crimes are costing us a fortune, and while I think it is clear and unambiguous that the BTK guy deserves a hanging, watch the Thin Blue Line for an extremely persuavive argument about why the death penalty MUST NOT be used callously.

Again, yes, hang the BTK guy, but lets not get carried away with the whole prison is just a big motel 6 thing. OK, it is. Made out of concrete and barbed wire. And you can't leave. And there is the occasional, probably relatively minor chance of being gang raped. But other than that, it's just like a motel 6.

Edward Lee said...


The death penalty carries the risk of killing innocent people.

Banning the death penalty carries the risk of having murderous criminals kill people in jail. I wonder if/how the two risks should be compared.

luke said...

i don't think that banning the death penalty will raise the incidence of convict on convict violence: even in texas and florida, executions rates are low enough to not cause serious attrition of prison populations.

although, if you ended the segregation of death row, that might lead to a higher rate of violence, but don't you think gang related violence is most likely highest cause?

parinella said...

Aren't arguments against the death penalty also arguments against imprisonment, just not as strong? After all, if after 10 years a convicted killer is exonerated, isn't it better to give the man his fine back (with interest) than to apologize to a broken man who had been abused in prison for the last 10 years?

A couple quotes from HL Mencken, just because:
Hanging one scoundrel, it appears, does not deter the next. Well, what of it? The first one is at least disposed of.

Today every town in Christendom has a prison, and all of them are bulging. At least half of their inmates, on being turned loose, return to crime. But the sentimentalists would not consent to their abolition in favor of logical, effective punishments. They pity the criminal far too much to do anything sensible about him, either for his benefit or for that of society.

Death penalty or not, the lack of quick and effective capture, trial, and imprisonment is a bigger problem.

stephentyrone said...

On the subject of the tradeoff between convicting innocents and letting the guilty walk, the following article is worth a read (not because it provides meaningful insight - witness the horrendous misuse of curve fitting in section XII - but for the sheer depth and breadth of research and references).


zaz said...

Jim, you seem to be advocating a policy of execution for really gruesome murders, y'know, the ones where you (the judge? the public?) really, really know a really, really bad guy did it. If you want to allow for exceptions to a general rule of no captial punishment based on someone's discretion, then whose discretion shall we trust? Bush? Alberto Gonzales? The Governor of Texas? Former Illinois governor George Ryan? Thurgood Marshall? Roy Moore (the Ten Commandments judge)? Common sense is not so common, and the possibility -- nay, inevitability and historical pattern -- of abuse is probably the best reason for eliminating the death penalty in the first place. Statistics (statistics, Jim!) tell us how unfairly the death penalty has been applied in the past. Different Americans should not be subject to varying standards of proof. And besides, the possibility exists that a murderer is the brainwashed disciple of a religious fanatic (cf. "Under the Banner of Heaven", jihadists, ...). You'd need the disciple for building the next case, too.

sometallskinnykid said...

Wow, Jim does not go to C.O., dog loses in quarters and the discussion turns to serial killers....

parinella said...

Watch it, stsk, you're next.

Volokh's article was mentioned earlier in this blog history. As E. Lee points out, I think one important factor missing in that discussion is what the guilty do after they go free (or don't get executed). It's a bit of "a bird in the hand..." problem. We can point to someone who was on death row and later exonerated and say "THIS guy was wronged by the system", but the ones who are harmed by the ones who are freed are random TBDs who might not even be alive at the time of the trial. Think about it, American history and movies are full of stories of massive rescue attempts that will almost certainly kill more than will be saved (granted, some are military, and perhaps it helps to let soldiers know they have a chance of rescue, but maybe not; other countries make it clear that if you're captured you're toast).

More generally, I think the gist of the "N" debate is that conservatives don't want someone to get away with something (whether it's a murder or welfare fraud), even if it means some others suffer (but we all know they're guilty of something, wink, wink). Liberals don't want anyone to suffer "unfairly," even if it means that lots of people get away with it. False positive/false negatives, Type I/Type II errors, whatever you want to call it.

(Conservatives unfortunately have some of their roots in Puritanism, defined by our friend Mencken as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.")

Re: unfair application. As HLM said, well, what of it. Our shameful history of lynchings aside, the unfair application has been: all (nearly all? virtually all? 99.9%? or do you think 50%) these people deserve to be executed, but a higher percentage of those in Group A actually are put to death.

mick said...

I'm with "sometallskinnykid" on this. Dude, maybe I've lived in coutries that that don't have the death penalty for too long, but I think that excecutions never solved anything.

How does killing some murderer fix anything? Does it give closure to grieving relatives? No. Does it create less psychos? No. Is the world a bad place where people do messed up things to one another? Yes, but you can't stop that by hanging people. We've been trying that for a few thousand years and it has never worked.

I do think that criminal justice in the US is a bit haywire. Fixed minimum sentances for victimless crimes are a joke, there are a billion studies that show that it just fills up jails and turns small-time crims into big-time crims.

Anonymous said...

[i] We can point to someone who was on death row and later exonerated and say "THIS guy was wronged by the system", but the ones who are harmed by the ones who are freed are random TBDs who might not even be alive at the time of the trial[/i]

Nobody's talking about not executing somebody and then freeing them, so that's a false dichotomy. As to someone in prison being hurt by an unexecuted serial killer, I'm really unsure about equating the injury/death of a prisoner in a maximum security prison with the execution of an innocent person.

Plus, if we're going to bring in this kind of speculation, let's add another layer. Currently, the evidence around a case is, if I understand correctly, destroyed after an execution. If you execute an innocent person, you are leaving a killer out in the world and you've just destroyed any evidence that might reveal their identity. How many people will they kill?

Travis Finucane said...

Little late in the game, but I remembered this discussion reading about Henry Callahan's killer in RSD.

The Callahan family wanted to see the guy fried, but the prosecutor didn't feel the evidence showed the murder was cold-blooded enough. They got life, instead. The killer is up for parole now. So this is a case where somebody who may have gotten the death penalty, may instead be released to murder again.

If you want to learn more about how having a soft heart for criminals helps society, read Henry Callahan's killer's

He enjoys watching Shawshank Redemption and his favorite NFL teams, buoyant with the hope of seeing the light of freedom again, while Henry Callahan's body rots.