Another Reason We Must Always Have Capital Punishment…[Corrected After Many Failed Attempts]

Lawrence Anderson

Sometimes monsters get loose.

That’s Lawrence Paul Anderson above. He has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder after he had been sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2017—just a few years ago— for a probation violation in a drug case. He was granted clemency last year by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board as part of a mass commutation program. Then, about three weeks after his release, Anderson forced his way into the Chickasha, Oklahoma home of Andrea Lynn Blankenship, 41. He killed her, then he cut out her heart. .He then took her heart across the street to the house of his aunt and uncle , cooked it with potatoes (personally, I prefer my human hearts with rice, but different strokes…) and tried to feed it to them “to release the demons,” he said later. Then Anderson attacked the couple and their 4-year-old granddaughter, killing his uncle and the little girl by stabbing them. Anderson’s aunt survived the attack but suffered stab wounds to both of her eyes.

The district attorney in charge of the case, Jason Hicks, said during a news conference last week that he might seek the death penalty for Anderson. “When is enough enough?” Hicks asked. “We have put politics and releasing inmates in front of public safety.”

Democrats in Congress have introduced a bill to eliminate the federal death penalty. I had just finished reading a standard issue op-ed diatribe against the death penalty when I learned about Anderson’s rampage. A couple of weeks earlier, I had seen the documentary on the horrific Cheshire, Connecticut home invasion, which I described in this post:

Planning to rob the home of the Petit family, the two broke into their house and found William Petit sleeping on a couch on the porch. Komisarjevsky bludgeoned him with a baseball bat and tied him up, leaving him bleeding and semi-conscious in the basement. The two men locked his wife, Jennifer, and their daughters, Hayley, 17, and Micheala, 11, in their bedrooms, as the invaders gathered money and valuables. Then Hayes forced Jennifer, at gunpoint, to withdraw $15,000 from the family’s bank account. After they returned from the bank, Komisarjevsky raped Michaela, the 11-year-old, and Hayes raped her mother. William Petit managed to escape the basement while this was happening, and crawled to a neighbor’s house to get help. Hayes strangled Mrs. Petit, poured gasoline on her corpse, around the house, and over both daughters, who were tied to their beds. Then Hayes and Komisarjevsky set everything aflame. 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela died from smoke inhalation before they could burn to death.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky were convicted and sentenced to die; Hayes wanted his lawyers to cease appealing. But while their lawyers were fighting the verdict and after the public’s memories faded, the Democratic Connecticut legislature abolished the death penalty in the state.

Even before I read about Anderson, the emotion-based, intellectually indefensible blathering of New York Times op-ed writer Elizabeth Bruenig had polluted my consciousness. No, the piece was not publishable by any legitimate standards. This collection of every complaint about the death penalty is featured online as if it is an important work, and in the print edition with an entire half-page devoted to it, when the space could have been more productively used for recipes, or knock-knock jokes. Her background is sociology and religious studies: I detect no knowledge or understanding of the judicial and legal arguments for the death penalty, nor does she rebut any. She does add a new one I hadn’t read or heard before: It’s all Donald Trump’s fault. This is the Times, after all, and appealing to Trump Derangement is considered the gold standard to justify anything.

I am afraid I am now suffering from Trump Derangement Derangement. Pray for me.

The former President’s name is used eight (8) times in the piece. She refers to the President’s “assembly line of death,” his “killing spree” a “vicious spectacle” in describing his administration’s welcome policy of carrying through the verdicts, duly appealed and argued before juries and judges, on individuals sent to death row because of their particularly brutal and heinous acts. Presidents swear to execute their office, and that means, for good reasons, seeing that those who have forfeited any right to live in this nation get executed as well when the system has so decreed.

Bruenig seems to be unhealthily obsessed with the fact that thirteen of the 62 condemned prisoners were executed. “Why them?” she asks. “Who cares?” I respond. All 62 deserved to die, and President Trump was the first POTUS since Eisenhower to make a good faith effort to see so many of them meet the appropriate fate. She seems to think that she is showing some kind of malign discrimination in compassion for the terrible citizens who were executed. That’s 100% backwards. The appropriate question is why 49 of these murderers were able to survive so President Biden could commute their sentences so I, and you, have to pay for their maintenance.

I’m not going to rehash the explanations at this URL regarding why a death penalty is ethical and necessary in a civilized society when there is no conceivable way the individual executed can be innocent, and when the crime or crimes committed are sufficiently terrible. The various essays on the topic are here. The most recent, from last year, are here and here. I will touch on the insultingly facile arguments made by Bruenig:

  • There would be no other federal execution for the next 17 years. It should have been the end of them. The country was changing. Vigorous public advocacy, exonerations of dozens of death row inmates and a break in the nation’s fever over crime had precipitously reduced executions throughout the country…”

“The country is changing” is not an argument. Change is not intrinsically good, though the Left has long been under that delusion. The death row inmates who were legitimately exonerated are irrelevant to the guilt of those who were not.  What’s the “nation’s fever over crime” supposed to mean, that law-abiding citizens are sick when they don’t shrug off law-breaking? Presumably so.

  • It’s cruel and unusual punishment. This was the disingenuous ruling of the most liberal Supreme Court the country ever had, and a high water mark in judicial activism. Of course the Founders didn’t intend the 8th Amendment to rule out executions at a time when hanging was the standard method of delivering the final stroke. Furman v. Georgia was a bad decision, and more rational courts allowed the decision to be chipped away to the point where justice was again possible.
  • “But the Supreme Court, now dominated by Trump appointees and other right-wing justices, began denying appeals and vacating stays — sometimes in the middle of the night, always without comment. They cast aside questions about inmates’ intellectual competence, their degree of involvement in the underlying crime, their youth at the time of the crime and their horrific childhood abuse.”

Intellectual competence, degrees of involvement and youth at the time of the crime are all considered in the trials and the sentencing. The scam has always been that condemned murderers can keep appealing forever what was already decided until they find the right judge. It’s a system that has become distorted to ensure that justice is frustrated. As for “horrific childhood abuse,” this is the Clarence Darrow argument of old: criminals aren’t accountable and have no free will. Yes, something makes these mutants into deadly psychopaths, and it is irrelevant to their guilt, or should be.

  • “despite the vociferous objections of his victims’ relatives.” Capital punishment isn’t performed for the victims’ or their families’ satisfaction. Criminal justice is in the interest of government, society and civilization. If Bruenig was educated on the topic she’s preaching about, she would know that or at least try to rebut the concept.
  • “False confessions.” None of the 13 executed were convicted by false confessions, and in the kinds of cases where the death penalty should be used, that issue is irrelevant. Tim McVeigh, the Marathon bomber, the Cheshire monsters, the D.C. snipers….they were guilty. No confessions were needed.
  • The Supreme Court held that people categorically opposed to the death penalty — perhaps as much as 40 percent of the population — can be excluded from juries in capital cases.” Well, of course: they are incapable of being objective jurors. The fact that the author even cites this as an obstacle to justice show just how ignorant of the law she is.
  • “Random chance plays an enormous role in capital punishment, from the makeup of juries (one study found that majority female juries are much less likely to sentence defendants to death than juries with equal numbers of men and women) to the immigration status of defendants (liberals and conservatives alike are less likely to sentence U.S.-born individuals to death than authorized or undocumented immigrants.)” 

Yes, random chance plays a role in all trials, and life. Biases are a problem and the result of the participants being humans. The justice system can’t be perfect, but we keep trying to make it as effective as possible. The U.S. system is fairer to those accused of serious crimes than any other in the world; DNA advances have made it fairer still. As for the racial bias argument, I see it as a strong case for more executions, not fewer. Yes, those white murderers who are avoiding capital punishment need to be killed at the same rate and for the same reasons as the non-white murderers. That’s a legitimate area for improvement.

I remain open to coherent, unemotional, fact-based arguments against capital punishment. Clarence Darrow’s appeal based on the ethical value of mercy remains the closest to that and the most honest, and that isn’t sufficient. Screeds like the Times op-ed just aims for the already converted.

14 thoughts on “Another Reason We Must Always Have Capital Punishment…[Corrected After Many Failed Attempts]

  1. Furman v. Georgia was a bad decision, and more rational courts allowed the decision to be chipped away to the point where justice was again possible.

    Furman is the reason capital punishment takes much longer than it did one hundred years ago.

        • Here in NJ former Chief Justice Wilentz single-handedly made sure that the death penalty would never be used, since statutorily all death sentences had to be reviewed by the NJ Supreme Court, and he just wouldn’t bring them to resolution. Eventually Governor Jon Corzine and his allies put an abolition bill before the legislature AFTER the midterm elections had concluded, so it wouldn’t become a campaign issue and no legislator would have to face the voters on the issue for another 2 years, and he signed it. Easy-peasy, no fuss, no mess. It’s just so much easier when you take these contentious issues out of the hands of the voters. Not that we would have a referendum on the death penalty, heaven forbid, but it’s just so messy when the assemblymen and senators have to take a position one way or the other on this controversial issue when it could influence the voters for or against them.

          Depending on how things play this coming November, this coming December may when we introduce the bill changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, which was pulled previously. We really don’t want that out there during the campaign when one-fifth to one-quarter of the state’s population is of Italian ancestry and might raise an objection that might hurt our chances politically. This way, it happens when everybody’s busy getting ready for Christmas and there can be no political consequences. So much easier and less messy. By the time anyone can do anything about it, two years will have passed and those hoagie benders will have gotten over themselves.

  2. My Criminal Law professor, fall of 1978, delivered an entire class-length lecture condemning capital punishment. There was no discussion, just lecture.

  3. I looked at some of her other essays. Yes, logic is not her strong suit. Slavish adherence to leftist dogma (that she calls liberalism) is her suit.

    I think P. J. O’Rourke said that he could understand someone who is against the death penalty and abortion because they think killing people is wrong. He could also understand a callous pragmatist who thinks both are OK. A person that thinks it is OK to kill a violent criminal, but not an innocent life has some reasoning behind their position. However, to think abortion is OK but executions are heinous requires therapy to reach that position.

  4. Well, Colorado abolished the death penalty in our state last year to start 2020 in the wake of a laundry list of infamous people who did not get it.

    James Holmes, Dexter Lewis, Chris Watts, and Patrick Frazee.

    I think the attitude in our state among the population was that we’d seen Nathan Dunlap on death row since 1993 for the Chuck E Cheese murders when he was 17. A few local news reports showed him reasonably rehabilitated after 25 years on death row, and I think that drove a lot of sympathy against the death penalty.

    As a result of abolishing the Death Penalty, Nathan Dunlap, Robert Ray, and Sir Mario Owens had their death sentences commuted to Life w/o Parole.

    I’m not against the death penalty, but I certainly have been swayed by arguments that it’s inconsistently applied and more hassle than it’s worth. We should have had 7 people on death row to start 2020. That we only had 3 was indication enough that the system was no longer was functioning properly.

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