Pain, suffering and capital punishment

William Murchison's picture

Such is the state of modern society that the U.S. Supreme Court gets the job of deciding how much pain the victim of capital punishment feels — never mind what kind of pain the victim’s victims may have felt.

Kind of interesting — and very modern: part and parcel of the process by which our institutions attempt to work off guilt for all manner of things done in the past and now perceived as somehow brutal and unjust.

A court decision adverse to the state of Kentucky’s procedure for executing convicted murderers — a drug “cocktail” that knocks out the victim before killing him — wouldn’t exactly end capital punishment, or even capital punishment via drugs. What it would do is send state lawmakers re-legislating to identify and approve a pain-free knockout punch.

The Kentucky cocktail is standard 21st century operating procedure — a replacement for the electric chair, which in turn replaced the noose.

A lawyer arguing for mercy on Ralph Baze — who executed a sheriff and deputy trying to serve a warrant on him — insisted the way to go is a single dose of barbiturates. Justice Antonin Scalia wanted to know why pain was such a central consideration in the legal equation. “This is an execution, not surgery,” Scalia said.

Well, yes. And no. That it is an execution is what matters to growing numbers of Americans working to put capital punishment itself to death.

The technique is, object to everything about the death penalty — fairness, pain, cost, international opinion, the prospect of executing the innocent. Death by a thousand cuts is the prescription for the death penalty.

Any time you have to put the matter to lawmakers — as would be the case if the Supreme Court were to disallow the Kentucky cocktail — is a chance for a debate on the whole premise that the state may take a murderer’s life. You’re debating means, say, and someone says no, let’s talk about ends and about the supposed moral horror of an execution.

Only last month, liberal New Jersey became the first state in 42 years to abolish the death penalty, which it wasn’t using anyway. Polls show public support for capital punishment at 62 percent — though large, it’s also shown to be the lowest in three decades. Capital punishment foes would doubtless peel off more of these adversaries once they got rolling. Considerable help would come from liberal Christians, including evangelicals of the Jim Wallis/Sojourners stamp, with their worldly concerns for “social justice.”

It fascinates — the gift of 21st century society for turning inside out its old norms without devoting undue attention to the question of whether those norms made the sense we once supposed they did.

What about capital punishment? Does it suddenly, after all these centuries, make no sense? The principle, I mean, not every application, as in the burnings-alive of the Reformation era — none of which we’re likely to imitate as a society.

It would have made sense to spare the lives of Goering and Himmler rather than visit on them personally and publicly the consequences of their war crimes? What of Hitler himself, had he survived the war? What of Stalin, could he have been caught by the representatives of a decent Russian regime? What of Saddam Hussein, who was indeed caught and hanged?

Extreme examples? I raise them for purposes of affirming the underlying purpose of capital punishment, which really isn’t that of deterring bad behavior; it’s that of making a declaration about a particular human act, one so wicked that not to inflict proportionate punishment would be the same as saying, there, there, you’ve been a bad boy, but that won’t stop us from caring for you and feeding and housing you and making sure your plasma TV works right.

Baze, our Kentucky murderer, pleads for exemption from suffering. Why, all he did was kill two men in cold blood. What do we learn from avenging them? the soft-hearted inquire.

We learn their human worth, for starters — their unique place in the created order, as disdained by the man who shot them. We learn of their families’ pain and suffering. Lastly, we learn of classic justice — “to each his own” — and the urgency of restoring it to a central place in modern affairs.

The renewed, re-quickened attack on the agonies of capital punishment may have its success stories to relate. Whether these stories will speak with equal conviction as to the agonies involved in maintaining the moral order — we wait to see.


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bad_ptc's picture
Submitted by bad_ptc on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 8:19pm.

Each ticket is $10.00.

All proceeds to go to the victims family or their designate.

Whomever wins gets to pull the trigger, up close and personnel.

The networks that want to carry it live/dead have to start the bidding a $5,000,000, highest bidder wins. Any network that declines to bid gets blacked out for the duration of the event. (This includes cable and satellite as well.) Again, all proceeds to go to the victims family or their designate.

The event should be scheduled at 8:00PM on a Monday to be sure and catch the news cycle for the week.

All High schools should be mandated to play a tape of the event in mandatory school pep rallies. There will be a quiz.

I'm in for $1,000.

mudcat's picture
Submitted by mudcat on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 8:30pm.

Using the eye for an eye concept, the winner would not use a gun - but a knife and the object he used to create "blunt force trauma" in other words - kill the scum the same way he killed his victem.

And quickly, by the way. Give him 1 year to look forward to his execution and then do it on time - no delays and certainly no appeals based upon "cruel and unusual punishment"

bad_ptc's picture
Submitted by bad_ptc on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 8:59pm.


Just as long as we have a number of "runner-ups" in case the winner sickens out.

Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 6:29pm.

I say keep the death penalty. There is no one that deserves it more than Gary Hilton, if he is in fact found guilty of the kidnapping, murder and decapitation of his victim(s).

And this opinion, coming from a liberal.

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 6:52pm.

Well, sort of....

Dropped off on the AT, naked, handcuffed behind his back, with a bold target painted on his back, after a nationwide announcement of his general whereabouts has been issued.



mudcat's picture
Submitted by mudcat on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 7:43pm.

Add his quasi-relative Paris Hilton to the release scenario and I'm right there, bro.

Submitted by sageadvice on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 7:34pm.

I'm nearly at a loss for words due to a few indicating that they would kill this person now, without a trial.
Even if he said he did it and lead them there to the body, there still could be others involved, or he even could be covering up for someone else. Anything is possible.
If a jury finds him guilty then that is the best we can (or will) do.
The danger here is vigilante government!

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 8:31pm.

The only valid concern for a fair trial for Hilton is for the sake of our legal system--not for Hilton himself. I'm sorry, but here is a case in which he is clearly guilty of an unspeakable, UNIMAGINABLE crime. We must allow the law to take its course, but only out of a respect for the law itself, not Hilton, who deserves nothing better than immediate execution.

mudcat's picture
Submitted by mudcat on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 8:19pm.

The only reason he led them to the body (which he knew where it was) is that the police and prosecuters agreed to take the death penalty off the table. Which, by the way, is another reason to have and keep the death penalty - as leverage against these bloodthirsty killers. Without the threat of a death penalty Gary H. would have no reason to disclose the location of the body and the family would still be wondering what happened.

Answer that.

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