Criminology Essays - Capital Punishment: Kill and Let Die

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Capital Punishment: Kill and Let Die

Capital punishment has been a highly sensitive and controversial issue in society since its inception. Although death has been used as a form of punishment in America since 1608, many states and citizens are still divided on when to use this form of punishment. Many people firmly believe in the biblical reference “an eye for an eye.“ Should a person be menacing enough to take the life or lives of other human being(s) then we, as a society, should be strong enough to take that person’s life as well. However, there are still many others who question the ethics of capital punishment. These critics believe this form of justice is cruel and immoral. Who has the right to decide who will live and die? In cases of serial killing, filicide, and domestic terrorism, death should be the only form of punishment considered. If convicted of a crime of this magnitude, the criminal should have punishment delivered in a swift manner.

Serial killers have been operating for centuries. The FBI has described a serial killer as a person who commits three or more separate murders. Belea Keeney states “Serial murder is the premeditated murder of three or more victims committed over time, in separate incidents, in a civilian context, with the murder activity being chosen by the offender” (299-306). Stereotypically, serial murderers begin killing in their early to mid twenties and continue into their mid to late thirties. Serial killers target strangers and usually kill in the same fashion each time. These individual are some the most heinous criminals that exist. Many people believe serial murderers are mentally disturbed individuals who cannot be rehabilitated. Theodore (Ted) Bundy was responsible for the massacre of several young women in a Florida State University sorority, as well as many individual murders between 1974 and 1978. Dependent upon whom is asked, the number of killings varies, but is suspected to be between twenty and forty. The actual number died with Bundy when he was executed on January 24, 1989. John Wayne Gacy was one of the most disturbed serial murderers of all. To all who knew him, Gacy was kind and gentle. He routinely volunteered as a clown at children’s hospitals and parties. However, behind the clown mask a killer resided. Gacy was convicted of thirty-three murders, most of which were found buried under a crawl space in his home. All were young males, some of whom were prostitutes. John Wayne Gacy was put to death on May 9, 1994. Gary Ridgway, also known as The Green River Killer, holds the most convicted honor. Ridgway was convicted of forty-eight murders, however, he avoided the death penalty because of admission. Each of these individuals took parents away from children, children away from parents, spouses away from spouses, and siblings away from siblings. Should their lives be sparred because certain people feel the death penalty is dehumanizing or immoral? These are evil individuals that must be punished the way their victims were punished. Their victims no longer have life, neither should their victimizers.

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Filicide is the murder of a person’s own child. Many cases of filicide are blamed on marital problems between the parents or depression after the birth of a child. The most publicized cases of filicide are those of mothers killing their young. In 1994, Susan Smith stepped in front of television cameras and pleaded with the black male who stole her vehicle and kidnapped her two young sons. She shed tears while beseeching upon this individual to return her sons unharmed. However, no one would know until later what actually took place that day. That morning Smith strapped her two sons, ages three and fourteen months, into their car seats and began driving. At some point her mind snapped, and she drove her sons, still strapped into their seats and helpless, into a nearby lake. One can only imagine the fear and panic those children experienced once the vehicle went underwater. Smith was sentenced to life in prison for taking her sons’ lives. Andrea Yates was a mother of five who routinely suffered from severe depression. Yates was hospitalized on numerous occasions for psychotic tendencies and suicidal thoughts. However, after each hospitalization she was allowed to return to her home and continue having children. She suffered severe postpartum depression after the birth of each child. In June 2001, Yates drowned each of her five children one by one. Four of the five children were found on the bed where she had laid them. The last to die was the oldest, and he was found floating in the bathtub among vomit and feces. Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and was confined to a mental hospital. She has periodic hearings to see if she is recovered and ready to be released. Between 1972 and 1985, Mary Beth Tinning had nine children. However, none of these children lived past their fifth birthday. Using SIDS as a ruse, Tinning was murdering her children. Once caught, she admitted to smothering each child with a pillow because she was not a good mother. She was convicted of eight out of the nine deaths and was sentenced to twenty years to life in prison. Tinning will be eligible for parole in the year 2041. None of these women were sentenced to death. As a matter of fact, one of these women, Andrea Yates, was not even convicted of murder. How can society justify allowing these women to live when their children will have no life? Their children will never know the joys of marriage and parenthood. They will never accomplish great academic feats, and they will never experience the feelings of achievement in their career. These children had their fates sealed the moment their mothers took their lives. Where is the justice for these small innocent victims?

One other form of extreme criminality is that of domestic terrorism. Domestic terrorism is the act of terrorism on home soil. Timothy McVeigh was one of the most publicized and best known domestic terrorists. Along with Terry Nichols, McVeigh was responsible for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City which left 168 men, women, and children dead. In April 1995, McVeigh rented a moving truck and used the cargo area as a bomb holding. He parked the vehicle outside of the Murrah Federal Building and watched as it exploded shortly after nine o’clock in the morning on April 19, McVeigh was convicted and died by lethal injection in June 2001. Theodore Kaczynski, also known as The Unabomber, is described by many as a serial killer. However, this man can be better classified as a domestic terrorist. Kaczynski despised the government and all it stood for. He would design and build bombs, and mail them to different university professors, mainly those in engineering and environmental fields. At one point, he managed to get a explosive device in the cargo area of an airplane. Luckily, no one during this attack was seriously injured. However, in the eighteen years The Unabomber operated, Kaczynski was responsible for three deaths and twenty-three bomb related injuries. He believed in order to bring about governmental changes he needed to have sacrifices. These sacrifices were his innocent victims. Theodore Kaczynski was eventually caught, however not until after becoming the FBI’s longest and most costly manhunt. Kaczynski pled guilty to federal charges and was sentenced to four life sentences plus thirty years. These two individuals struck fear into a nation. No one was safe. Americans were attacking Americans.

The majority of people can agree that the taking of human life is criminal. However, if the act of taking another person’s life is heinous and unlawful, then would punishment by death be just as criminal. Some argue that the government does not have the right to judicially murder another human being, regardless of that person’s criminal acts. Other people believe the justice system cannot guarantee guilt firmly enough to justify death. According to John Terzano, eyewitness identification, confessions, and pretrial discovery are three major areas that require improvement to increase accuracy and reliability of the justice system (New Jersey Law Journal, July 2007). Many people also believe the perpetrator’s childhood acts as catalyst to their adult life. Many violent criminals were abused sexually, mentally, and physically by their parents. Did these criminals simply learn what they were taught? According to Dr. Dorothy Lewis, “They had lived to perpetrate on others the violence that had been visited upon them. That’s how traditions get started” (188). Although each of these opposition viewpoints can be respected, capital punishment must be viewed as a penalty reserved for the most evil criminals. Prior to any punishment being delivered, the case must be thoroughly analyzed, and the nature of the crime must be taken into account. Not all violent criminals should be executed, however, any person committing serial murders, terrorism, or filicide should be disciplined in a manner consistent with his or her crime.

The majority of American citizens agree murderers, of any kind, must be punished. The real question, do we have the right to administer death? Could there be another way to take these individuals out of society without ending their lives? One possible solution to this dilema would include building a penal colony strictly reserved for potential death row inmates. This system would be similar to a high security penitentiary, however, it would need to be completely secluded from society and each individual imprisoned would remain there until his or her natural death. Because of the risk of escape, highly trained prison guards would need to remain on grounds twenty-four hours daily in rotations of two to four weeks. Of course, female and male prisoners would need to be separated as they are in the current prison system, however, due to the risk of sexual interaction male guards should be placed with male prisoners and female guards with female prisoners. This system would theoretically be highly successful, but the cost of maintaining these facilities would be astronomical. This is a burden tax payers would have to bear. Is this a burden the public is willing to bear?

What would happen to society if convicted murderers were allowed to walk the streets? Literally, walk the streets. If the death penalty was completely obliterated what would happen to the world? Murderers would be allowed the opportunity to live among the innocent, whether by escape or parole. Without capital punishment America’s crowded prison system would become even more congested. Violence within the penal system would increase. Unfortunately, some of this violence could be directed towards innocent prison guards, social workers, and visitors. Capital punishment should not only remain legal but should be strictly enforced. However, death should only be used as a form of punishment for the most severe cases of violent criminality. Firm DNA evidence or unobstructed self confession should be in place prior to the conviction and sentencing of individuals. During incarceration, all evidence should continue to be reexamined and all efforts exhausted to ensure the proper person has been convicted. To agree with Terzano, we, as a society, have a moral responsibility to take the steps necessary to ensure our justice system is as fair and accurate as possible (New Jersey Law Journal). With that said, any person entertaining the notion of murder needs to be aware that he or she will be caught, convicted, and punished in the best way suited to his or her crime.

Works Cited

Terzano, John F. "Preventing wrongful convictions."New Jersey Law Journal(July 17, 2007): NA.LegalTrac. Gale. Alabama Virtual Library Remote Access. 25 Nov. 2007 <>.

Lewis, Dorothy Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers. New York: Ballantine Publishing, 1998

Keeney, Belea T, and Kathleen M. Heide. "Defining Serial Murder." Contemporary Issues Companion: Serial Killers. Ed. Louise I. Gerdes. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Thomson Gale. Alabama Virtual Library Remote Access. 25 Nov. 2007 <>.