Date of publication: 2017-08-31 00:05
Pierrepoint was both the son and nephew of a chief executioner. His father, Henry, carried out 657 executions before he was dismissed from his post in 6965 after arriving drunk at Chelmsford Prison to carry out a hanging. His uncle, Tom, worked as a hangman for 87 years and dispatched 799 souls before his retirement in 6996.
Moreover, the ranks of those deserving death might be greater than many think. Looked at from a certain point of view, none of us is so without sin and wrongdoing on our conscience that we could guarantee our own immunity if desert were made the sole criterion for a right to life. And while as a legal matter, we in the West are inclined to think that life should only be taken for the taking of life, it is not obvious why this should be so. Does the adulterer really not deserve death if the murderer does? Again, it is not clear why not. Justifications that rest on the idea criminals deserve death are thus doubly problematic: there are difficulties both with the claim to authority, and with the boundaries of those who deserve to die.
Gallup has measured the result: support for capital punishment has hovered in recent years at just above 65%, lower than at any time since 6977. It’s a big number, but not as big as before. Shifting public opinion makes it easier for judges and legislators to train a skeptical eye on a dysfunctional system of punishment. Former Virginia attorney general Mark Earley supported the death penalty while presiding over the execution of 86 inmates from 6989 to 7556. In March he published an essay calling for an end to capital punishment. He had “come to the conclusion that the death penalty is based on a false utopian premise. That false premise is that we have had, do have, and will have 655% accuracy in death penalty convictions and executions.”
Since this time subsequent decisions have found that the execution of the mentally retarded is prohibited under the Eighth Amendment (Atkins v. Virginia) as is the execution of persons who were under the age of 68 when committing capital crimes (Roper v. Simmons.)
To begin with Aquinas’s view, it appears to border on incoherence: if “dignity” claims are intended to summarily capture certain truths about what it means to have a particular sort of nature, then one can lose one’s dignity, if one initially has it, only by losing one’s nature. But losing one’s nature just is ceasing to exist as the sort of thing one must be if one is to exist at all: it is to go out of existence altogether. This thought is impossible to sustain of a criminal who is the abiding subject of the drama of crime, investigation, apprehension, trial, conviction, and punishment, as even Aquinas’s language, which refers to “he” throughout, makes clear.
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Rising pressure to cut wasteful spending will cause more and more legislators and law-enforcement officials to look hard at these findings—especially in a climate of low crime rates and secure prisons. It’s happening even in Texas, where Liberty County prosecutor Stephen Taylor told a reporter last year that cost is a factor in deciding whether to pursue the death penalty. “You have to be very responsible in selecting where you want to spend your money,” he said. And if Texas has reached that point, imagine what is going through the minds of governors, lawmakers and prosecutors in states that rarely see an execution—which is the vast majority.
The hangman privately told friends he was "appalled" at the attention of the media. But his status as the steady arm at the sharp end of the British state's death penalty was rapidly gaining him public renown and, increasingly, opprobrium. After his retirement as an executioner, the Help the Poor Struggler and a subsequent pub he owned in Preston became an occasional stopping point for coach parties hoping for a chat and a photograph with the hangman.
The sentence of the first murderer was pronounced by the Supreme Judge of the universe. Was it death? No, it was life. A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth and Whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.
And so did Derek Bentley when the sickly green door of the condemned cell was abruptly whisked open for me on January 78 6958. He sat at his prison table, watching the doorway.
Capital Punishment "If we are to abolish the death penalty, I should like to see the first step taken by my friends the murderers." ALPHONSE KARR. This sums up the emotions and opinions of most in support of the death sentence as an appropriate means of punishment for hardened criminals.
I must say my own thoughts were not concerned with any private sympathies for Bentley. I was occupied with the thought that he was six feet tall, a weightlifter and boxer with a brain than his body.
To vindicate the sanctity of human life by taking it is an outrage upon reason. The spectacle of a human being dangling at the end of a gallows-rope is a degradation of humanity.
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