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The Death Penalty

By Luciana Collado '25 & Karolina Rodriguez '25

Source: The Hill

What is the Death Penalty?

The death penalty is currently a form of punishment for crimes in many states in the U.S. Some crimes that qualify for death row include murder, drug trafficking, treason, aircraft hijacking, rape, and others. Death row has a few methods of execution such as hanging, electrocution, lethal injection, firing squad, and being placed in a gas chamber. In the United States, it has become one of the most controversial and debated topics.

A brief history on death row in America:

The death penalty has had a long history and has changed over time. There have been hundreds of inmates put to death, some of them innocent, and some whom onlookers believed deserve their fate. In America, the earliest death-penalty execution ever recorded took place in the 16th century. Public opinions on this issue have changed greatly over time, and opinion greatly varies across regions of the country.

Opinions and cases:

Famously known serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and Ed Kemper are some prime examples as to why some are in support of this form of punishment. Reading about different cases can change perspectives: the more you know, the stronger your idea about capital punishment can become.

The death penalty is a touchy and sensitive topic to discuss. Often, opinions and characters are judged based on them. Is there a right or wrong opinion, or is it more than just a “yes or no” kind of thing? A popular argument supporting capital punishment is that people feel safer knowing a killer or criminal is dead. Others believe these criminals are getting better treatment in prison, for bad crimes, and that imprisonment is not a fair punishment.

Ed Kemper is an American serial killer, rapist, and necrophiliac who murdered six women in Santa Cruz as well as several members of his own family. At his trial in 1973, after being convicted and found sane, Kemper requested the death penalty for his crime. At the time, it was suspended in California, and instead, he received eight concurrent life sentences. Since then, he has been incarcerated in the California Medical Facility. Ed Kemper is still currently alive at the age of 73 years old, and many people say they would feel safer knowing killers and other criminals like him were dead. “Once they're gone, they have no way of doing anyone else harm”

Jeffrey Dahmer is one of America's most well-known serial killers. He is known as the Milwaukee Cannibal or the Milwaukee Monster. Within the span of 13 years, Dahmer committed 17 murders; all his victims were male. He was interviewed several times after his incarceration and commented saying that “race had nothing to do with it.” Instead, he would target "the most attractive men." When he captured his victims, he would perform acts of necrophilia and cannibalism on them. There can be a feeling of relief when people hear about killers like this who are dead.

Criminals like Ted Bundy are why this method of punishment was created in the first place. Bundy, one of the most notorious serial killers during the ‘90s, was known for targeting women, raping and killing them, and he would even perform acts of necrophilia on them. Killers like Dahmer and Bundy were great dangers to society, and they were executed on death row.

Despite these examples, and even though there are many guilty criminals on death row, what about those who were wrongfully convicted? And just how many stories have there been of innocently executed people on death row?

Although finding the culprit has become easier due to advances in technology, putting someone to death is a serious matter. Joe Arridy is an example of a wrongful conviction. Joe Arridy was arrested for the murder of Dorothy Drain in 1936, and the murderer was described as a “Mexican” looking man. Being a Syrian man, he fit the description as a person of color. Arridy was a man with special needs and was coerced by police to confess to a murder he did not commit. He was found guilty and died in a gas chamber, and it was not until 2011 that the crimes he committed were cleared.

Similarly, George Stinney Jr. was a young African-American boy when he was falsely executed at the age of 14 for the murder of two white girls. Their names were Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 7, in his hometown of Alcolu, South Carolina.

A common argument opposing the death penalty is that we are just as bad as the killers if we execute them. Some people might see this question as an absolute binary of yes or no, but can we reduce it to something as simple as that when we are dealing with the lives of other people?

Looking back, former-President Donald Trump was in support of the death penalty--with 13 executions under his administration--and he staunchly encouraged it. Our current President Joe Biden strongly opposes it. He promised to work “to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow." Biden’s campaign centered on criminal justice reform arguably more than any previous American president, and he’s the first to take an openly abolitionist position on the death penalty. Although there haven't been any current changes revolving around the death penalty under his presidency, he has stated clearly that he does not support it. Ultimately, the death penalty is a very complex idea of punishment with many flaws and could change vastly with different perspectives from people in higher positions of power.

Changes In the Death Penalty:

The death penalty has been around for decades. Over time, people’s attitudes toward this topic have changed. Factors based on age, political party alignment, and sex affect people’s perspectives towards the death penalty. Women are more for life in prison rather than the death penalty, while men are the opposite. Most Republicans are for capital punishment while most Democrats support for life in prison. Age also plays a part in attitude: younger people are more likely to support life in prison, in comparison to older people who more often support the death penalty instead.

The death penalty has had a decrease in executions in recent years. Some reasons for this include an overall decrease in crime, and the high cost of executing prisoners Another reason is the increase of better attorneys, lawyers, and legal representatives. According to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty.” Although the number of executions has lowered, they are still occurring. Dustin Higgs is the most recent federal execution and is an example of how there are still current executions today. His execution occurred on January 16, 2021, under the Trump administration, a few days before the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Dustin Higgs faced conviction for the role he had in the murder and kidnapping of three women: Tamika Black, Tanji Jackson, and Mishann Chinn, in 1996. It was said that he and some friends offered them a ride home to D.C. but drove off somewhere secluded. There he told his friend Willis Mark Haynes, “...better make sure they’re dead,” and handed him a gun, with which he then shot the three women. Willis is currently convicted for the murders as well as kidnapping the three women, and he is serving a life sentence in jail without parole

The main goal when writing this article was to inform readers about the death penalty, the variety of cases involving capital punishment, the evolution and process of being put on death row, forms of execution, and how you can develop your opinion on this political issue. Opening our minds will let us think deeper when resulting in matters of life or death.

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