The death penalty has always been and always will be an extremely controversial topic. While some people believe that it is wrong to take another person’s life after the victim’s life has been taken, others believe that capital punishment is justifiable. Each state in America has their own set of rules and regulations for this particular punishment; there are some states in our country that allow the death penalty, but there are others that do not. The death penalty should be more favored by people in today’s society. The death penalty brings closure for the victims’ families, allows for a deserved punishment for violent crimes, and removes psychotic criminals who cannot be rehabilitated, off the streets.
“Having a needle put into your arm and getting into a nice, peaceful sleep. That is nothing compared to putting a gun to our families’ heads,” says a murdered victims’ family member (“65 pro death…,” n.d.). While it is controversial, it is proven in many ways that the death penalty brings closure for both the victims’ families and friends. There are many people who do not realize what the death penalty entails until they hear about a certain case on the news, watch a murder show, or experience a personal loss. What a lot of people do not think about is that for felons who are given life in prison instead of the death penalty, they are still living their lives everyday while their victims are no longer able to do that. As a country, money goes to these institutions to help pay for these killers to be fed and taken care of. It is said that death row inmates are provided clothing, can have basic, personal items, and about an hour of recreation per day, etc. (Reinhart, 2011).
“There is something wrong with our society that Surber is eating and breathing and we are paying for it. This was so brutal. He should have been put to death – and that was a view that was shared by many,” says Paula Rolls, who lost both her friend and colleague named Katherine, to her abusive ex-boyfriend. He held her hostage in her own home, stabbed her, then continued to rip open her chest cavity and remove most of her organs. Paula stated that she would not mind putting her tax money towards his execution (“65 pro death…,” n.d.). Even though these dangerous criminals are incarcerated and spend most of their time in isolation, they are still being taken care of in some form. The only restriction these inmates have is not being able to work (Reinhart, 2011).
“To his parents, I would say we both have lost a child, because he’s not getting out of prison. I want him to get the death penalty. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” says Ralph Reynolds, a father who lost his eight-year-old daughter to his great uncle-in-law, who stabbed his little girl to death and then proceeded to drag her body to a shallow grave behind their property (“65 pro death…,” n.d.). For many families, seeing the killer of their loved one die makes them feel like justice was served. A lot of the states in America allow the death penalty, but there are other states like Iowa, that do not. In the year of 2011, two young girls by the names of Elizabeth and Lyric went bike riding and disappeared.
The following year in 2012, their bodies were found. Elizabeth’s parents, Heather and Drew, were very determined to have their daughter’s killer get the death penalty. Unfortunately, the state of Iowa prohibits this. The couple had to go straight to their governor to try and restore this form of punishment in their state; however, Iowa’s senator at the time refused to budge and change the rules. Drew Collins said “I can forgive someone and Heather can forgive someone, but they still have to meet justice…It’s just not fair that they can take a life and that they can sit in prison and they can live the rest of their lives out and their family gets to go see them…but we don’t get to visit our daughter” (“65 pro death…,” n.d.).
This is yet another example of how allowing these convicts to live is only hurting the families even more. In America, the death penalty is only legal in 30 of our 50 states (“Death penalty…,” 2020). An extremely important case that demonstrates the issue of state’s not supporting the death penalty is the Charles Manson case. Charles Manson, an infamous cult leader, was a mass murderer who ordered nine people to be killed in the year of 1969. He was originally sentenced to death in 1971; however, when him and his cult who participated in the murders were put on death row, the California Supreme Court invalidated the state’s death penalty statutes. Due to the court’s decision, Manson and the others who were waiting to be executed got life in prison instead.
Shortly after this, California voters fought for the death penalty to be legalized again, but this did not change the finalized decision for Manson and his people. They remained eligible to stay in prison for the rest of their lives. Ironically enough, in the year of 2017, Charles Manson died in prison of natural causes at the age of 83 (Paton, 2017). This case goes to show the public that someone who committed a very heinous crime got away with being able to live his life to the fullest, solely because the state of California decided to go no-death-penalty. Sadly, for families who live in states that do not support the death penalty, they will never get the justice and closure they deserve and need. Capital punishment is deserved punishment in these types of crimes.
The death penalty allows deserved punishment for violent crimes. Any criminal who finds it acceptable to go out and commit a homicide, should have to endure the same pain as the victim who was murdered. Being put to death is a punishment deserved, as the person who was killed was not given the choice to live or to die. “We need this on the books because Mertz is evil through and through, and having one less evil person on this earth is what’s best for society,” says Cindy McNamara, who lost her daughter Shannon, to a man named Anthony Mertz. Mertz broke into Shannon’s apartment and ended up strangling and mutilating her. Cindy went on to say how it is terrible to be in prison while being innocent, but this man who killed her daughter is obviously not innocent because there was plenty of evidence he did the crime, and deserves to be put to death. As Cindy says, there is a reason we have the death penalty (“65 pro death…,” n.d.).
One less dangerous criminal on the streets helps society become a safer place, and when one is on death row, there would be no possibility for them to create more damage to other people’s lives. Cindy is correct. A real possibility with keeping violent criminals alive in prison is the chance of escape which gives a criminal an opportunity to be loose on the streets once again. Sitting on death row would make it almost impossible for this to happen. While this does not happen too often, there is always a chance that it can happen due to lack of strict security, physical force, or other means. Another important issue to be addressed is deterrence.
There are two types of deterrence. First, general deterrence is “the impact of the threat of legal punishment on the public at large.” When criminals get punished for crimes they committed, the consequences of those crimes, whether it be the death penalty, years in prison, or other punishments, are supposed to make other people think twice about committing any crimes; sometimes this works, and sometimes it does not. Specific deterrence is “the impact of the actual legal punishment on those who are apprehended.” For this type of deterrence, it is supposed to prevent criminals who have already committed crimes, to make them not want to commit any more (“General deterrence…,” n.d.). The effectiveness of specific deterrence sways. For some criminals, especially those who have served a very long sentence, they could possibly become desensitized to being locked up.
There are two possible reasons for this. First, if convicts realize they can withstand living in a prison environment and have been successful with it, there is nothing scaring them from potentially being brought back to prison. Second, there are a lot of convicts who feel as though they would not be able to start a life outside of the prison walls, so if they have the opportunity to go back in, they will (“Specific deterrence,” 2017). It is important to note that over 88% of criminologists believe that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder. Unfortunately, this is a significantly high percentage.
Criminologists say that the consequences might not always enter a criminal’s mind because of the following reasons: being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, having a mental state of fear or rage, suffering panic while committing another crime, and having a mental illness or being mentally retarded; therefore, not being able to understand the impact of the crime that he or she is committing (“The death penalty…,” n.d.). A perfect example of a criminal who rightfully deserved his death sentence, was the murderer of Meredith Emerson, Gary Michael Hilton. On New Year’s Day, 2008, 24-year-old Meredith decided to go hiking at Blood Mountain, in Atlanta, Georgia (where she resided) with her dog. As she was hiking, Hilton used his dog, Dandy, as a lure to kidnap the young girl. He held her captive in his van for nearly three days before he finally murdered her.
A little while after Hilton’s arrest, he led police to her headless corpse. To this day, all of the law enforcement who were involved in this case are still haunted by what occurred. Retired FBI agent, John Cagle, said “I think about Meredith every day. Every single day.” Cagle was in charge of the search for both Meredith and her abductor. After having interviewed Hilton, Cagle explained how impressed he was with Meredith’s perseverance and courage she showed every moment leading up to her death. Not only did Hilton kill Meredith, but he had also confessed to murdering and decapitating a young nurse a few weeks before he murdered Meredith, and prior to that, murdering an elderly couple as well. This was all done within a ten week span.
According to Hilton’s public defender, Rob McNeill, Hilton thought he would die in prison, but little did he know a death sentence was awaiting him. Hilton’s reason for turning to murder was because he said he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and the drugs affected him. It was also found that Hilton had a very bad childhood and abused drugs for many years. Hilton’s defender even said that he claimed he would have continued to kill if he had not gotten caught (Boone and Cook, 2017). This story about Meredith’s killer is enough to prove that there are criminals like Hilton who do not deserve to be given a second chance in society, and deserve to sit on death row. People like him are very unlikely to be rehabilitated.
Rehabilitation is one of the biggest goals for convicts because it allows them to slowly make their way back into society; however, depending on the crime committed, these criminals do not always deserve to have that right (Regoli, 2019). Rehabilitation gives felons a chance to see that there are better things in the world than committing crimes, but this is not always successful, especially if the criminal is a psychopath and has committed a crime that put them on death row. According to a well-written article on Psychology Today, psychopathic criminals can be “trained and managed, but not cured.” A lot of these offenders on death row have psychopathy, which is a personality disorder. This disorder prohibits offenders to feel remorse/guilt.
Psychopaths also demonstrate violent behavior, and disregard for laws, social mores, and the rights of others. They tend to be experts at manipulating, intimidating, and charming their victims in order to follow through with their planned crimes. While there may be criminals who are capable of reentering society, it has been proven by mental health experts that psychopathic criminals are unable to do so. Dr. Nigel Blackwood, a forensic psychiatrist, says that psychopaths do not fear any form of punishment and not are phased by social stigmatization; therefore, they do not have the same response as other criminals do, who do not have personality disorders. Instead of giving them a chance at rehabilitation, reward-based treatments (watching TV, playing games, etc.) tend to be a better option. The goal behind this is to manage them in institution-based settings.
A criminal this successfully works for is Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK (bind, torture, and kill) serial killer. He has to remain in solitary confinement for 23 hours each day, but due to his good behavior, he gets to have meals he likes, etc. (Bonn, 2014). Most mental illnesses cannot be cured, but can be improved; therefore, it would not do any good to allow psychopaths to reenter society. While there are offenders who may be capable of rehabilitation, there are many that fail greatly at this. A perfect example of this would be the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Dru Sjodin.
On November 22, 2003, Dru finished her shift at Victoria’s Secret in the Colombia Mall in Grand Forks, North Dakota. As soon as she finished, she went shopping at another store in the mall. Little did she know she was being stalked the whole time. On the way back to her car, a level three sex offender by the name of Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. abducted Dru, and proceeded to cross the state border into Crookston, Minnesota, (where he lived with his mother) where he would follow through with his heinous crime. It was not until April 17, 2004, when Dru’s body would be recovered. She was found half naked lying face down in a ravine, with her hands tied behind her back.
Dru had been beaten, stabbed, and sexually assaulted. A rope had been tied around her neck, causing several lacerations, including a five and a half inch cut on her neck from a knife. Six months before Rodriguez committed this crime, he had been released after a 23-year prison sentence for stabbing and attempting to kidnap a woman, and had even served time before that for a previous rape. One would think that after 23 years of being locked up, that an offender would learn their lesson; however, this is not always the case. Rodriguez was given a second chance to reenter society and better himself, but he clearly failed.
The trial was held in a federal court which made him eligible for the death penalty because Rodriguez committed the crime outside of state lines. Typically, the death penalty is not allowed under both North Dakota and Minnesota law, but because of the nature of the crime and it taking place across state borders, this was an exception. On August 30, 2006, Rodriguez was sentenced to death and was executed on February 8, 2007. During his trial, Rodriguez showed no remorse whatsoever and continued to claim he was innocent. Richard Ney, Rodriguez’s attorney, said that “the sentence does not reflect the heart of the community, it reflects the fear of the community” (“Alfonso Rodriguez Jr.,” n.d.). If this criminal had not been released from his prison sentence, Dru would still be alive today. Since Rodriguez decided to turn to crime once again, his death sentence was more than deserved.
It is more than clear that the death penalty has many benefits for society. Bringing closure for victim’s families, giving criminals deserved punishment for their crimes, and bringing awareness to the fact that rehabilitation does not always work, are all leading factors in why capital punishment is critical. Families being able to get closure and justice for their loved ones who have passed, criminals being sentenced to death for the awful things they have done to other human beings, and psychopaths not being given the chance to reenter society all support that the death penalty should be embraced by all states. If the death penalty is more accepted, our country would be a much safer place. Capital punishment is justice served.