DEATH PENALTY ISSUE - Myths and Facts
No innocent people are put to death.
Since 1973, 142 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. (Staff Report, House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil & Constitutional Rights, Oct. 1993, with updates from the Death Penalty Information Center).
The death penalty is applied fairly.
In 1999, the American Bar Association, a conservative group of 400,000 lawyers, reiterated its call for a moratorium on executions because of serious concern about racial disparity in death sentences and the failure to provide adequate counsel and resources to capital defendants. In January 2000, Republican Gov. George Ryan called for a moratorium on executions in the state of Illinois and in May 2002 Gov. Paris Glendening did the same in Maryland. In January 2003, Gov. Ryan pardoned four men and commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates to life without parole or less because he found the death penalty process "arbitrary and capricious and therefore immoral." The men currently on New Mexico's death row could not afford to hire their own lawyers. In January 2002, Republican Gov. Gary Johnson declared New Mexico's death penalty to be bad public policy because it was not applied fairly and innocent people could be executed.
Capital punishment is a powerful deterrent to murder and other violent crimes.
A recent New York Times survey found states without the death penalty have lower homicide rates than states with the death penalty. The gap between the cumulative murder rates of death penalty and non-death penalty states actually widened in 2003, from 36 percent in 2002 to 44 percent in 2003. "The two states with the most executions in 2003, Texas (24) and Oklahoma (14) saw increases in their murder rates from 2002 to 2003. Both states had murder rates above the national average in 2003: Texas6.4, and Oklahoma5.9. The top 13 states in terms of murder rates were all death penalty states. The murder rate of the death penalty states increased from 2002, while the rate in non-death penalty states decreased." (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org)
It costs more to imprison murderers for life than to execute them.
A 1993 Duke University study showed that the death penalty in North Carolina costs $2.16 million more per execution than a non-death penalty murder trial. Research in other states indicates executions are three-to-six times more costly than life imprisonment. In 1999, the New Mexico State Public Defender Department estimated the state would save $1 to $2.5 million per year on public defender costs alone if the death penalty was replaced with an alternative sentence.
Most countries have the death penalty.
The United States is the only western country with the death penalty. Since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1976, more than 40 countries have abolished it. In December 1998, the European Parliament called for immediate and global abolition of the death penalty, with special notice to the U.S. to abandon it. Abolition is a condition for acceptance into the Council of Europe, leading countries such as Russia and Turkey to abolish the death penalty. Recently, South Africa, Canada, France and Germany have all ruled against extraditing prisoners to the U.S. if death sentences would be sought. The World Court, in a unanimous decision reached on Feb. 5, 2003, ruled that the U.S. must delay the execution of three Mexican citizens while it investigates the cases of all 51 Mexicans on death row in the U.S. The Mexican government asserts that the U.S. has violated the Vienna Convention by not informing its citizens that they have the right to contact their consulate when arrested. The death penalty has long been a source of tension between the U.S. and countries that oppose capital punishment.
Most religions support the death penalty.
Most major religious denominationsRoman Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Unitarian, Quaker, Jewish, and many othersmaintain strong statements condemning the use of the death penalty. Pope John Paul II repeatedly called for abolition of the death penalty and New Mexico's Catholic Bishops, along with the NM Catholic Conference and NM Conference of Churches, have taken similar stands. Many Jewish, Protestant, Buddhist and other faith group leaders support alternatives to the death penalty and encourage their congregations to pray and study about this issue.
Support for the death penalty is growing in the United States.
A May 2004 Gallup Poll found that a growing number of Americans support a sentence of life without parole rather than the death penalty for those convicted of murder. Gallup found that 46 percent of respondents favor life imprisonment over the death penalty, up from 44 percent in May 2003. During that same time frame, support for capital punishment as an alternative fell from 53 percent to 50 percent. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org)
Death by lethal injection is completely humane and painless.
There is some doubt about the use of the triple cocktail. In 30 of the states that carry out executions by lethal injection, a combination of three chemicals is used. First, the prisoner is injected with sodium thiopental, an “ultra-short-acting” barbiturate designed to cause unconsciousness. That’s followed by an injection of pancuronium bromide (its trade name is Pavulon), a drug which causes paralysis. Finally, an injection of potassium chloride causes heart failure.
It’s the second of this lethal trio, Pavulon, that has raised red flags. Pavulon paralyzes the muscles but it does not affect the brain or nerves. Thus, once Pavulon has been administered there is no way for the prisoner to speak or move, even if conscious. Rather than contributing to a “painless death," Pavulon may do nothing more than mask intense suffering during the execution.
Some critics have suggested that making an execution palatable to the witnesses may be the sole reason for using Pavulon. “It strikes me that it makes no sense to use a muscle relaxant in executing people,” said Dr. Sherwin B. Nulane, a Yale medical professor. “Complete muscle paralysis does not mean loss of pain sensation.”
Dr. Mark J.S. Heath, an anesthesiologist who teaches at Columbia University, suggests that if the injection of sodium thiopental is inadequate or wears off, the prisoner would be left conscious, paralyzed, suffocating and subject to extreme pain from the potassium chloride. In those circumstances, the final injection “would basically deliver the maximum amount of pain the veins can deliver, which is a lot.”
While the courts have been hesitant to declare lethal injections inhumane, it seems that legislatures have had no such hesitancy declaring Pavulon unfit for use in killing animals. Based on the Veterinary Medical Association’s finding that “without perfect anesthesia” Pavulon’s use can lead to suffering for animals, in 2001 Tennessee banned the use of Pavulon in euthanizing “non-livestock animals” such as pets, domesticated animals, chicks and pot-bellied pigs. Texas followed suit in September 2003 with a ban on its use for cats and dogs. Both states use lethal injections to execute humans.
These are some commonly held myths and the facts about the death penalty. The information is drawn from Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, Inc., an organization opposed to capital punishment, observing: Reconciliation means accepting you can't undo the murder but you can decide how you want to live afterwards.