The View From the Death House
Over the years, the authors have had occasion to visit many death chambers around the country — thankfully, not when they were in use. Here are two reports that bring you along on some of those travels. The first is a look at the use of the electric chair, the second an inside view of Lousianna’s death house with Barbara Walters.
Who is too young to die for taking a life?
Retribution is often cited as a justification for capital punishment. Some crimes seem to demand “an eye for an eye.” But when the Court examined the death penalty of Patrick Kennedy, it determined that while his crime was awful — a child rape — he should not be punished by death because he did not commit a murder. It was a difficult case; here is the background.
Medicate to Execute
Insanity is a defense generally available to murder defendants. The legal theory is that if the defendant was not responsible for his actions, he should not be punished as a responsible party would; he should certainly not be executed. But what of a condemned prisoner who becomes insane after conviction — can he be put to death. The Supreme Court has been faced with that question in two fascinating cases, that of Alvin Ford in Florida and Michael Perry in Louisiana.
The Supreme Court has from time to time faced the difficult question of whether a participant in a homicide other than the actual murder is liable to execution. The question is complex, but no case of this nature that the Court has considered was mired in so much familial violence as that of Arizona’s Tison Family.
Claims of Innocence
The real nightmare scenario concerning capital punishment is that an innocent person could be executed, despite the protections and balances of the judicial system. Prosecutors, judges and juries are fallible. Could it happen? The Supreme Court has ruled in two cases where the defendants’ defense was a claim of actual innocence. Joseph O’Dell was condemned in Virginia, Leonel Herrera in Texas. Both were executed, but in the age of DNA and digital evidence, the question of actual innocence is certain to come before the Justices again.