Our children as killers

In the end my principal rage against the death penalty is not reserved for those, innocent or not, who occupy a six-by-eight concrete cell on death row. I fight the idea of killing killers because we irreparably tarnish ourselves and scar our children. We were all born in utter innocence. How we grow — into the beauty of our potential, or into the failed product of hate and vengeance is a matter in which society has a profound interest.

Studies universally show that we cannot put an end to killing by killing. In fact, states without the penalty have fewer murders than those with the highest number of executions. Texas, for instance, whose homicide rate is among the highest leads the nation in executions. One need not be a statistician to intuitively know that if a killer lives in Texas he will, to avoid the death penalty, go to Michigan, a state without the death penalty, to commit the murder he contemplates. Killing, among lesser factors, is the product of the environment in which the killer was created. If the state kills, don’t we understand that killing is acceptable human conduct – that whether it is right or wrong simply depends on who is in control?

So if the function of the death penalty is not to prevent killing, what is its function? If the death penalty does not make us safer, what benefit does it provide society? I say its only legitimate purpose is to reveal the psychic makeup of its proponents. Those who yammer and scream for the death penalty do so out of a need for vengeance. In the end, it serves only our darkest sides.

For me, I would hope that we can learn that hate and retribution, that suffering and killing are not the vision of a more enlightened people nor the role model for the innocent child. How society sees itself predicts how the child will see itself – the potential killer or the enlightened citizen.


23 responses to “Our children as killers

  1. So if the function of the death penalty is not to prevent killing, what is its function?

    Entertainment. The Romans proved there is always a market for the lowest, most violent forms of entertainment, human or animal. Dog and cock fighting clearly have their audience too. Making executions semi private doesn’t do anything to reduce the sadistic pleasure too many take in slaking their blood lust by imagining the deaths, and there are always those who clamor for more violent and painful ways of carrying out the killings.

    Executions also always provide an easy ‘out’ for politicians who hide behind the ‘tough on crime’ label. They are also a tool for less than competent prosecutors to extract a conviction where the evidence is weak.

    The most effective preventative of crime is effective policemen such as Johnny Bonds (LINK) who will pursue a case despite all obstacles. The least effective is grotesque punishments.

  2. I live in a state without the death penalty. To my shock, there was a referendum in 2006 and 75% of the population voted in favor of restoring it. Fortunately, we have a governor who will not allow that to happen while he’s in office. However, I can’t quite fathom the extent to which I am apparently out of touch with the majority.

  3. Mr. Spence,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your post. Many people who I talk with about the death penalty ask if I would feel the same way if it were my close family member who was brutally murdered by the individual facing death row. It really makes you think. In the end, I honestly believe that I wouldn’t feel any better about the situation if the “killer” was ultimately “killed”.

  4. I love your take on this. I want killing to stop so I’ll kill those who won’t stop doing it…let me think about that one. If it weren’t so tragic, it might actually be laughable. Thanks for all you do…your wisdom is vibrating on a very high level indeed!

  5. Gerry:
    Of course you know I have also opposed the death penalty; not because it is unconstitutional, it is as American as apple pie and is written into the Constitution itself, but because it diminishes us, “the people”, into a rabble demanding vengence.
    Your comments about muderers seeking the right states to commit murder reminds me of Ted Bundy. You’ll remember that after he dropped out of law school in Utah, and escaped from the Aspen, Colorado, jail, he found his way to Michigan where he again murdered. Michigan had no death penalty then and doesn’t now to my knowledge. Then he went to Florida where the Legislature had just reinstituted the death penalty after Furman. There he continued his muderous spree and eventually received the death penalty and was executed with great fervor.
    I believe that he was motivated, in some degree, to murder as a way to commit suicide, knowing he had murdered in Washington and that he knew he wouldn’t or couldn’t stop.
    All the people I’ve represented who have been charged with murder were tremendously remorseful and ultimately, at least subconciously, suicidal. The long sentences they recieved seemed to enable them to come to terms with their own existence and go forward.
    The death penalty, in my view, is a rejection of the idea that we’re created by God. Yet those who support it almost always justify it by reference to God. Why is that so? The death penalty is with us and will be for a long time until it is repealed by statute after we come to grips with our own miserable selves. I don’t believe I’ll live to see it.

  6. Thanks, Bernard. Right thoughts. Gerry

  7. Jerry:

    Yes, we of logic want to kill to stop killing!


  8. Paul: There are those who have found that love is more powerful than revenge and hate. One changes the world. The other leaves is in dark places.


  9. Beth: You are shocked that in a state without the death penalty the people seek to restore it.

    A very interesting irony exists in America. We are supposedly a Christian nation. Christ taught love and forgiveness. But as a whole we are a punitive culture. We want punishment for all, not justice for all, and revenge against all of our enemies. Would that we one day rise above that there might be Gross Domestic Happiness — a goal that will better serve us that Gross Domestic Product.



  10. The logic in Spence’s argument leaves a lot to be desired. Of course Texas is in the top tier in number of murders; it’s in the top tier in total population.

    Does the stat refer to number of murders per capita, perhaps? If so, it makes sense that states that experience the greatest murder rate would have extra incentive to support a death penalty.

    I don’t support the death penalty, but Spence’s logic doesn’t cut it!

  11. Compensatory justice!

    There is, and always has been a latent sickness in what we call society. The metaphorical use of the term “society” is merely a sufficient number of “individuals” who exercise their self-inflicted terminal stupidity. ~ Capt. A.

    “Of all the passions of the human heart that which promises the most and rewards the least … is revenge.” Author unknown

  12. Compensatory justice.

    There is, and always has been a latent sickness in what we call society. The metaphorical use of the term “society” is merely a sufficient number of “individuals” who exercise their self-inflicted terminal stupidity. ~ Capt. A.

    “Of all the passions of the human heart that which promises the most and rewards the least … is revenge.” Author unknown

  13. Jimbinos,

    For 2007, Texas ranked in the top half of the country for murders on a per capita basis. It’s held that distinction for many years. From 1996-2007, there are 14 states that never had the death penalty in effect. Of those, only two ranked in the top half in murder rates and 12 were in the bottom half. The top 10 states for murder rates all have the death penalty.

    If the death penalty were truly an effective deterrent then those states with the death penalty should have seen greater declines in the murder rate than those with it, yet the data does not show that.

    I see nothing wrong with Gerry’s logic.

  14. Thanks for the telling facts, Tony.

    Proponents support the death penalty because, although we are supposedly a Christian nation, we have been nurtured on “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” Old Testament article of faith. The same does not prevent murder. It never has — not from the beginning. But the need for vengeance and our fear of our own species has persisted in history like an eternal pestilence.



  15. Kozinski is a Jewish guy, who told you we, as a Nation, are not obliged to make a suicide pack, with ourself.
    You defend people who kills others, is that not glorifing their death instincts ?
    Does not one faced with one who wants to kill him(her) have a duty to life, to protect life, even if the choices are not so nice, you call that self defense, don’t you, when you opt to ?
    Some, call those Christains , who fought Hilter’s machine saviors, but then others call them just people led by Hitler’s Pope, American Christians.
    You must feel quite smug, never having worn the uniform of a U S military man, in some front lines, with hard choices.
    How wonderful that all your freedoms of expression are so protected, that you can tell us we are nothing but slaves, and perhaps lay it at the door of some Church(or if not that, the insane).
    But, then the biggest opponent of the death penality are some priests.(yes, the Churches)
    Most people respect life, treasury it, and aspects of civilization, however, how can you say that a supporter of the death penality, a fellow like Alex Kozinski, is not honoring life, by seeking to protect it against barbarians, who would have no hesitation to remove many lives in a community.
    Many regret that mass murderer Tim McVeigh’s life was cut short, not because he is devoid of being a swell fellow, but because it was never fully known why he brutally—in cold blood— killed small kids(infants) in a day care center, and about 160 people in OKC..
    He just calls them(that incident) collateral damage, a clear disrespect for life, & civilzation.
    You apparently felt your life was in danger,(once) and made an exception for the dead panality(imposing it)–as so noted in your pleas in Wyo.
    So, why is you life any more precious than others who may be put in harms way by cold blooded killers who are prone to harm others ?
    You say an eye for an eye, if, however, it was your eye that was first, then are you still for skipping the penality that society imposes on cold blooded killers who have a fundamental disrespect for life ?
    Sometimes life of a society is put in situations to defend life by actions to protect it.
    Isn’t that honoring life ?
    Where do you really—deep down– come down on life(at the dawn), is a death sentence through abortion, something you are against, or is that something, that fits into some other category, with some other set of slogans, maybe to then castigate those you call some church members, or some religious members, and ascribe barbaric code words, to then, & put that under you poetic love.
    Yes, life is precious, it should not be wasted by allowing those who would snuff it out to turn society into a jungle. Mercy is reserved, most often to the barbaric, but do not some cheapen life by honoring cold blooded killers, when mercy is not warranted, as determine by that jury, you so say has such wisdom. Kozinski is not disrespecful of life, is he, do you think your respect for life is more than his, because you align with cold blooder killers, who have been convicted, all be in a cell ?
    Of course, this is all in the framework of the example of Tim McVeigh, his act of war, and when deaths happen in acts of war on society, why do some want to delude themsleves to put some other gloss on it, that is always most curious, isn’t it ?

  16. As a 3L who has worked at a capital litigation firm, my problem is not with the death penalty, but the prevalence of the death penalty. In an elected judiciary–like the one in my state–judges and prosecutors retain their jobs by being “hard on crime.” Because of that, they seek the death penalty in too many murder cases and the law evolves in an ad hoc manner in order to uphold the death penalty imposed by the jury seeking revenge. This system allows at best a conflict of interest and at worst state sanctioned murder.

  17. Gerry is right when he says the death penalty diminshes all of us.

    I can come up with dozens of reasons why DP is bad public policy: the cost, the possibility of killing the innocent, the cruelty of telling a person the exact date and time of their death, a curse not imposed on the murderer’s own victims, the psychological violence of interminable delays and stays through an uncertain court process and many others. But the moral argument is the most persuasive.

    By condoning state-sanctioned killing, we legitimize killing for the right reasons to punish people who kill for the wrong reasons. But most people are skillful at rationalizing their bad deeds and this includes the state. The hypocracy of state killing leads to moral ambiguity because it mutes the message that killing is wrong, and in some instances promotes the very thing that the state killing machine is supposedly designed to discourage.

    I don’t agree that killers seek out non-DP jurisdictions to commit their crimes. This idea ascribes too much rational thought to people who are uncommonly immature, impulsive and unconcerned with consequences. Most murderers probably didn’t know they were going to kill when they woke up that morning. Then there are others who are arrogant enough to think they won’t be caught, the sociopath with a 140 IQ.

    Given all of this, it should be clear that the death penalty does not deter murder. And an argument can be made that it has the opposite effect. I thought of this when I read a story out of Georgia a few years ago where a guy opened fire randomly on customers in a Walmart parking lot and managed to kill a few. When asked why he did that, he said he wanted to die but lacked the courage to commit suicide and figured he could get the state to kill him. I wonder how many people commit murder with that conscious purpose or subconsciously seek to get the state to kill them too.

  18. Gerry, as a Christian, I oppose the death penalty. Almost all of my Christian friends support the death penalty. I secretly ask myself how they can call themselves Christians and still believe in the death penalty?

    It is, as you say, a motivation for revenge. Vengeance is an attribute of hate. The Bible tells us that if we are angry with our brothers, we are murderers.

    It utterly amazes me how liberals oppose the death penalty, yet support abortions. And, how conservatives oppose abortions, yet support the death penalty. Killing in any form is wrong, and in my heart, non-Christian.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right, and killing killers only makes us killers. Life without the possibility of parole is the only sentence which can bring true justice for a victim without reprisal being factored into the sentence.

    When I was in my 20s, I opposed the death penalty. During my 30s, I supported it; mostly because of the large number of cases I heard of and learned of, with victims so brutally murdered. Then in my 40s and 50s, I opposed it again. Why? Because I had grown as a Christian and better understood God.

    John 15:12-14 is all one needs to read in the Bible to know how Jesus wants us to decide the death penalty issue, or any other issue regarding hate or love or how we treat others.


  19. Gerry,
    As usual, your moves are brilliant! Your blog is the great idea. If I were to become a lawyer, you would be my buddha.
    In Light,
    Linda (that woman in California you told Randy to put on the back burner).

  20. Ciao Gerry i write from italy. it is from ten years that i would thank you for the book you write “H0w to argue and win every time. From time to time I read some phrases of you r your book and ypu are right.. I became a commercial of a bank, also for your words…. I have to thank you a lot… the courses of became commercial had nothing meaned to me…. i learned from your phrases more than that courses…. Thank you a lot Mr Gerry You are the best………

  21. Regarding you coverage of a Black lab retriever being resquied from freezing water. It’s troubling thst your “news men” are commenting on world news and yet they have no idea what they are talking about labs being killers. Is this how they handle the rest of the news. No wonder people watch other news services!

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