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Is the Death Penalty Just and Applied Fairly?

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Is the Death Penalty Just and Applied Fairly?

The question that will be examined in this essay is whether the death penalty is just and applied fairly. Although there are opinions that both support and oppose the death penalty, there is compelling evidence that the death penalty is just and applied fairly and does provide an effective deterrent in preventing murder. Proponents of the death penalty argue that if just one murder is prevented because of the deterrent effect of the death penalty, the benefits outweigh the risks of wrongfully convicting an innocent person. Some of the arguments that opponents, or abolitionists, of the death penalty make is that it is racist in nature because it disproportionally affects minorities, it is not an effective deterrent, and that too many innocent people are convicted. Evidence for both sides of the debate will be presented, along with why the strength of the evidence supports that the death penalty is just and applied fairly, and does have a deterrent effect on murder.

One of the arguments that proponents of the death penalty make is that the brutality of the crime deserves an appropriate punishment. An example of this brutality is illustrated by Adams and Cassell in the book they edited, Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Best Case. Kenneth Allen McDuff was responsible for raping torturing and murdering at least nine women in the early 1990's in Texas (Bedau and Cassell, 2004, p. 183). Colleen Reed was one of McDuff's victims. According to Bedau and Cassell, "in Austin, Texas, McDuff and an accomplice manhandled 28-year-old Colleen Reed into the back of a car driven by an accomplice. Reed screamed, "Not me, not me," but McDuff forced her in, and tied her hands behind her back. As the accomplice drove to a remote location, McDuff repeatedly struck and raped Reed in the back seat of the car" (Bedau and Cassell, 2004, p. 183-184). Not satisfied with beating and raping Reed, McDuff inserted lit cigarettes into her vagina, and as she begged for her life, McDuff crushed her neck (Bedau and Cassell, 2004, p. 184). McDuff was later quoted as saying "killing a woman's like killing a chicken...They both squawk (Bedau and Cassell, 2004, p. 184). What makes this crime even more egregious is the fact that McDuff had been convicted of and sentenced to death for the murder of two teenage boys and the rape and murder of a teenage girl in 1966. McDuff and his accomplice forced the three teenagers into the trunk of the car and drove to a remote spot, where McDuff shot both teenage boys in the head at close range (Bedau and Cassell, 2004, p. 185). After killing the two boys, "McDuff and his companion then raped the boys' companion, Edna Sullivan. Not finished, McDuff then tortured Sullivan with a soft drink bottle and a broken broom handle, finally killing her by crushing her neck" (Bedau and Cassell, 2004, p. 185). The reason that McDuff was able to kill, rape and torture Edna Reed in 1991after being sentenced to death for his brutal killings in 1966, was the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Furman vs. Georgia in 1972, which invalidated all death penalties (Bedau and Cassell, 2004, p. 185). This ruling paved the way for McDuff to escape the death penalty and be paroled in 1989 (Bedau and Cassell, 2004, p. 185). McDuff was subsequently arrested in 1992 after appearing on an episode of America's Most Wanted, and executed in 1998 (Bedau and Cassell, 2004, p. 185). McDuff's violent crimes could have been limited to the killings he was convicted of in 1966 if the Supreme Court had not overturned the death penalty. The example of Keith Allen McDuff is a strong argument to why the death penalty is a just punishment for the crime of capital murder. If McDuff would have been executed for his original conviction of murder, there would not have been at least nine other innocent victims of his murderous ways. The next example in support of the death penalty that will be examined is the case of Timothy McVeigh.

Timothy McVeigh was convicted and eventually executed for the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building on April 19, 1995. According to the book Tabernacle of Hate: Seduction into Right-Wing Extremism by Kerry Noble and Jean Rosenfeld, McVeigh, and his accomplice Terry Nichols, made a truck bomb using ammonium nitrate, fuel and other explosives. McVeigh parked this truck bomb in front of the Murrah Federal Building on the morning of April 19, 1995, and then detonated it (Noble and Rosenfeld, 2010, p. 268). The explosion killed 168 innocent people, including 19 children. McVeigh was found guilty on June 2, 1997 "of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, of using that weapon of mass destruction, of destruction with an explosive, and of seven counts of first degree murder in killing federal agents in the line of duty" (Noble and Rosenfeld, 2010, p. 298). On June 13, 1997, the jury sentenced McVeigh to death by lethal injection (Noble and Rosenfeld, 2010, p. 298). McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001 for the Oklahoma City Bombing. A comparison of Timothy McVeigh and Keith Allen McDuff, who was discussed in the previous paragraph, does not find many similarities. McVeigh was a right-wing anti-government extremist who did not have an extensive criminal history of violent crime, while McDuff had been convicted of multiple murders. The common thread between the two, however, was the heinous nature of the crimes they committed. Both individuals were tried, convicted, and executed for the atrocities they inflicted on innocent victims, and justifiably earned the death penalty they deserved. Now that examples have been provided on why the death penalty is just, the abolitionist point of view will be presented next.

There are many reasons given by death penalty opponents as to why the death penalty is unfair and not applied fairly. To present a counter-argument to people in favor of the death penalty, numerous examples of why the death penalty is unfair will be presented and examined. According to the article The Case Against the Death Penalty, that can be found on the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website, some of the reasons that the death penalty is not fairly applied are as follows: 1. The death penalty is applied unfairly based on race and economic factors; 2. The death penalty has no public safety benefit; 3. Innocent people are too often sentenced to death (aclu.org, 2011). According to the article, the death penalty is unfair and unjust because it is applied against people "largely dependent on how much money they have, the skill of their attorneys, race of the victim and where the crime took place" (aclu.org, 2011). The article



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