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Arthur Schaper: Death and Execution in Massachusetts

Friday, February 14, 2014


According to Arthur Schaper, capital punishment remains an unsettled, and unsettling, controversy.

The death penalty, like abortion or euthanasia, fires off heated discussions even among people who agree on just about everything else. Life is more than dollars and cents, and the morality of protecting life from birth to death, yet ending a life which has ended other lives, carries great weight, even for the most secular of advocates for either side.

The death penalty, often reserved for the most heinous of murder cases, may end the life of the still alive Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the younger terrorist whose coordinated attack wounded hundreds and killed three people during the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Such homegrown aggression, welfare subsidized, cannot go unpunished. The death penalty is fitting enough. Yet the debate on the death penalty is far from over. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee just suspended the death penalty, making him the third governor recently to do so, preceded by the governors of Colorado and Oregon. Regarding any governor’s role to unilaterally suspend the death penalty, I disagree heatedly. The rule of the law requires that the chief executive follow through on the legislated consequences.

While liberal lawmakers have discouraged capital punishment, including the current gubernatorial candidates, the US attorneys prosecuting terrorist Tsarnaev will seek the death penalty.

US Congressman/Presidential candidate Ron Paul the Libertarian supported the death penalty. Ron Paul the Republican later opposed the measure in both 2008 and 2012. I was a pro-death penalty until I attend college. The rationale for capital punishment, in the face of overwhelming evidence for and against, forced me to rethink the matter. Despite the offensively liberal bent of modern universities, my instructors at University of California, Irvine welcomed and show-cased opinions from prosecutors and defense attorneys, as well as diverse experts from different fields of study on the matter.

While Boston.com explored the controversial history behind capital punishment in Massachusetts, my instructors arguments about the death penalty provoked considerable discussion.

For me, concerns about capital punishment focus on the risk of a miscarriage of justice. The state cannot amend the loss of an innocent. At UC Irvine, there was a campus technical assistant who was sentenced to life imprisonment in a San Clemente prison for a murder which he had not committed. After nineteen years, he was a broken man, inside and out. Following his release, he filed a lawsuit, won, invested his wealth to make millions, then died tragically a few years later.

Still, false imprisonment ending in a life sentence was bad enough. The thought of an innocent man dying for a crime cannot be ignored, and the calculus for me: better to let ten bad man go free than arrest, convict, execute one innocent.

While one of my professors was a professed opponent of the death penalty, another instructor, a local judge, hosted prosecutors from the district attorney’s office, who shared the horror stories of wicked men doing unspeakable violence. Such inflammatory accounts were disturbing, to say the last.

However, the mistakes within the prosecution of capital cases seemed more the norm rather than the exception. One activist, interviewed for a heated documentary on the subject, claimed that the death penalty investigatory process invites mistakes, since the political pressure on government leaders and law enforcement drives them to find the most likely suspect and prosecute. Such was the case with the Lindbergh baby, for example, in which accused and convicted Bruno Hauptmann claimed his innocence until his death. One hundred years later, former Illinois Governor Jack Ryan (who preceded the corrupt Rod Blagojevich) commuted all the death penalty sentences following a lengthy investigation, which exposed that twelve out of twenty-five death row inmates in Illinois were wrongly convicted. Michigan, the first state to abolish the death penalty, enacted that policy following the execution of an innocent man.

Following a massive reading on the expense of executing (no pun intended) the death penalty, I found that repeated appeals create most of the costs. Because due process is important, however, I disagreed with any reforms limiting defendants’ appeals of capital cases. Besides, the price tag should not frustrate the pursuit of justice. From an emotional standpoint, aggrieved loved ones of a murder victim, following the execution, acknowledge feeling no better. Perhaps another reason to abolish capital punishment(?)

Even philosophers throughout history have debated this issue, from Plato to Locke, Kant and Hegel, until the Italian criminologist Cesare Beccaria, the first modern thinker to argue against the death penalty. Interestingly enough, Founding Father Benjamin Rush, a physician from Pennsylvania, argued against the death penalty, too, convinced that men who commit murder do so in dire or constrained circumstances, only later to regret their crime. Though Rush was a compassionate man to his colleagues, one wonders how he would have reacted to the Tsarnaev’s callous, heinous terrorism.

After these extensive discussions, I rested on individual, religious reasons for opposing the death penalty, until San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders offered a compelling case for capital punishment: easier plea bargaining for the prosecution, a strong reason for keeping it, even if rarely implemented.

For me, even now, capital punishment remains an unsettled, and unsettling, controversy.


Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance. Follow him on Twitter @ArthurCSchaper, reach him at [email protected], and read more at Schaper's Corner and As He Is, So Are We Ministries.


Related Slideshow: New England States with Highest Marijuana Arrest Rates

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6. Massachusetts

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 51

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 18

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 49

2010 Raw Arrests: 1,191

Photo: Flickr/Blind Nomad

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5. Vermont

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 48

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 119

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 51

2010 Raw Arrests: 737

Photo: Flickr/Victor

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4. New Hampshire

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 33

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 210

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 41

2010 Raw Arrests: 2,769

Photo: Flickr/Blind Nomad

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3. Rhode Island

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 31

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 214

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 43

2010 Raw Arrests: 2,243

Prev Next

2. Maine

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 30

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 214

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 40

2010 Raw Arrests: 2,842

Prev Next

1. Connecticut

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 23

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 247

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 25

2010 Raw Arrests: 8,815

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Number One Overall

Washington D.C.

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 1

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 846

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 34

2010 Raw Arrests: 5,115

Photo: Flickr/Torben Hansen


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