When, if ever, is the death penalty okay?

The death penalty: An eye for an eye, or something else? Photo: AP/Bell County Sheriff's Dept., File

WASHINGTON, August 26, 2013 — Is execution ever appropriate?  Should only killers face the death penalty? Rapists? Child-molesters? Should the number killed matter? Does motive matter? Terrorism? Mental incompetence? What if the killer were high on mind-altering drugs?

Consider these cases where many would call for the death penalty:

This undated file photo provided by the Bell County Sheriff’s Department shows Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan. Hasan was convicted of murder Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 at Fort Hood for the 2009 shooting rampage there that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30. (AP Photo/Bell County Sheriff’s Department, File)

Nidal Hassan killed 13 military personnel and wounded 32 more at Ft. Hood. He confessed to terrorist motivations.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, an “alleged” Boston Marathon bomber, has been charged with terrorism for killing three people and wounding more than 260. He’s also charged in the later death of an MIT police officer.

Jodi Arias was convicted of the first-degree murder of her one-time lover Travis Alexander in his Phoenix, Arizona home. She brutally stabbed Alexander 29 times, shot him and slit his throat ear to ear.

SEE RELATED: Forced sterilization of mentally incompetent man legal in Britain

Richard James Beasley, dubbed the Craigslist Killer, lured three men in search of jobs to his Akron, Ohio cattle farm. He killed and buried them. A fourth man escaped.

Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steen Hayes killed a woman and her two daughters in their New Haven, Connecticut home. The pair beat and tied up Dr. Petit, raped and strangled his wife, molested one of their daughters and set the house on fire.

“I was personally opposed to the death penalty, and yet I think I have probably asked for the death penalty more than most people in the United States.” JANET RENO

Now consider a few cases where some might not favor execution of the criminals involved:

SEE RELATED: Nidal Hasan: Let the law apply

James Holmes killed 12 and wounded 70 people in a crowded movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

James Edwards, Jr., age 15, Chancey Luna, age 16, are charged with first-degree murder of Christopher Lane, an Australian baseball player attending college in Oklahoma, when he was jogging through their neighborhood. They said they were “bored” and wanted to kill someone for fun.

Julio Garcia was just convicted in Virginia for killing Vanessa Pham, who gave him a ride in her car because he wanted to go to the hospital. He was high on PCP and stabbed and slashed Pham 13 times. The jury recommended 49 years in jail. 

Warren Hill is in prison for life for killing his 18-year old girlfriend. In jail in 1990, he killed an inmate. His attorneys assert he is mentally retarded. His death penalty has been the subject of legal wrangling since.

About one-third of the world has the death penalty (58 out of 193). The United States is the only country in the Americas that employs capital punishment. Currently, it is the law in 32 states.   

Arguments against the death penalty usually cite:  (1) humane treatment; (2) possible wrongful conviction; and (3) the costs involved for lifetime incarceration. 

Legal arguments against the death penalty are espoused by the American Civil Liberties Union and others. They reason that execution violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment as well as the guarantees of due process and equal protection. Death penalty opponents further argue that government should not have the right to kill human beings, particularly when they do so with what they regard as an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion.

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to restore the death penalty. In 2010, retired Justice Stevens said that this was the one decision that he regrets. He pointed out that the death penalty (now) looks nothing like how the Justices saw it in 1976. They thought it would be administered fairly and be reserved for “a very narrow set of cases” involving the worst of the worst offenders. Justice Stevens stated that the death penalty is now imposed arbitrarily and unfairly.

“I am against the death penalty. It does not deter. It is severely discriminatory against minorities, especially since they’re given no competent legal counsel defense in many cases. It’s a system that has to be perfect. You cannot execute one innocent person. No system is perfect.”  RALPH NADER

A large body of evidence shows that many innocent people are convicted and that some have been executed. Statistics from the Innocence Project reveal that since 1989, there have been 311 cases where DNA proved convicted individuals were innocent. Twenty-nine of those 311 individuals pled guilty to crimes they did not commit. 

Government … can’t be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to kill.  HELEN PREJEAN, “Dead Man Walking”

Studies indicate the leading causes of wrongful convictions are eyewitness misidentification, un-validated or improper forensic evidence, false confessions and false testimony from informants.

Consider a few wrongful conviction cases:

Ray Krone was released in Arizona after DNA evidence proved that he was not responsible for the 1991 murder of a Phoenix bartender.

Levon “Bo” Jones, an African American, was wrongfully convicted in a racially motivated prosecution in North Carolina of the 1987 murder of Leamon Grady, a white man. The case against Jones was described as having been weakened by numerous errors, poor oversight and ineptitude. Jones was exonerated after spending 14 years on death row.

Jones’ co-defendant Larry Lamb was exonerated after two key prosecution witnesses recanted their trial testimony and the real killer was identified.

Many believe the cost of lifetime incarceration far exceeds the costs involved in carrying out a death sentence. Not so according to The StandDown Texas Project:

  • Average daily cost to house an inmate in Texas is $47.50. That equals $17,000 annually and $693,500 for 40 years.
  • From indictment to execution, the trial costs for a death penalty case are about $1.2 million.
  • Not all death penalty cases are more expensive, but as a whole far more costly than lifetime incarceration.

For some, it is difficult at times not to favor the death penalty. Horrible, premeditated and aggravated violent cases such as those like Hassan, Tsarnaev, and Arias seemingly cry out for the ultimate punishment. Yet there are also cases involving young, underage killers, insanity, drug use or mental incompetence where some are willing to consider a punishment other than death.

A Virginia jury just decided Julio Garcia should live.  Good decision, in this case.


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics.  Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, in Washington, D.C., on the Andy Parks show, the featured legal analyst for America’s Radio News Network, heard in 165 markets nationwide, and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.

His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.

This undated file photo provided by the Bell County Sheriff’s Department shows Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan. Hasan has been convicted of murder Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 at Fort Hod for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others. (AP Photo/Bell County Sheriff’s Department, File)


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

More from Leading Edge Legal Advice for Everyday Matters
blog comments powered by Disqus
Paul Samakow

Attorney Paul Samakow brings his legal expertise to the headlines from life and real-life experience to The Washington Times Communties. A native Washingtonian, Samakow has been a Plaintiff’s trial lawyer since 1980, with offices in Maryland and Virginia. 

Contact Paul Samakow


Please enable pop-ups to use this feature, don't worry you can always turn them off later.

Question of the Day
Photo Galleries
Popular Threads
Powered by Disqus