The Death Penalty

This past June the state of Georgia executed Marion “Murdock” Wilson, Jr. He became the 1500th person put to death in the United States since Gary Gilmore’s January 17, 1977 execution—an execution he requested—that effectively reinstated the death penalty following a ten-year moratorium on executions throughout the nation.

America has always had a special, although somewhat peculiar, affection for the death penalty.

Between the nation’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 and over the next 23 years through 1799, some 618 persons were executed in this country. The death penalty affection intensified in the 1800s as the nation executed 5,381 persons, a significant proportional increase from the previous two-plus decades. By the 1900s America was in a full-blown love affair with the death penalty, marching 7,980 persons into death houses between 1900 and 1967.

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Law of contradictions.

When is a table is not a table?

This past week the law of contradictions reared its ugly head in the nation’s death penalty arena.

Stephen West was put to death in Tennessee’s electric chair for the double murder of a mother and her 15-year-old daughter in 1986.

During his 33-year stay on death row, West became a man of faith and a model of rehabilitation.

Dexter Johnson was scheduled to die by lethal injection in the Texas death house but was granted a stay of execution by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals because the condemned man may be intellectually disabled.

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Inalienable rights.

The famed American poet Robert Frost once wrote that he believed in the “inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way.”

Justen Grant Hall in October 2002 brutally Melanie Billhartz in El Paso, Texas. At the time Hall was the District Captain of a white supremacist gang known as the Aryan Circle. Billhartz was an associate of the gang. At the time of the murder, Hall was on bond for the hate crime murder of a transgender person named Hector Auturo Diaz—a murder that occurred five months before the Billhartz murder.

Hall was convicted and sentenced to death for the Billhartz murder in 2005.

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Rush to judgment.

That is a process of accepting an unsubstantiated allegation as a fact.

A former Nevada lawmaker named Lucy Flores recently leveled an allegation against former Vice-President Joe Biden—a potential Democratic candidate for president—of inappropriate physical contact with her body. Specifically, Ms. Flores has informed the public that the former vice-president touched her in “an intimate way reserved for close friends, family, or romantic partners” by smelling her hair and placing an extended kiss on the top of her head.

This alleged misconduct occurred in 2014 during a campaign event in which she had elicited the political support of Biden who accommodated her request.

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Prison voting.

The National Conference of State Legislators provides the following information on felons and voting rights:

  • Felons do not lose their right to vote while incarceration in two states: Maine and Vermont.
  • Felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated in 14 states and the District of Columbia with restoration of those rights upon release.
  • Felons in 22 states lose their voting rights while on probation, incarcerated, and on parole. Their voting rights are restored after complete servitude of sentence.
  • Felons in 12 states lose indefinitely their voting rights following conviction of certain offenses. Felon voting rights in these states can be restored through a governor’s pardon.
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