There are “8 million reasons” why the death penalty should be abolished.
I will discuss only one of those reasons in this post. Not enough time to deal with the rest of the reasons today.
Inequality—the selection, imposition and executing of death sentences are not applied equally.
Take the case of Orlando Hall as an example.
On November 20, 2020, the federal government put Hall to death by lethal injection in the death chamber at the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary in Indiana.
In September 1994, Hall and four other men—all of whom were part of an Arkansas-based marijuana drug ring—kidnapped a 16-year-old teenager in Dallas, Texas in response to a drug deal gone sour with her bothers. Over the next several days the men raped and abused the teenager multiple times.
They took the young girl with them to Arkansas where the sexual abuse continued. Hall and three of the men then took the teenager to a remote area where Hall and another man beat her about the head before they all buried her alive in a grave.
It was a horrific crime. No doubt about that.
Two of the men—Hall and Bruce Webster—were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Hall was tried in federal court while Webster was tried in an Arkansas state court. The other three men were given reduced sentences after they agreed to be witnesses for the prosecution.
On September 20, 2020—exactly two months before Hall was put to death—a federal appeals court vacated Webster’s death sentence, finding that he was “intellectually disabled.”
Here are the core facts of this case: five men took part in the kidnapping and rape of the teenage girl while four of them took part in her murder.
Only one of the five men was put to death. Three got preferential treatment from prosecutors because they became government witnesses. In other words, these three men got on the witness stand, mitigated their roles in the offense, and pointed the finger of primary responsibility at Hall and Webster. Prosecutors responded to this witness cooperation by saying, “Okay, good job – now, here’s your get out of jail free pass. Go and kill no more.”
Webster was spared his appointment with the lethal injection needle when a federal court determined that he is “intellectually disabled.” In other words, Webster was spared execution because he lacked the intellectual ability to understand what the death needle is used for.
Hall, on the other hand, was penalized by the federal government because he had the intellectual ability to understand exactly what the death needle is used for.
In effect, Orlando Hall was treated unequally from the other four men involved in the same crime—three of whom got differing reduced sentences because they “snitched” and Webster was spared actual execution because, as the condemned man put it, “what’s that needle for” while Hall was executed for no other real reason than he said, “I know what that goddamn needle is used for.”
If you put three primates in a room and gave each pen & paper, they could not devise a more unequal punishment than the death penalty as it was applied in the case of Orlando Hall.