Some forensic techniques named as suspect in National Academy of Sciences report [Why I Don't Like the Death Penalty]

So what happens in April when they discover they were wrong? Does the state of Texas buy him a nice gravestone?

I have erasers on my pencils because I make mistakes. For sure, I don’t want executing a not guilty person to be one of them.

“In February 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for the arson murders of his three young daughters in a fire at their home in Corsicana, south of Dallas.

But a [newspaper] investigation later that year showed that Willingham’s conviction was based on forensic evidence and arson theories that no longer are considered scientifically valid. The 1991 fire, according to four experts who reviewed the evidence for the [paper], might have been an accident, not a crime.

Now, in the first state-sanctioned inquiry into a Texas execution, the Texas Forensic Science Commission has asked another expert to review the forensic evidence in the case.

A report is expected in late March or early April.”,0,5374429.story

For more information:

A certain percentage of error is acceptable in any modern justice system, maybe 2 or 3%. And of those, how many are totally factually innocent and not “merely” guilty of a non-death penalty eligible capital crime, or lesser included offenses or other offenses. Its not like we’re talking about executing the chamber of commerce. At some point, society can shrug off the mistakes and say, “yeah, sorry about that. But in the next life, try not to lead a life of crime with a 20 page rap sheet and maybe this won’t happen again. Your choice in granite or slate.”

  1. No one is found innocent at trial, either factually or otherwise. A person is either found guilty of the crime charged or not guilty.

  2. Whether a 2-3% rate of wrongful executions is acceptable depends on the view from where one sits. If you are in the chair, it is a 100% failure rate and highly unacceptable!

Maybe we can show a little empathy? Treat our no good, ex-offender, non-working, drug abusing, ne’er do well neighbor (i.e. the least of our brothers) as ourself?

Execution is wrong whether the one executed is guilty or innocent, it is barbaric to take someone we have total control over and strap to a table and inject them with lethal drugs.

In reality people are very selective as to when they support the death penalty. I can recall being in Huntsville the night Karla Faye Tacker, the “born again murderer” , was executed and the hundreds of people there begging for mercy . A week later a poor Hispanic who was involved in a deal gone bad was executed and there a less than a dozen of us there

Perhaps one day we will live in a society less barbaric and it will no longer be necessary. John Paul II believed that we already do.

Factual guilt (and, therefore, factual innocence) is very important to courts. Even plea bargains will typically require a defendant to admit his factual guilt. My point is simply that mistakes can be made and a defendant convicted of a charged offense when, in fact, he did not commit that offense. That is the error rate.

Mitigating the error rate is something like this: the defendant was convicted of DP-eligible first degree murder, but actually only committed non-DP-eligible first degree murder, or, defendant was convicted of killing 10 people, in fact, he only killed 8. So I’m not going to get worked up over the fate of people like that when mistakes are made.

Whether a rate is acceptable depends on the decision of the people, as expressed through the legislature and vetted by the courts. Emotional appeals and personal hypotheticals like the one you posit carry no weight, nor should they.

I don’t think so.

But there are many cogent reasons to oppose the DP** as implemented**, especially in the way the police and prosecutors exercise their discretion in building and charging cases, which is, as you know, often racially disproportionate. That sense of unfairness strikes me as unacceptable. The DP should be an equal opportunity leveler.

Considering the Magisterial teaching over the last century that the death penalty is only reasonable when incarceration is not practical to protect the populace from the offender, no Catholic should be advocating the death penalty in the US.

One can speak for themselves and you are entitled to your opinion, but it still remains possible for a Catholic to apply the same principles that John Paul II did and come to a different conclusion, namely, that there are still cases where the death penalty is necessary to protect the lives of others. Such an opinion does not contradict magesterial teaching, only the judgement of individuals in applying that teaching.

With some of the recent notorious mistaken convictions, I cannot support the death penalty on certainty grounds. There are also issues as to equality of application across racial and economic lines; and there is the theological question of taking a life.

Finally, one of my closest relatives was a no good, ex-offender, non-working, drug abusing, ne’er do well so I know how people can get caught up in the legal system.

This is your strongest argument by far, solidly backed by facts and appeals even to the unfeeling barbaric, such as myself, who have a strong intrinsic dislike for unfair application of law.

Two things a Catholic needs to know about the death penalty:

  1. The church feels it is rarely if ever needed but acknowledges that Catholics of good conscience can disagree about the necessity of its application.

  2. It is not an intrinsic evil like abortion. There is absolutely no moral equivalence between the two.

This is misleading: the current teaching was first expressed in 1995. It is the innovation of JPII and not particularly well supported by anything written in the two millennia preceding it.

… that the death penalty is only reasonable when incarceration is not practical to protect the populace from the offender…

The problem with this is that the protection of society is a secondary objective of punishment; the primary objective relates to justice and it is on that basis that the appropriateness of capital punishment should be judged.

…no Catholic should be advocating the death penalty in the US.

I do.


Good insight. To be even more exact, the 2008 Federal Sentencing Guidelines say this about the purposes:

“The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (Title II of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984) provides for the development of guidelines that will further the basic purposes of criminal punishment: deterrence, incapacitation, just punishment, and rehabilitation.”

Texas again? :smiley:



I don’t advocate the death penalty. But I do argue for actually using the means we have for protecting the populace. Convicted and unrepentant murderers who have received life sentences come up for parole every day and may be released. That’s not protecting the populace, and it’s not what the jury thought was being imposed when the sentence was life imprisonment.

I’m anti-death penalty as well. But I view it as a personal decision and not something mandated by my religion, such as abortion. The difference is - the unborn babies are always innocent. The vast majority receiving the death penalty, except for a few exceptions, are not innocent.

Yet, even for the guilty, I am pro-life enough to oppose it and simply believe in life in jail. Who knows - people might convert while in jail. There is a Catholic person who wrote a lot of letters in conversion to God while in jail. St. Maria Goretti’s killer repented of murdering her and after spending 30 years in jail, went on to become a brother in a monastery and to preach to others about the dangers of pornography.

Also, crime is often used as a political tool - see Mahatama Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Rev. Martin Luther King, Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen, the pro-life pastor who received 30 days in jail in Oakland for holding a sign on the sidewalk a day or so ago.

I only support the death penalty when there is a potential for escape and a sentence deserving of death. The recent situation in California where prisoners are being released weakens my opposition to the death penalty. Is there anything immoral about this? :shrug: :o

This is rather intriguing: these are the exact objectives of punishment the Church recognizes. She also teaches that the primary objective is just retribution, that is, the redress of the disorder caused by the crime. We all recognize that too harsh a punishment is unjust but we seem to forget that too lenient a punishment is unjust as well. Justice consists in giving each person his due and society has the obligation of making the severity of the punishment commensurate with the severity of the crime. This is why I support the death penalty for heinous crimes as being the only punishment that satisfies the requirement of justice.


There is no justice if an innocent man is served the death penalty, as has happened on several accounts. There is no justice if prejudice affects the sentencing, as is statistically proven. God reduces his justice based on the possibility of innocence. Take Sodom and Gomorrah, where Abraham argued God down to lower and lower numbers of holy men, but, alas, there simply weren’t enough holy men in the city to justify its salvation. Take the essential essence of Christianity. We are all guilty. Christ and Mary are the only perfect humans. Christ is a “living sacrifice” that redeems all of us. Our sin becomes erased through the Sacraments, and obedience to the will of God, not because of our own merits, but his merits as an innocent lamb led to the slaughter.

Furthermore, Christ calls us to greater standards. Many sins are deserving of death that we do not currently punish with the death penalty, such as adultery. Yet, when Christ caught the men stoning the women for adultery, he stopped them, saying to him who has not sinned, let him throw the first stone. This did not mean that the woman was innocent and did not deserve death. He then said to her, Go and sin no more. So there is a bit of pride, thinking we know more than God to arbitrarily choose which rules of God that we wish to obey and which ones we do not. That was the first sin of Eve that got us into this mess in the first place.

I think that the focus on making sure that people can sin no more is a more Christ-like focus, a reason for the death penalty when prisons are untrustworthy or unavailable and for life in prison when they can be trusted.

As the Bible says, Vengeance is mine! I will repay! says the Lord. They will meet justice in the afterlife if they do not meet it here. For him who has shown mercy, mercy shall be shown. Judge not, lest you be judged.

I am not wholy opposed. I believe that those who are killed in this life receive more mercy in the afterlife. Yet, I think that those societies that willfully engage in lack of mercy will not be favored by Christ in comparison to those who do not.

And, I think the most important consideration is: can we truly trust the prisons to keep unrepentant sinners under control and imprisoned? This is actually an area that has not been considered much in his debate in my non-humble opinion.

There is no justice either when an innocent person is deprived of freedom for their entire life for a crime not committed. The verse above does not apply to society meting out punishment, or else we would have no punishment for criminals, as it could be applied to imprisonment or even fines.

I think in understanding the arguements for and against the death penalty, we can not use arguments that prevent any sort of criminal justice system at all, unless that sort of anarchy is what we are advocating.

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