Death becomes you

Marc Bookman is a good lawyer; an acquaintance of mine.

Although he is good lawyer, he’ll never pull down Big Lawyer bucks because he’s pretty much devoted himself to lost causes, those already convicted, the out-of-sight, out-of-mind people. He is the executive director of the nonprofit Atlantic Center for Capital Representation. 

We met after I had taken up the cause of Marcus Perez, a man who had taken a guilty plea for murder on the promise that his sentence would be 17 ½ to 35 years. Due to a mistake on the part of a judge, Marcus wound up with life, with no chance of parole.

As I soon learned, Marc was Marcus’ lawyer.

Marc and I agree that Marcus got jobbed. We agree on a few other things, disagree on more. 

Marc has just finished a book, which you can see above. It is 12 essays against the death penalty. I’m sure it is well reasoned and well argued, but I won’t read it.

I am for the death penalty and nothing will change my mind.

I have been thinking and arguing about it for decades and I know all the arguments, and I have all the counter arguments. My view is unchanged over the years, even as public opinion has swung back and forth.

Currently, 55% of Americans favor the death penalty for murder, the lowest it has been in 50 years, according to Gallup. And 45% are against. 

55-45 is a far bigger gap than most presidential elections.

Interestingly, Gallup asked the question a different way, with different results. “60% of Americans asked to choose whether the death penalty or life without possibility of parole is the better penalty for murder chose the life-sentencing option. 36% favored the death penalty,” Gallup reported. It illustrates how the question is asked can shape the result.

When I say I am in favor of the death penalty, it’s not like I’m the Queen of Hearts screeching “off with their heads.”

Like some say about abortion — safe, legal, rare — that’s how I feel about the death penalty. Safe meaning death is sure and more or less painless. Legal speaks for itself. Rare meaning it should be reserved for premeditated murder and perhaps a few heinous crimes, and there should be no doubt of guilt. Zero. 

Why would I keep the death penalty?

First, some people deserve to die. Any adult who murders a child is beyond reformation in my book. 

Second, it protects society. Life imprisonment does not do that. The Curran-Fromhold correctional facility is named after two correction officers who were murdered by convicts. 

A life sentence is a license to kill — other inmates or guards.

No, we can’t keep them in solitary confinement because the courts have said that is cruel and unusual. 

Third, as a bargaining chip. While many opponents say being locked away for life is worse than death, most convicts disagree and will take a plea bargain guaranteeing them life, rather than the chair, firing squad, or gas chamber.

While I agree putting life in the hands of government, and the justice system, is an iffy proposition, I will take that.

OK — arguments against it.

1- It favors the rich who can afford the best lawyers.

Well, everything favors the rich, so we must find the best lawyers for the accused who are poor, people like Marc Bookman, for instance. 

2- If a mistake is made, it is irreversible. 

True, so don’t make mistakes. That’s why DP can be used only when there is no shadow of a doubt.

3- It is employed more often against nonwhite and poor persons.

Also true, which is why the state is obligated to get them excellent attorneys.

4- It costs a fortune.

Only because we stupidly allow unlimited appeals. A DP sentence takes decades before it is carried out.

5- It is not a detterent.

Well, it deters that person from killing again. Moreover, it will never be a deterrent when the punishment is decades removed from the sentence.

6- It is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court says otherwise.

7- It is immoral to take human life.

But they have, and the state is taking guilty life.

8- The vast majority of democracies have abandoned the death penalty.

They are also enraptured by soccer. So what? 

Lately there have been debates over the method of execution and some chemical manufacturers are refusing to have their products used in the gas chamber.

The electric chair sometimes does not produce the desired effect, and hangings are sometimes botched. It makes you long for the guillotine, I tell you. 

Well, tough if it hurts a little. I am not as sympathetic to murderers as are some others. 

Matter of fact, I have an idea for the method of execution that I think is completely fair, and — as they say today — equitable.

Murderers themselves choose their form of execution.

If the murderer used a gun, he will be shot to death.

If he killed by strangulating his victim, he will be strangled.

If she drowned her child, she will be drowned.

If that isn’t justice, then what is

i respect the opinion of those who would not put a murderer to death. I hope they respect the opinion of those who would.

23 thoughts on “Death becomes you”

  1. Stu, excellent article. Interesting and I agree with your method of execution. For example, I can still remember
    the man in Fairmount shot and killed in front of his little child. Those two criminals should have had the death. Today,
    with the VERY high crime rate in Philadelphia, this would be a deterrent because these murderers would not be able
    to kill again. Every night, there are killings and carjackings in ALL neighborhoods. It will only get worse with warmer
    weather because the pandemanic and cold nights were not deterrents.

  2. Agree with your thoughts, especially the unending appeals when someone is sentenced to death. The killers sit in prision for 20 to 30 years due to the appeal process, This seems like cruel and unusal punishment. They should be executed within 30 days of sentencing. The big problem with our justice system is the plethora of lawyers in America who come for tree hugging law schools where criminals are victims of society. All the criminal justice laws are coming from lawyers who enjoy the benefits of endless appeals.

  3. Stu – you’re sounding like the Old Testament: “An eye for an eye.” Not saying it’s right or wrong.

    BTW – just do a math check for me: 55% + 47% = 102%. What am I missing here?

    1. “Eye for an eye” was PROGRESSIVE. It put a LIMIT on payback. You can have ONLY an eye for an eye…. you can’t have a leg and an arm also.
      Per the math, I got that from Gallup. Maybe I read it wrong…. I am sure of the 55, so the other number must be 45. Thanks

  4. “I am for the death penalty and nothing can change my mind.” Couldn’t agree more, unless you were for public executions, which i wholeheartedly would be a supporter of. Televise ’em, make some dough, and feed those who are hungry.

      1. “I am for the death penalty and nothing can change my mind” would make, I believe, an awesome tee shirt. A bold statement. It’s up there with ‘Give me liberty, or give me death.” Sell ’em at the pay per view. Grab that copyright, Stu!

  5. I agree 100%.You also forgot to mention it costs millions of taxpayers dollars to keep these animals alive in prison for life.The process is so long, so lawyers can make money.The murderer from Boulder should have been executed by firing squad already.What more proof do you need.And who cares about his mental state.He was sane enough to pull the trigger and wear a vest.He is sane enough to be executed immediately.

    1. Great flick (imo) from the ’90’s titled ‘Citizen X’ shows just how execution should take place. Immediately following a guilty verdict. Period.

  6. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    I beg to differ. Consider for example the recent cases in which people have been released from prison after serving decades for crimes they did not commit. This shows the fallibility of the judicial system. If those convicted had been executed, the reversals of the sentencing would have ben impossible. There is no way to remove the possibility of such errors of convictions from the system.

    You wrote:

    If a mistake is made, it is irreversible.
    True, so don’t make mistakes. That’s why DP can be used only when there is no shadow of a doubt.
    —end quotation

    Of course we should always do our best to avoid mistakes. But people (including prosecutors and juries) are sometimes wrong, even where the jury finds “no shadow of doubt”

    That is the best reason to oppose the death penalty.

    To err is human, to forgive is Devine; or better perhaps, to keep the possibility of correction open is even more human –since it fully recognizes the our fallibility.

    The public prosecutors and the judicial system must act if we are to have the rule of law. But notice that the law itself introduces the possibility of executive clemency overriding judicial decisions–partly because of the known prospects of the miscarriage of justice. Opposition to the death penalty has a similar source in our recognition of human fallibility.

    To paraphrase the Bible, “Let he who is without [error] cast the first stone.”

    H.G. Callaway

      1. Philadelphia, PA

        Dear Stu,

        There are few who think the Bible totally consistent.


        An eye for an eye.”


        “Turn the other cheek.”

        I would not recommend either dictum in every circumstance. But both involve ideas which people try to live by.

        H.G. Callaway

    No bleeding hearts on this topic ! Is that because we all have a few miles under our shoes, or we have “been there, done that” ?
    I can only rely on what knowledge that I still have left. I am not a lawyer, though I tend to practice it daily. I did build prisons back in the ’90s, so that should count for something. Here’s what I have learned, travelling around our country.
    1) deterrent is a misnomer. Few are saved by a threat. Education from the people in your life is the best training.
    2) in the ’90s, it cost on average, TWENTY FIVE thousand a year to house an inmate. We wont mention the real cost.
    3) people in jail, with few exceptions, deserve to be there.
    4) there is no value to life on the street. The people in the ghettos commit crime, because that’s the way of life. If they
    have a gun, they will use it. No hesitation, no remorse.
    5) the bleeding hear ACLU screwed up the penal system. When you commit a crime and go to jail. You have no rights.
    PERIOD !
    6) Death penalty. We agree that there should be one. I’m not as restrictive as you. Whether or not the murderer felt
    anything when he killed somebody is not my concern. Whether or not he/she feels anything as they are dying is also
    not my concern. Think about this. If you’re on death row and all appeals are exhausted. Don’t you think that
    somebody with a brain would start feeling emotions ? If that’s so, then they are a mental wreck when it’s their time.
    Also not my concern.
    7) only on T.V. are executions botched. It may take a second jolt to kill somebody, but it’s not like they’re sitting there
    doing the St Vitas Dance ! In hanging a person, the neck is snapped. Not immediate death by the way, Seconds
    8) one thing that I do know. Prisoners either get better or they get worse. If they have brains, they use them. They may
    even try to do some good. Some do get degrees. Some learn how to avoiud getting caught on their next venture.

  8. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Clark & readers,

    As I say,

    To paraphrase the Bible, “Let he who is without [error] cast the first stone.”

    Or, to update on methods, “Let he who is without [error] sign the death warrant and pull the switch.”

    But where will we find the human being not subject to error? In a way, its an argument from humility –not, by the way, an argument based on feelings.

    H.G. Callaway

    1. Great column, Stu! Bravo. Based on that (illogical) thinking (that we are all sinners, ergo not fit to judge others), it becomes immoral to even jail a criminal, as those who sit on a jury or do the judging are sinful, ergo cannot cast the first stone.

      BTW, I believe the reason more non-whites and poor people get the death penalty is they commit the most crimes.

      While weeping for the poor criminal, compassionate leftists should remember the travesty of justice right here in Philadelphia with the stone killer of policeman Faulkner becoming a media star instead of getting the chair.

      Finally, I like the Russian way…the condemned person — on a day which he has no idea is coming — is visited in his cell and when not looking gets one BANG in the back of the head. Quick.

    2. callaway
      ( sic ) you and other great minded philosophers have been screwing up things since Christ walked the earth. take your thoughts and wisdom to North Philly, Camden, Newark and now, N.Y.. I’m sure that I’ll read about you in the next day news.
      I was raised in the real world and travelled the world, not like you. We just went different ways.

  9. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Clark & readers,

    You seem to make an “argument” (sic) from guilt by association? But you do not even bother to mention any philosophers “Screwing up things since Christ” Who you wish to liken me to. So, maybe it just a matter of name calling and common anti-intellectualism? You can imagine that I am not much concerned to win over people you may appeal to in this style.

    By the way, there is, of course plenty of room for law enforcement on my view of the matter –with or without the death penalty. So what is the rub about “North Philly, Camden, Newark &etc.? You seem to read a lot in to my criticism of the death penalty?

    Frankly, I could care less which “ways you went.” (I’m not impressed.) Moreover, it seems clear you have no idea of which “ways I went.” If you make a good argument, then I’m interested. If you don’t and substitute pretention to know better, then I think you also know what you can expect.

    Vincent wrote:
    Based on that (illogical) thinking (that we are all sinners, ergo not fit to judge others), it becomes immoral to even jail a criminal, . . .

    —end quotation

    But, no remark without remarkability–I’m not aware that anyone has made such an argument.
    Recall that stoning was an ancient method of execution –and, of course, it only went forward if someone was wiling to “throw the first stone.” Likewise, our modern executions only go forward if someone signs the death warrant and someone pulls the switch.

    My argument was that we should let the people not subject to error do the dirty work. But error is not a “sin.”

    I appeal to the judgment of readers, whether “sinners” or not.

    H.G. Callaway

  10. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    By the way, my favorite Bible verse goes like this:

    “Where there is no vision, the people perish, but he who keepth the law, happy is he.”

    (Proverbs 29:18, King James version.)

    But this focus did not arise from my early Sunday school lessons. I first really understood the verse when I found it inscribed on the walls of City Hall –in Camden, N.J. I suppose you can still find it there.

    H.G. Callaway

  11. HAPPY SUNDAY !!!
    you ole timers !
    Some of you may be old enough to remember dancing in the streets, the day we bombed Japan ! Not with the “A” bomb ! 18 April 1942 ! Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, USAAF and friends took off from the USS Hornet flying 16 B 25s ! An action never before done. In fact, no one on this mission ever did this impossible venture before this day.
    I find that hard to believe. Somebody tested that theory in February of ’42.
    Regardless of facts or fiction – commonly known as “military secrets”, the attack took place and shook up the Japanese Empire, while lighting a bomb fire back home !
    HOORAH !
    all volunteers,

    1. I only “remember” the raid from the movie, “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” that was quite accurate. I believe only two of those American heroes are alive today.

      1. HAPPY THURSDAY !!!
        I had this same discussion last week. A recently retired PA congressman dare doubted me. HA ! He started with a 800+ foot long deck, when in actuality, with all aircraft aboard, less than 500′.
        Last surviving airmen
        Col. Bill Bower, the last surviving Doolittle raider aircraft commander, died on 10 January 2011 at age 93 in Boulder, Colorado.[76][77]

        Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, the then-enlisted engineer/gunner of aircraft No. 15 during the raid, died 28 January 2015 of natural causes at his home in Sumner, Washington, at the age of 94.[78]

        Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, co-pilot of aircraft No. 16, died at a nursing home in Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 95 on 29 March 2015.[79][80] Hite was the last living prisoner of the Doolittle Raid.

        S/Sgt. David J. Thatcher, gunner of aircraft No. 7, died on 22 June 2016 in Missoula, Montana, at the age of 94.

        Lt Col. Richard E. Cole, Doolittle’s copilot in aircraft No. 1, was the last surviving Doolittle Raider[81] and the only one to live to an older age than Doolittle, who died in 1993 at age 96.[note 13] Cole was the only Raider still alive when the wreckage of Hornet was found in late January 2019 by the research vessel Petrel at a depth of more than 17,000 feet (5,200 m) off the Solomon Islands.[82] Cole died 9 April 2019, at the age of 103.[83]

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