Comment: Death penalty is never a deterrent

Watford Observer: Comment: Death penalty is never a deterrent Comment: Death penalty is never a deterrent

Like the cobbler who never fixes his own shoes, I’m the bloke who's spent years working in television but doesn't actually watch a lot of telly.

At least, not when it’s actually being broadcast.

No, the only things I tend to watch live are the news, and sport.

Otherwise, it’s iPlayer time for Top Gear, Doctor Who, Sherlock and Match of the Day. And a bit of comedy.

Honestly, I couldn’t be a more typical middle-aged bloke TV viewer if I tried.

More and more of us are watching TV programmes when it suits us, rather than when it suits the schedulers and it’s hard to argue against the merits of that.

Yes, there is something rather nice and cosy about the idea of everyone crowding round their tellies to watch Dallas or EastEnders, but those days have gone.

The invention of the video recorder heralded the end of that era of community viewing, then we had the rise of multi-channel TV and then the boom of the internet, of course, hastened its departure.

The idea of us all staying in to watch a programme now feels rather quaint.

So if you want to watch that movie over the course of the morning, rather than staying up until 10.45pm, then that’s your choice.

It’s rather a democratic way of doing things and, to give due credit, the BBC has been way ahead of the pack.

Yes, I work for the organisation, but that shouldn’t preclude me from saying iPlayer is one hell of a clever bit of kit.

But once in a while, I will make a point of watching something.

And so it was this past week when I settled in for a programme called Life and Death Row on BBC3.

Please – if you haven’t seen it, then do yourself a favour and watch it sometime soon.

It’s a series about the use of capital punishment in the United States and this week we had a quite extraordinary fly-on-the-wall documentary about the trial of a man accused of killing eight people, most of them family members in a mobile home.

But it wasn’t the ghastly nature of the crime that was so engrossing, although, one should confess, it was a truly horrific spree of killing.

It was the way in which America’s judicial system came across as being so slipshod and haphazard, reliant on poor-quality police work and grandstanding prosecutors.

The man accused of the crime seemed quite bemused by what was going on around him and his grandfather and brother – the remnants of his family – watched helplessly.

But we also got to see and hear from the jurors who had returned the verdict upon him.

I won’t say what happened, because I really do want you to go and watch this programme, but suffice to say their opinions often seemed to hinge on hunches and guesses rather than any concrete evidence.

The conclusion seemed to be – don’t ever find yourself on trial in Georgia.

Anyone who has been on a jury will tell you it can be a fearsomely demanding job and never more so than when you are faced with the most serious crimes.

Two decades ago, I sat through every minute of the trial of Joseph Roche, accused of attempting to murder a woman in Chipperfield and I had no envy for the jurors.

The question is not just whether you think someone is guilty, but whether you are sure they are guilty.

That nuance, that crucial distinction, seemed to me to be wholly lacking in the minds of the jurors we saw in this programme.

They spoke of facts, but made their decisions on instinct.

Last week’s programme had been about a couple of men charged with murders who were facing the death penalty.

One got a reprieve and one didn’t, becoming the latest in a long line of people the American judicial system had put to death over the years.

I’m open-minded about a lot of political issues, but I draw the line at the death penalty.

There is nothing that can be said that would convince me capital punishment has any place in civilised society.

Americans should be campaigning to abolish it and it should never, ever be allowed to return to Europe, let alone this country.

For one thing, the death penalty doesn’t succeed in stopping people committing murder.

It’s never been a deterrent. For a second thing, it raises the spectre of innocent people being executed, only to then be exonerated years later, when they’ve long since departed this mortal coil.

But the worst thing about the death penalty is simply that it’s repulsive.

A state that kills its citizens is preaching a bizarre lesson that it’s okay to kill as long as you think you’ve got a good reason.

No wonder the murder rate in the US is so astronomic.

No ifs, no buts, no maybes. Yes, I know there are people out there who campaign to return the death penalty, but they’re wrong.

They need to know what an awful idea it is and they should start by going to iPlayer and spending an hour watching life in the state of Georgia.

Congratulations to the punter who placed an 80p wager in a betting shop in Vicarage Road in Watford and ended up winning more than £4,000 on a 13-match accumulator.

And staying with football, I’m sure we were all amazed to see Laurence Bassini lost his court case with the Russo brothers.

I joke, of course. Mr Bassini’s testimony seemed extraordinary at times and his own attitude towards Watford Football Club confirmed all the worst fears expressed at the time.

I’m not sure the Russo brothers have come out of this particularly well, either, though. The impression one gets is the club spent some years being tossed around like a Russo salad.

At least, though, it survived. Rather than bemoaning the disappointing season on the pitch, perhaps we should be celebrating the mere fact Watford came through these years of upheaval.

Comments (3)

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6:00pm Fri 28 Mar 14

Mike Ribble says...

Anthony Haynes wasn't reprieved. The US Supreme Court issued a stay of execution (just two and a half hours before he was scheduled to die) and his case is still under review which could lead to either a sentence of life in prison without parole or a new execution date.
Anthony Haynes wasn't reprieved. The US Supreme Court issued a stay of execution (just two and a half hours before he was scheduled to die) and his case is still under review which could lead to either a sentence of life in prison without parole or a new execution date. Mike Ribble
  • Score: 0

6:39pm Fri 28 Mar 14

George CA Talbot says...

I agree the death penalty would be unsafe after the poor trial for murder in the US state of Georgia described by Adam Parsons. But how can he deplore jurors who spoke of facts but decided on instinct then deploy such emotional arguments?

Some evidence supports the claim the death does not deter. But many fear it and it has been widely used after conviction for murder and other grave crimes. And killing is normal in war.

But what about the victims of murder? In the 1950s and 60s, the homicide rate in England and Wales was about 300 per year. But after abolition, it rose steadily to over 800 between 2000/01 and 2004/05. The current figure for 2011/12 is 547.

And what about the costs of decades in prison? Lifers have little to lose from further grave crimes so some threaten other inmates and prison warders. I first advocated the death penalty when I realised its absence diverted resources from the better delinquents who would be released or who with more support should avoid prison, to the worst ones. Is that just?
I agree the death penalty would be unsafe after the poor trial for murder in the US state of Georgia described by Adam Parsons. But how can he deplore jurors who spoke of facts but decided on instinct then deploy such emotional arguments? Some evidence supports the claim the death does not deter. But many fear it and it has been widely used after conviction for murder and other grave crimes. And killing is normal in war. But what about the victims of murder? In the 1950s and 60s, the homicide rate in England and Wales was about 300 per year. But after abolition, it rose steadily to over 800 between 2000/01 and 2004/05. The current figure for 2011/12 is 547. And what about the costs of decades in prison? Lifers have little to lose from further grave crimes so some threaten other inmates and prison warders. I first advocated the death penalty when I realised its absence diverted resources from the better delinquents who would be released or who with more support should avoid prison, to the worst ones. Is that just? George CA Talbot
  • Score: 1

1:24am Sat 29 Mar 14

LSC says...

The death penalty achieves nothing. You will never convince me that someone squeezes the trigger or brandishes the knife with the thought in their head saying: 'At least I'll only get 25 years, could be worse.'
I simply don't buy that.
If they think about anything at all, it is not being caught, not the sentence they might get..

As to the cost of someone in for 25 years or on Death Row: Death Row costs a fortune and can last 7-12 years, with all the appeals (often at our expense). You need special guards and special conditions on Death Row. They have nothing to lose. The inmate strangles a guard. What are they going to do? Sentence him to death? Again?

But the easiest answer to this question is to simply look at the USA. Some states have the death penalty, some don't. They border each other, whole communities cross the state lines.

The crime rates are virtually identical. This proves the death penalty has no effect on actual crime. There are many people I hope would opt out the gene pool, but I draw the lie at extermination.
The death penalty achieves nothing. You will never convince me that someone squeezes the trigger or brandishes the knife with the thought in their head saying: 'At least I'll only get 25 years, could be worse.' I simply don't buy that. If they think about anything at all, it is not being caught, not the sentence they might get.. As to the cost of someone in for 25 years or on Death Row: Death Row costs a fortune and can last 7-12 years, with all the appeals (often at our expense). You need special guards and special conditions on Death Row. They have nothing to lose. The inmate strangles a guard. What are they going to do? Sentence him to death? Again? But the easiest answer to this question is to simply look at the USA. Some states have the death penalty, some don't. They border each other, whole communities cross the state lines. The crime rates are virtually identical. This proves the death penalty has no effect on actual crime. There are many people I hope would opt out the gene pool, but I draw the lie at extermination. LSC
  • Score: 1

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