Thursday, February 08, 2007

A community conversation about the death penalty in Indiana

As a way of helping the public understand the history and social impact of the death penalty, Butler University, the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, the Christian Theological Seminary and an abolitionist group are co-sponsoring an 11-day symposium this month to explore the pros and cons of one of the most divisive issues in American public policy.

“This is one of the great issues” in U.S. politics said Peter Alexander, dean of the Jordan School of Fine Arts at Butler and one of the organizers of the symposium. “This has been a long time in coming, three or four years. It [the symposium] will be a community conversation intended to shine a light on the death penalty and show how it affects a lot of people.”

The event will start on Feb. 8 at Christian Theological Seminary with a discussion on whether the Bible supports the death penalty. But it will gear up completely on Feb. 21 for 10 days of discussions and debates.

“The United States is one of only a handful of modern, industrialized countries to administer this ultimate punishment,” Alexander said in a prepared statement. “Through the presentation of lectures, debates, films and dramatic performances, the symposium will provide a balanced examination of the death penalty that is carried out in our names and authorized by the United States legal system.”

Though he will not say whether he now supports or opposes capital punishment, Alexander said the symposium will offer civil conversation on capital punishment, although many of the presenters will have already formed strong opinions on the issue.

“The State of Indiana has shown an increase in the number of people it is willing to put to death,” said Scott Seay, a CTS professor and an opponent of the death penalty. “We are gravely concerned that trend is going to continue.” Seay and Wilma Bailey, also a seminary professor, will conduct the Feb. 8 discussion.

Some 128 countries have abolished capital punishment in law or in practice and, in 2005, approximately 2,150 people were executed in 22 countries, though 94 percent of those were in only four countries: China, with at least 1,777; Iran, with 94; Saudi Arabia, with 86; and the United States, with 60.

“This is a violent country,“ Alexander said. “But it’s an open question as to whether the violence leads to more executions or whether capital punishment deters more violent crime.”

While those who oppose capital punishment are numerous and vocal in Indiana and around the country, many people consider the death penalty an issue like abortion, with clearly drawn lines of supporters and opponents that remain fundamentally unchanged. But capital punishment enjoys strong support. A Gallup poll last year showed that 64 percent of those surveyed supported the death penalty, more than twice the percentage of people who oppose it.

“If you add other options, such as life in prison without the chance for parole, to the mix, then the support [for the death penalty] drops to below 50 percent,” said Chris Hitz-Bradley, the president of the Indiana Information Center on the Abolition of Capital Punishment, which is also a co-sponsor of the symposium. In fact, the same Gallup showed that when given a choice between the death penalty and life in prison without parole, there is roughly equal support for capital punishment and life without parole, both at around 48 percent.

Clark County Prosecutor Steven D. Stewart strongly supports capital punishment over life without parole. “It cheapens the life of an innocent murder victim to say that society has no right to keep the murderer from ever killing again. In my view, society has not only the right, but the duty to act in self-defense to protect the innocent.” In a letter posted on his Web site, Stewart maintains that “Life without parole does not eliminate the risk that the prisoner will murder a guard, a visitor or another inmate, and we should not be compelled to take that risk. It is also not unheard of for inmates to escape from prison.”

But Hitz-Bradley takes exception with that. “You don’t have to kill people to protect society,” he said. “And there is no evidence to show that those in prison facing the death penalty are more dangerous than other people in prison for non-capital murder.”

Alexander said the purpose of the symposium is to open a positive discussion on the issue, not for the advancement of one position or the other. “There are many issues that people don’t think much about,” he said. “People will come away [from the symposium] with a much more nuanced view of the death penalty.”

The cost of the death penalty in Indiana

Indiana is one of 38 states in the U.S. that currently sanctions capital punishment. In many states, executing a prisoner costs much more than keeping them locked up for life. In Indiana, the total costs of the death penalty exceed the complete costs of life without parole sentences by more than one third.

Executions around the world

With 60 executions in 2005, the United States ranks fourth among countries utilizing capital punishment. Here are the top five countries and their execution numbers.

1. China (1,777)
2. Iran (94)
3. Saudi Arabia (86)
4. United States (60)
5. Pakistan (31)

by Michael Dabney published in Nuvo Indiana's alternative weekly

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Barbara's Journey Toward Justice said...

"Journey Toward Justice" Changed my mind about the Death Penalty. A Book Recommendation: This is the Companion book to The Innocent Man, Journey Toward Justice by Dennis Fritz. True Crime, Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. Journey Toward Justice is a testimony to the Triumph of the human Spirit and is a Memoir. Dennis Fritz was wrongfully convicted of rape and murder after a swift trail. The only thing that saved him from the Death Penalty was a lone vote from a juror. Dennis Fritz was the other Innocent man mentioned in John Grisham's Book which mainly is about Ronnie Williamson, Dennis Fritz's co-defendant. Both were exonerated after spending 12 years in prison. The real killer was one of the Prosecution's Key Witness. Read about why he went on a special diet of his while in prison, amazing and shocking. Dennis Fritz's Story of unwarranted prosecution and wrongful conviction needs to be heard. Look for his book in book stores or at Amazon.com , Journey Toward Justice by Dennis Fritz, Publisher Seven Locks Press 2006. .
Read about how he wrote hundreds of letters and appellate briefs in his own defense and immersed himself in an intense study of law. He was a school teacher and a ordinary man whose wife was brutally murdered in 1975 by a deranged 17 year old neighbor. On May 8th 1987, Five years after Debbie Sue Carter's rape and murder he was home with his young daughter and put under arrest, handcuffed and on his way to jail on charges of rape and murder. After 10 years in prison he discovered The Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization. With the aid of Barry Scheck and DNA evidence Dennis Fritz was exonerated on April 15,1999 Since then, it has been a long hard road filled with twist and turns and now on his Journey Toward Justice. He never blamed the Lord and solely relied on his faith in God to make it through. He waited for God's time and never gave up.