1)   History Of Death Penalty

2)   Facts About Death Penalty

3)   Death Penalty Today

4)   Death Penalty And The Human Rights

5)   Pro's And Con's Of Death Penalty

6)   The Bible And Death Penalty

7)   Summary Of " Dead Man Walking "

1)   History Of Death Penalty:

More formally known as capital punishment, the death penalty has been discussed historically as well as nowadays. The death penalty has been a legalized punishment since Hammurabi, a Babylonian king in 1750 b.c..

Only the crimes, for which the death penalty was used, have changed over the centuries.

In the ancient Greece, someone could be condemned to death for stealing a piece of fruit or just being lazy. Crimes which are nowadays not even punished as crimes. In Ancient Rome, even one who disturbed the peace at night could be sentenced to death. In the time of Hammurabi (whose code of laws is believed to be the oldest surviving) someone could be sentenced to death for robbery, murder and adultery. Even in Biblical accounts, acting in God's behalf, Moses wanted the death penalty for kidnapping and cursing at one's parents.

By the Middle Ages in England, there were a great number of crimes for which the death penalty was reserved, like: murder, treason, petty treason, theft, robbery, rape, burglary and arson.

As time went on, the list of offences which were punishable by death grew dramatically.

By 1600s, 200 offences and by 1780  350 crimes were on this list, known in Britain as the "Bloody Code".

While the modern trend is for the more human way of executing, like the lethal injection, the ancient rule of thumb of more painful and bloodier executions is still present.

The old testament for example mentions stoning as the preferred way of killing disobedient children. But stoning wasn't the worst of the early executions. Convicted criminals were burned, drowned and crucified. Executions in the past were always public in the belief that watching the ultimate punishment would deter others from committing the wrongdoer's crime.

The executions had always a carnival-like atmosphere. People from town wanted to be there very early to get a good view.

Historian's doubt that public executions were not only there to deter people from crime, satiate the desire for pain and blood. Since the 18th century death penalty was also opposed. The abolitionist movement banned the death penalty from some states in the USA. Some states like Colorado experimented with abolition, but it seemed when crime numbers went up again, or if the economy is in a slump, the public sentiment about death penalty was growing.

Although, capital punishment still exists and the trend to make executions less brutal is still going on. In 1997 thirty-eight states in the USA allowed the death penalty.

Only the twelve remaining districts of Columbia do not. Surveys showed, that 75% of the Americans believe that death penalty is appropriate in some cases. It is also true that some people support death penalty because they have lost confidence in alternative ways.

Although, both groups have worthy and thoughtful questions.

2)   Facts About Death Penalty:



Death Penalty has been existing really a long time. With it, also the advocates and the abolitionists.

There are today 73 states, which have abolished Death Penalty at all. 13 states use Death Penalty only for exceptional crimes like war crime or some faults in accordance with the military rights. 22 states abolished Death Penalty in practise, but not in law.

Consequently 108 states don't use Death Penalty at all, but 87 still use it.

There's a movement for abolishing Death Penalty, and year-by-year the circle of the countries which abolish Death Penalty is getting larger. Since 1985 there have been 40 states all over the world which have abolished Death Penalty, unfortunately 4 states came back to Death Penalty in this period of time (Gambia, Nepal, Papua- Negaunee and the Philippines).

Regrettably the field of application of Death Penalty has got larger in a small number of states.

In Cuba someone could be executed since 1999 for dealing with drugs, corruption and for armed robbery.

In 1998 there were 2.327 people executed in 37 states, and 4.845 persons in 78 countries were sentenced to death. But these are only the numbers for the public, in fact there have been a lot more. Most of the executions have been in VR China, Congo (ex Zaire),the USA and in the Iran.

There are also death sentences for juveniles who are under 18, although it is forbidden in the human rights declaration. Since 1990, amnesty international knows 6 states which have executed juveniles: Iran, Jemen, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabian and the USA. According to the public facts, the USA has executed 12 juveniles since 1990.

Until today, there's no academic explanation if Death Penalty is a greater deterrence than any other sentence. A lot of people think that if Death Penalty were abolished, the crime rates would rise, but the latest statistics show, that in countries in which Death Penalty had been abolished, the crime rates slump.

There also exist three international agreements from states, which have made up their minds not to use Death Penalty.

As long as Death Penalty has been existing, there's always a risk to execute innocent people. According to a study, 23 people in the USA were killed innocently between 1900 and 1985.

Since 1972, 48 prisoners had to leave Death Row because their innocence could be proved.

In 1999, 98 prisoners were executed in the USA. 35 out of them in Texas and 14 in Virginia.

This is the greatest number of executions since 1951, as 105 people have lost their lives.

In 2000 there have been already 25 executions, 12 of them in Texas. At the end of 1999 there have been more than 3625 people who were waiting for execution in prisons in California, Texas and Florida. Among them, 63 who were juveniles at the time the crime was committed.

38 out of the 50 federal states in the USA use Death Penalty, and since 1972, 95 people could leave Death Row because their innocence could been proved.

3)   Death Penalty Today:

The latest discussion about Death Penalty aroused at  11. February 2001 as Earl Washington Jr. could leave the prison in Virginia after 18 years in prison and after 10 years in Death Row. Already in 1994, his innocence could be proved by a DNS - test, but because of another criminal act, the administrative body needed a lot of time with his liberation.

Earl Washington Jr. is not the first US - citizen whose execution could be prohibited.

Ten times, a DNS - test saved the peoples lives. Very often prisoners only get a second chance, because of media or because abolitionists determined for their own to prove peoples innocence.

This case is paradigmatic because of the fact that the administrative body didn't want to avow their fault. Washington was sentenced to death in 1984 because of killing and rape. In 1985 he was nearly executed. Already in 1988 a blood probation showed his innocence.

But only in 1994, the governor of this time, Douglas Wilder, decided to pardon Washington, but instead of letting him out of prison, he changed Death Penalty in life imprisonment. In October 2000 the new governor was forced to exonerate Washington.

Since 1977, Illinois has executed 13 innocent people, as DNS - tests show.

This shocking number arranged the governor of Illinois to stop the execution and to think Death Penalty over. He explained " We're one of 38 states which have Death Penalty.

But I don't think that we need it, and I don't think that society in the states without Death Penalty is so much worse."

The first position in executing people keeps Texas, where under the last governor, George W. Bush, today's President of the US, more than 150 people were executed.

This is more than in any other federal state.

4)   Death Penalty And The Human Rights:


Maybe you will ask yourself, what has Death Penalty got to do with the human rights? Really a lot! The right to live and the right not to get a cruel, inhuman and degrading sentence is written down in the human rights. Naturally, nobody wants to excuse or play down a crime. Someone who has comitted a crime has to be sentenced, but not to death. States, which had abolished Death Penalty are able to verify this.

" I can't believe, that a state has to kill somebody, to defend others' life and to punish a killer. Death Penalty is as well inhuman as the crime before. "

A citation from the President of Chile, for reason of the change of a death sentence.

Since Death Penalty has been existing, people have tried to find good reasons for the need of it. The argument you hear most is that people think that Death Penalty has a greater deterrent effect than other sentences. But there's no real proof, which is able to agree with it. But if you take this argument, there's also the risk of executing an innocent person.

When the state is playing judge, there's no fairness, there's only revenge and nemesis.

If the state orders to kill a human being, it's very difficult to say that killing other people is not right. A government can't simultaneously pay attention to the human rights and perform Death Penalty.

In spite of a world wide take of Death Penalty, there are still some states which want to reintroduce Death Penalty and to enlarge the field of application. 

5)   Pro's And Con's Of Death Penalty:

.) Death Penalty is more deterrent than any other sentence:

Since today, there's no confirmation for this opinion. Death Penalty could only be a deterrent, if a crime is planned beforehand. This is the only point where you can imagine that the offender could think about the consequences. But most of the killings happen ill - considered, under emotional disorder and not rarely under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In few of the affairs, where the offender plans the killing, it is more scaring to be caught than the sentence.




.) If the state abolish Death Penalty, the crime rates will rise up:

Every society is searching for protection of crimes. To hold on Death Penalty, the government let appear the impression of doing something against crime. In fact, Death Penalty is used not to think about other strategies which are necessary to fight against the reasons of crime.

These reasons can be found both in mental and in social conditions, but not in Death Penalty. Statistics show, that  states don't have to fear an escalation of the crime rate if they give up Death Penalty.

.) Death Penalty ignores the respect of the human being:

The killing of people can never invigorate the respect of the human being! A Death row inmate in the USA did say the best answer to this question: " Why do we kill people, who killed people? To show that it is injustice to kill people? "

It is contradictory to do this. If a state kills people, he shows that he respects killing under some special facts and that he is not very strict with its own constitutional principles. Such a behaviour undermines the respect  against the human being.


.) Death Penalty is fair, it is the appropriate answer for cruel crimes:

Killing is never appropriate, even if it is ordered by government. The imagination that Death Penalty is an appropriate sentence is disproved in practise. As long as Death Penalty is used, there is a risk to execute innocent people. No judgement is infallible. Sometimes people can leave Death Row because their innocence could be proved.

Also people who are not able to buy a good lawyer or people in lower society groups are the best victims for Death Penalty. Death Penalty can also be improperly used in political affairs because it tempts to execute troublesome people.

Some states don't even exclude juveniles or mentally ill persons from Death Penalty.

.) Death Penalty is necessary for victims of crimes to befall fairness:

The execution of the offender does not put the victim back to life, neither it eases the heartbreak of the surviving dependant. Revenge is often desired by the victims, but a judge has to judge in accordance with the law system and not human like. There are also other sentences to be carried out on the longing for fairness and not only Death Penalty.

6)   Summary Of "Dead Man Walking":


Helen Prejean, a nun, volunteers to write a letter to a prisoner on Death Row. After some time, Helen gets a letter from a young man, called Pat Sonnier. He tells her about his life in prison and about his family. At the moment he is living in a small prison cell where he is spending about 23 hours a day. Nevertheless the inmates on Death Row are much better treated than an ordinary criminal: The meals are much better and they don't have to work. Pat already has a daughter who is 11 years old. Helen finds him very nice and wants to visit him.

Before she can firstly see Patrick she has a conversation with the priest who isn't very happy with her idea of visiting Pat. He is afraid that Helen's contact to the criminal could become too close. When Helen later sits in front of Pat she firstly feels nothing.

Both talk about their families, about Prejean's will to become a nun and finally about the crime he has committed which was:

One day, he and his brother went into the woods and saw a couple in their car. They forced them to leave the car, abused the girl sexually and killed them with a rifle. Although he has always claimed that he just observed his brother killing the couple court didn't believe Pat. Pat was sentenced to death by a lethal injection and his brother Eddie just had to go to prison.

In some way Helen believes Patrick and proposes to get him an attorney to object to the sentence. Meanwhile she visits Pat's mother who tells her that she and her family suffer a lot from journalists and people who threat them because of their relation to a murderer.

In a break of the court procedure Helen Prejean firstly meets the relatives of Pat's victims, who find it scandalous that a nun supports a murderer.

The procedure is not successful. Feeling guilty in the conversation with the two dead teenager's parents, she visits both couples. Mr. Delacroy, the girl's father, understands her situation and tells Helen that his wife has just left him. Mr. And Mrs. Poncy don't believe Helen that she wants to support both parts.

Eventually Pat himself bans his last chance to survive. In an interview on TV Pat admits having prejudice against Blacks and regarding "Hitler" as a kind of role model.

Although Pat lost the dial, he wants Helen to provide him emotional support until he dies.

From that moment Helen nearly spends the whole day with Pat and becomes more and more involved into this case. She has nightmares and desperately wants to help Patrick although it's too late anyway and she doesn't really like him. Her main job is it to make him admit what he actually did.

Only a few hours before he gets the lethal injection Patrick admits that he has raped the girl but that his brother killed the couple.

Pat Sonnier:

He always claims to be a strong man. He isn't afraid of anything and even death penalty won't harm him. Only in the end of the book Pat is really friendly to Helen. Especially at the beginning he regards her as a weak and inexperienced woman, who will soon stop helping him. He has high prejudice against Blacks and other minorities. He is of the opinion that these people are dirty and violent. Especially in his childhood he mostly experienced that.

When he hears about the little chance to save his life he wants Helen to help him and says that actually he doesn't care whether he dies or not. But that's not right.

He is terribly disappointed after he hears the judge and he firstly admits being afraid of death. In her time as an emotional supporter Helen has to talk a lot about death with him to calm him down. In the end of the book he seems to regret what he has done.



Helen Prejean:

She is an ordinary nun normally caring for children. She has never been involved in such a case and originally just wants to write a letter to Patrick. One of the key-sentences in this book is "Helen, will you come back", after Helen has visited Pat for the first time.
She actually didn't want to come back because she hated the ambience in the prison but she didn't want to disappoint him. But soon she gets into conflict with her mind: On the one hand she can understand the parents of the killed teenagers, who want to see the murderer dead.

But on the other hand Patrick always mentions his possible innocence and she doesn't accept death-penalty as a punishment. So, should she support a criminal who has killed 2 young people or should she leave him alone? She obviously decides to support the criminal. Although many people condemn her behaviour and although she gets nightmares she wants to fulfil her task to accompany Pat in his last days of being alive. Helen Prejean is a woman with a big personality and only a very small percentage of all people would have been able to stand such a situation.




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