Ah, the good ole United States of America. We like to believe we are better than other countries. We stand around with our nose in the air thinking we are morally supreme to more oppressive regimes, like Iran. But are we? We still have the death penalty in the 35 of our states despite the growing evidence that we are putting innocent people to death. Our criminal justice system is broken and sentencing people to death is not fair, does not work as a deterrent, is not cost effective, and is racially biased. Yet, we still do it. Why?
But, now we have sunk to a new low, if that is possible. Theresa Lewis is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Thursday, 9/23/10. She pled guilty to two counts of murder. Lewis hired two hit men to kill her husband and stepson so that she could collect on a life insurance policy. The reason why this execution is so terrible? Theresa Lewis is borderline mentally retarded. Also, one of the gunmen later claimed that he manipulated Lewis into believing that he loved her so he could achieve his own goals.
Even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has weighed in on the case. Rightly accusing us of being hypocritical because we launched a “heavy propaganda" campaign against the case of an Iranian woman who had been sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery but failing to react with outrage over the imminent execution of Lewis in Virginia. I am not sure Ahmadinejad is wrong on this one. I agree that adultery is very different than murder, but we as a country are rather blasé about executing a retarded woman. Where is the outrage? The US Supreme Court heard the case and refused on Tuesday to block the execution.
The death penalty makes people feel good. Not the warm and fuzzy good feeling but a sort of vengeful good. People think that if something happened to one of their loved ones, they would want the death penalty for the accused. Very old testament, don’t you think? But, in legal matters, I believe that things should not be personalized. Of course if someone you loved was harmed, you would want the person responsible dead. Does that make it a sound and fair law? No. Not at all.
And that is what the pro-death penalty activists always go on. The personal gut feeling. But, in reality the criminal justice system is severely flawed, therefore we cannot in good conscience sentence anyone to death. According to Amnesty International, since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row. How many people have been put to death that were innocent? That we may never know, but you have to believe a few have slipped past. I do.
The death penalty is also racially biased. From initial charging decisions to plea bargaining to jury sentencing, African-Americans are treated more harshly when they are defendants, and their lives are accorded less value when they are victims. There are many studies out there that prove this point.
- A report sponsored by the American Bar Association in 2007 concluded that one-third of African-American death row inmates in Philadelphia would have received sentences of life imprisonment if they had not been African-American.
- A January 2003 study released by the University of Maryland concluded that race and geography are major factors in death penalty decisions. Specifically, prosecutors are more likely to seek a death sentence when the race of the victim is white and are less likely to seek a death sentence when the victim is African-American.
- A 2007 study of death sentences in Connecticut conducted by Yale University School of Law revealed that African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white. In addition, killers of white victims are treated more severely than people who kill minorities, when it comes to deciding what charges to bring.
Knowing all of this, it is still shocking to me that we have the death penalty in our “great nation.” But even more surprising is that we would put a woman to death that is mentally disabled. I really thought we were above that. Calls for clemency to the governor of Virginia have been refused. Pending some last minute shocking event, Theresa Lewis will die by the hand of the government. And I am not okay with that. Especially when the gun men received life in prison and the apparent “mastermind” is a woman with borderline intellectual functioning.