Sunday, January 11, 2009

2009 Legislation on Capital Punishment Issues

From Mississippians Educating for Smart Justice (

2009 Legislative Update: Capital Punishment

The United States Supreme Court has said that any criminal punishment, including the death penalty should reflect the “conscience of the community,” and its application should be measured against society’s “evolving standards of decency.” Events in our state in 2008 should trouble the consciences of Mississippians. In the past year, we have seen:

· the exoneration of Kennedy Brewer, an innocent man who spent 13 years on death row;

· the exoneration of Levon Brooks, another innocent man who was convicted of murder and imprisoned for 16 years;

· the execution of Earl Berry, a mentally retarded man;

· the execution of Dale Bishop, a mentally ill man who was merely present during a killing while the actual murderer received a life sentence; and

· the forced resignation of Dr. Stephen Hayne, the de facto State medical examiner whose testimony has been crucial in condemning many of the prisoners on Mississippi’s death row.

Thoughtful Mississippi must contemplate the absurdity of continuing a system that has delivered such horrific injustices. Proposals expected to be introduced in the 2009 Legislative Session address these issues.

Compensate the Innocent. More than 120 people have been freed from death row since 1973, after their innocence was vindicated by DNA analysis and other proof. Polls show that the American public is deeply concerned by the prospect of sending more innocent men and women to their deaths. Many are skeptical of such claims, but in the wake of the State’s admission that Kennedy Brewer was innocent of the charges that held him on Death Row for 13 years, we are faced with the likelihood that there are others like him in Parchman.

State Representative Willie Perkins has introduced House Bill 189 and House Bill 200. These bills would compensate people wrongly convicted of crimes. Mississippi is one of the few states without such a system; we send wrongly incarcerated people home with only an apology. To be certain, compensation will never fully redress the wrong inflicted on innocent prisoners and their families, but it will reflect a measure of repentance for that wrong. It may also serve to hold the State’s agents – whether prosecutors, law enforcement officers, or appointed defense counsel – accountable for their misconduct.

Both of Rep. Perkins’ bills have been referred to the House Corrections and Appropriations Committees. They can be followed at:

Stop the Executions of Those Who Do Not Kill. The bipartisan outcry against the unfairness of executing Dale Bishop, a mere accomplice, while the actual killer in the case was sentenced to life, proves that Mississippians do not support the arbitrary application of the death penalty. Of the over 1,100 prisoners executed in the United States Since 1976, Bishop was only the eighth person to be executed who was not either the actual killer or the payor in a murder-for-hire.

As the Clarion-Ledger reported in July 2008, neighboring States such as Louisiana or Alabama would not permit a mere accomplice to be executed. Representative John Mayo has introduced House Bill 29, which would adopt this rule in Mississippi. It has been referred to the House Judiciary En Banc Committee. It can be followed at:

Moratorium. These two proposals, of course, are merely the beginning of a moral response to capital punishment in Mississippi. Those who work with Death Row prisoners know that capital punishment does not deter crime; most persons who commit murder are seriously mentally ill, high on drugs or alcohol, or desperately impoverished. They do not undertake a “cost-benefit” analysis before killing their victim.

The death penalty is not needed to prevent repeat murders. Society is more than adequately protected by incarcerating murderers for life without parole. In that event, if later proof shows the prisoner is actually innocent, he would be alive and could be released and compensated. That is certainly not the case today. And the families of prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment can continue to visit their loved ones; when a prisoner is executed, his or her family suffers as well.

If deterrence and the protection of society are insufficient to justify the death penalty, why keep it? Some argue that the families of victims deserve retribution. This is doubtful both factually and morally. Although the cost per execution varies from state to state, the fact that prosecuting, appealing and inevitably executing those sentenced to death costs much more per case than that of those given a life without parole sentence is indisputable. With 64 death row prisoners in our state, can we afford to continue such a costly and fallible practice?

Spending that same money on assisting the families of murder victims, such as college funds established for minor children of murder victims, low interest mortgage loans, retribution payments, would be a far more Christian response than fostering revenge.

The fact is that more study of these issues is desperately needed. Representative Mayo has sponsored House Bill 145, imposing a moratorium on executions pending such a study. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary En Banc Committee and can be followed at:

Conclusion. These bills should be important to Mississippians who seek to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before [their] God.” Micah 6:8. They are commended to your further study and support.


dudleysharp said...

It is a fairly standard anti death penalty claim that the death penalty is revenge. The reality is that folks support the death penalty for the same reason all other sanctions are supported, as a just and appropriate sanction for the crime committed.

A death sentence requires pre existing statutes, trial and appeals, considerations of guilt and due process, to name but a few.  Revenge requires none of these and, in fact, does not even require guilt or a crime.

The criminal justice system goes out of its way to take hatred and revenge out of the process.  That is why we have a system of pre existing laws and legal procedures that offer extreme protections to defendants and those convicted and which provide statutes and sanctions which existed prior to the crime.
It is also why those directly affected by the murder are not allowed to be fact finders in the case.

The reality is that the pre trial, trial. appellate and executive clemency/commutation processes offer much  greater time and human resources to capital cases than they do to any other cases, meaning that the facts tell us that defendants and convicted murderers, subject to the death penalty, receive much greater care and concern than those not facing the death penalty - the opposite of a system marked with vengeance.

Calling executions a product of hatred and revenge is simply a way in which some death penalty opponents attempt to establish a sense of moral superiority. It can also be a transparent insult which results in additional hurt to those victim survivors who have already suffered so much and who believe that execution is the appropriate punishment for those who murdered their loved one(s).

The pro death penalty position is based upon those who find that punishment just and appropriate under specific circumstances.

Those opposed to execution cannot prove a foundation of hatred and revenge for the death penalty any more than they can for any other punishment sought within a system such as that observed within the US - unless such opponents find all punishments a product of hatred and revenge - an unreasonable, unfounded position

Far from hatred and revenge, the death penalty represents our greatest condemnation for a crime of unequaled horror and consequence. Lesser punishments may suffice under some circumstances. A death sentence for certain heinous crimes is given in those special circumstances when a jury finds such is more just than a lesser sentence.

Less justice is not what we need.

A thorough review of the criminal justice system will often beg this question: Why have we chosen to be so generous to murderers and so contemptuous of the human rights and suffering of the victims and future victims?

The punishment of death is, in no way, a balancing between harm and punishment, because the innocent murder victim did not deserve or earn their fate, whereas the murderer has earned their own, deserved punishment by the free will action of violating societies laws and an individuals life and, thereby, voluntarily subjecting themselves to that jurisdictions judgment.

copyright 2001-2008   Dudley Sharp, Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

theamericaninjusticesystem said...

Ask Mr. Dudley Sharp questions like "can you tell me about the major limitations on the research you mention?" and you will get a blank from him. Ask him about the studies showing a possible brutalizing effect and he will dodge.
Ask Mr. Sharp if the US executes the people who create the most damage and he will not answer.

Jim Craig said...

If I'm not mistaken, in John 7:53-8:11, Jesus is asked to take part in an execution. The woman's guilt of the offense (adultery) is assumed by all -- in fact, Jesus tells her at the end of the passage to "sin no more." There is also no question that the lawful punishment for adultery under the Old Testament law was death.

But Jesus refused to participate, saying, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."

There is no recorded statement by Jesus about abortion, homosexuality, or gambling, things considered to be sinful by many Christians. But he clearly thought that the death penalty was contrary to his teachings of grace and forgiveness.

When the Church -- any denomination -- tries to create legalisms to evade this clear teaching, they commit heresy.

dudleysharp said...

Sadly, Dahn Shaulis, aka Vegas Quixote or vegasquixote or theamericaninjusticesystem

follows me around the web, picking up new names along the way, while making false allegations.

He is obsessed, it would appear.

The reality is that I do a great deal of research and I answer all serious questions.

Dahn Shaulis, if you would like to be responsible and ask specific questions, I will try to answer. As you well know, I do not dodge. You used to ask serious questions and reut my material, but, once it became clear that I could fully respond, you started the hit and run nonsense, without any real contributions.

e happy to fully address your factual issue on the death penalty.

dudleysharp said...


I am not sure there are many citizens skeptical of innocents setenced to death row. Regadless of sanction, most of us know that actual innocents are convicted. That is one of the important reasons we have an appellate and clemency system.

I do think I am on solid ground in claiming innocents are more at risk without the death penalty, as per the first reply.