Friday, November 21, 2008

Military Death Sentence to be Carried Out

CNN reports on the upcoming military execution, the first to take place since 1961. We discussed this before.

A U.S. soldier convicted of rape and murder two decades ago will be executed December 10 in the nation's first military execution since 1961, the Army said Thursday.

Pvt. Ronald Gray has been on the military's death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, since 1988. A court-martial panel sitting at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, unanimously convicted him of committing two murders and other crimes in the Fayetteville, North Carolina, area, and sentenced him to death.

Gray pleaded guilty in civilian court to the crimes and was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. In his military court martial he was sentenced to death.

It brings up the question that often arises, is sentencing a man to slow death in prison even worse than a quick death by injection? Could that be used as a defense of capital punishment?

Of course my answer is no. Even if spending fifty years in prison is crueler than the death sentence, it may be our only option. If the man cannot be trusted in society, what else can we do? He was a young soldier when he committed the crimes. There may have been mitigating circumstances such as childhood abuse. There may be reason to conclude that anyone who does such acts is not of sound mind, a theory which I subscribe to. But regardless, the image of strapping Pvt. Ronald Gray to a gurney and pushing a needle into his vein with the intention of extinguishing his life, is so barbaric that I want nothing to do with it. In my opinion it puts the proponents of such barbarism on the same level as the rapists and murderers they are so quick to kill.

What's your opinion?

The last U.S. military execution was in 1961, when Army Pvt. John Bennett was hanged for raping and attempting to kill an 11-year-old Austrian girl. Bennett was sentenced in 1955.

The U.S. military hasn't actively pursued an execution for a military prisoner since President John F. Kennedy commuted a death sentence in 1962. Nine men are on military death row.

How about that? The last military execution was for rape and attempted murder. I know the capital punishment believers would say that Pvt. Bennett has not hurt any more 11-year olds. This is supposed to be one of the reasons for exterminating these sick men. I say there are other ways of protecting society. What do you think?


  1. You've said everything from this post can dig up my responses from the archives here.

  2. Mike,

    Wow, I think I understand a little more now looking at this sentence:

    Even if spending fifty years in prison is crueler than the death sentence, it may be our only option.

    You don't mind being cruel to another person as long as it doesn't offend your sensibilities, is that it?

    So, despite the fact that in civilian prisons beatings are common, male on male rape is common, that prisoners are occasionally abused by guards; all this cruelty combined with caging a man up for his lifetime is okay with you....because you are upset over the death penalty.

    I'm deliberately being a little offensive here to point out the hypocrisy that I perceive.

  3. bob, those abuses that occur in prisons --- whether committed by other prisoners or by guards --- are bugs, not features. if we were as serious about locking people up as we damn well should be, we ought to be working hard to prevent such from happening; they should be black marks on society, marks of shame for having neglected our duties.

    mike, you know how i feel about the death penalty, and that goes whether the perpetrator was a soldier or not when they committed their crime. but i'm not yet sure myself if it ought to matter whether there was a war going on or not, so it's interesting to me to contrast this case (which happened stateside in peacetime) with another one that happened more recently: this story.

    my take on it is, soldiers in wartime ought to be held, in at least some sense, to a higher standard. precisely because abuses and atrocities are so much easier to fall into during such stress and violence, the control effected by a legal system ought to be somewhat greater --- certainly, at least, when we're talking about how soldiers interact with civilians, non-combatants. i'm not yet sure if that should mean opening the door to the death sentence in those specific, narrow circumstances, but they are special enough circumstances that some difference in treatment might be warranted.

    (FWIW, i think the soldiers involved in this crime all received shamefully light sentences. Spielman will be eligible for parole after a mere ten years? WTF, over? let him serve that decade in an Iraqi prison, says i!)

  4. Bob, you said "You don't mind being cruel to another person as long as it doesn't offend your sensibilities, is that it?"

    That sounds like my sensibilities are something frivolous, some fuzzy wuzzy kind of nonsense. But far from that, my sensibilities concern what I believe is a moral imperative against murder. That includes State sanctioned murder.

    And I don't find your comments offensive at all. If yours are offensive then what are Weer'd's? Besides, I've always said to play around here one needs a thick skin.

  5. Mike,

    I didn't think your sensibilities are frivolous at all. I was trying to point out the hypocrisy of your position.

    While Nomen thinks the violence that occurs in the system is a "bug" it is still a fact of life. Violence happens in prison and nothing can ever prevent it.

    By endorsing life in prison, you are endorsing that violence, that cruelty; because it fits with your world view (better word choice?)

    Does that make sense what I'm trying to point out.

    Yow state you have a moral imperative against murder but seem okay with cruelty because that does fit with your world view. I don't understand how that works.

  6. Violence happens in prison and nothing can ever prevent it.

    prevent it totally and in every case? no, of course not. reduce its frequency and severity, though, certainly. it's common knowledge that some prisons are worse, in this sense, than others; it's equally well known that some entire countries' prison systems are worse than others, this way. those countries who seem to do this best, how do they manage? can we learn anything from them?

  7. Bob, You're getting way out on a tangent about my condoning cruelty while opposing capital punishment. As Nomen, pointed out, prisons need not be cruel in the Hollywood-generated way that you're describing. Regular life is cruel for that matter. The point is strapping a guy down, pushing a needle in, and taking his life, in my opinion, is not an option.

  8. Mike,

    Sorry but I don't feel that I'm getting off on a tangent. Prison, as one of your posters pointed out, isn't all country club and sweetness.

    Cruelty exists in prison because no matter who controlled the situation is prisoners will have time without supervision.

    All I'm doing it pointing out and inquiring about the moral difference in saying state sanctioned murder is unethical and saying that known cruelty for life is ethical.

    What it boils down to in my mind is this question: Is it crueler to lock up a person for decades or to relatively painlessly kill that person?

    This is given that the guilt is assured, fair trials, etc.

  9. If I were in charge of penalties, I would not impose the death penalty for any single crime, or for a set of related crimes. I would impose it under certain circumstances for multiple unrelated felonies (rape or worse), with independent trials where the combined sentences are effectively more than a life sentence.

    Requiring two or more independent convictions would balance the risk of executing an innocent man with the need to have some further punishment possible for a lifer. I don't want a truly innocent man executed, but I also don't much care if someone who is actually guilty of rape or murder gets falsely executed for something else.