Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tennnessee Death Row Inmate Cleared

CNN reports on the great news for Paul House. After spending 22 years on Tennessee's Death Row, State prosecutors on Tuesday asked a judge to drop all charges against him. Mr. House was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in 1986. Special Judge Jon Blackwood accepted the request.

House had been scheduled to be executed next month for the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey. He had been on death row for 22 years but was released on bail last year. He has multiple sclerosis and must use a wheelchair.

The high court ruled in June 2006 that House was entitled to a new hearing.

"Although the issue is closed, we conclude that this is the rare case where -- had the jury heard all the conflicting testimony -- it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack reasonable doubt," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the 5-3 majority.

House's appeal was championed by the Innocence Project, affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law in New York.

This is a perfect example of one of the major reasons for abolition cited by Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She gives three reasons: that innocent people are in danger of being executed, like in this case, that capital punishment is disproportionately applied to minorities and that it is more costly than sentencing people to life in prison.

I've always maintained that there's an even stronger reason, one that perhaps rides above all those very valid reasons. I say capital punishment is morally unacceptable. In order to avoid the ethical hypocrisy of killing people for killing people, we must abandon the death penalty.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.


  1. In order to avoid the ethical hypocrisy of killing people for killing people...

    Do you think it's ethical hypocrisy to imprison people for imprisoning people?

  2. That's pretty funny. But, just in case you were serious, I'd have to say, no I don't. Nor do I find anything wrong with fining and ordering restitution to punish those who steal or defraud.

    There may be other examples of the punishment matching the crime, but when it comes to the maximum punishment, I say it should be life without the possibility of parole, and we work down from there.

  3. Care to share your logic with that, Mike?

    I mean under that logic if somebody raped and murdered three people, and then was tried sentenced and then excluded by lethal injection, unless I'm mistaken by your above answer, the guilty party would be getting the sweet end of the deal...

  4. That's why I don't think it's hypocrisy. "They did X, so doing X makes us no better than them" is simply an untrue statement. We generally accept that for some crimes the punishment is less severe than the harm caused by the crime, for some it's as equal as possible, and for some it's greater. We have to work out which is which through difficult discussion and consensus-building, based on the needs of society and of the victims.

    I respect your opinion that the most serious punishment available should be life imprisonment rather than execution (I'm conflicted and don't have a strong opinion one way or the other, myself), but I think you're unfairly dismissing those who disagree with your conclusion when you use the no-better-than-them or ethical-hypocrisy arguments.

    In my opinion, the benefits and costs of capital punishment are the appropriate topic for this debate, and they give us more than enough to talk about.

  5. Michael, How about instead of "the no-better-than-them or ethical-hypocrisy arguments," I just call it morally abhorrent. This way I'm speaking for myself and allowing for other opinions.

    The cost/benefit analysis works too, in my opinion. But, I realize that can generate a good debate as well.

  6. Personally, I hope I'd try to phrase it as "it offends my morals", but that's just my moral relativism coming through. The issue is much closer to your heart, and I think calling it morally abhorrent gets across your investment in the issue without being explicitly unfair.

    And this has been Unsolicited Advice Theater. HTank you for tuning in. Please join us again next time. ;)