Posted by Megha Desai on April 29, 2010

Firign SquadAfter Utah death-row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner selected the firing squad as his method of execution, the Salt Lake Tribune responded by highlighting how this event may impact Utah's tourism. Given the highly contentious nature of use a firing squad in the first place, one would expect coverage of this news to focus more on the barbaric nature of this practice.

The Tribune article, titled "Tourists likely won't skip Utah because of firing squad," reports that ultimately the Utah tourism industry is not worried about the negative effect of this execution:

"To Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau spokesman Shawn Stinson, Gardner's execution will be a complete 'non-issue' for people deciding where to stage their group's upcoming meetings. Maybe we'll get more attention because [a firing squad execution] doesn't happen that often," he said, "but I don't see it as having an impact on tourism or convention sales whatsoever."

Maybe the Salt Lake Tribune and the people of Utah are missing the point. Currently, 49 states ban execution via firing squad, including Utah. However, Utah passed the ban against firing squads in 2004, and Gardner is one of about 10 individuals who were sentenced to death prior to the ban, so he has the option of selecting the firing squad method. Oklahoma is the only state in the U.S. that still allows execution by firing squad. While the death penalty thrives in many U.S .states, especially Texas, all western European countries and Canada are death penalty-free.

Proper Procedure, Fair Review

A big concern with death penalty cases is the lack of proper procedure and fair review. Consider the case of Charles Dean Hood, who is currently sitting on death-row in Texas. Although it was apparent to Hood's attorneys that the trial judge and the lead prosecutor in Hood's case were involved in a long-seated affair, both parties Hood Case denied the accusations. In 2008, the affair was finally uncovered with actual evidence, and Hood's attorneys appealed his case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on the grounds of judicial bias and conflict of interest. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied the appeal on the grounds that Hood's attorneys should not have waited so long to bring the appeal.

This is simply bogus. Hood's attorneys couldn't prove the affair until 2008, when it became public, so any appeal before this time would have been dismissed as unsupported. Hood's case illustrates the need for fair and unbiased procedure, specifically in death penalty cases. Procedure is only the beginning of the problems with death penalty in this country. Since 1970, Illinois exonerated over 200 innocent men from death row. This begs the question: Are innocent men and women being put to death because of a faulty system?

David Dow, a Texas death penalty lawyer, describes the procedural problem succinctly: "Jurors duck behind other jurors. Judges take refuge behind jury verdicts. The appeals courts wordlessly affirm the trial judge. Then the Supreme Court hangs out a sign that says GONE FISHIN'."

Comments

While I share your distaste for the death penalty and agree that many are unjustly convicted (as shown by the successes of the Innocence Project), I don't understand your objection to a firing squad as a method of execution. It certainly seems preferable to the electric chair or lethal injections or hanging in that it provides an extremely quick death with little pain (since the shock of the shot seems to provide a brief time before pain is felt---and by then the victim is dead). On the whole, It's the method I would prefer.

But, as you say, better to do away with the death penalty altogether. And ESPECIALLY do away with the death penalty without any trial or due process (the brand new Presidential power that Obama discovered: that the President can simply order the death of an American citizen, who will then be assassinated). THAT is truly over the line.

I didn't have the impression that this article was centered on firing-squads vs. other forms of execution.

Also, I contest your belief that death-by-firing-squad "provides an extremely quick death with little pain". Obviously, you haven't experienced it, and you didn't reference any studies to back up your claim.

Can you name three people who have been incorrectly convicted and executed in the past twenty years?

The "innocence project" like all anti-DP groups relies on the never ending appeals process to eventually require a re-trial. Facts that were properly addressed and dealt with 22 years ago in the original trial when the case was fresh, can no longer be proven because the sands of time cloud memories and forever silence witnesses. From this comes reasonable doubt, and voila', we have "another innocent man" convicted in error by the horrible criminal justice system.

When the "innocence project" says innocent they don't mean innocent, or that the perp. had nothing to do with the crime, they mean they were able to get him off after 22 years of appeals.

Dear Kevin--
The Innocence Project has demonstrated through DNA evidence that numerous men on death row were convicted of crimes that other men committed. It is simply illogical to believe that only these men who have been exonerated of crimes were the only innocent men facing the death penalty. For more information on the Innocence Project and the cases of innocent men who have faced the unimaginable torment of facing execution for crimes they did not commit and losing their rights as free people to spend time with their loved ones, you can read more at http://www.innocenceproject.org/. Another organization that I am less familiar with, death penalty info, also has information on people who have been executed even though there was evidence that someone else committed the crimes for which they were convicted: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executed-possibly-innocent.

It does not serve our country to defend death penalty procedures that are so flawed in some states that it is documented that innocent people have been wrongfully convicted. When that happens, not only does an innocent person lose his freedom and his rights but also then guilty dangerous men walk free to strike again. That is not to say that there are no guilty men on death row--there are plenty--but it's not possible for a reasonable person to believe that there are not innocent men among them based on the evidence of those who have been exonerated.

I do not believe the death penalty is unconstitutional in all circumstances but it certainly has been applied in unconstitutional ways over the past two centuries, with countless African American men convicted and executed for crimes they did not commit. And, it is foolhardy to believe, as your twenty-year time limit seems to indicate, that suddenly from 1990 no more innocent men ever made it to death row. What changed in 1990? The fact is that even since that time the U.S. Supreme Court has issued decisions that increase the likelihood of innocent people being convicted, most notoriously in my view in a case out of Texas where the Court held that a man was not denied effective assistance of counsel even though his ill-prepared lawyer slept through part of his trial. Regardless of his guilt, that precedent paves the way for people to be railroaded toward conviction of crimes they did not commit merely because they could not afford a competent lawyer to defend them, let alone stay awake throughout the trial for their life and freedom.

So, wake up. Ignorance is not bliss. Open your mind. Every innocent man behind bars means a guilt man walks free. That ought to cause any reasonable person pause and increase the desire for reforms to help ensure that the guilty are convicted and punished and that the innocent are free.

i think public hangings mandatory for all people to see should be law.

...and make sure all your ID says "Anonymous." Public hangings were a favorite place for pickpockets to work, and often when pickpockets were being hanged.

Bill Moyers presents "United States of ALEC," a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of -- ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.