Saturday, April 7, 2012

Florida warrant reveals arbitrary nature of death penalty

Serial killer jumps ahead of 40 men on death row

Serial killer David Alan Gore is set to be executed sooner than he expected, in part because he could not stop bragging about raping and murdering four teenagers and two women in the Vero Beach area about 30 years ago, reported The Associated Press.

Several people have made sure the boasting did not go unnoticed. There was the Las Vegas man who wrote to Gore, an author who published the inmate's grotesque letters, and a newspaper columnist and editorial board who brought the case to the attention of Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The Republican promptly signed the death warrant even though more than 40 other men have been on death row longer.

Gore is set to die April 12.

Gore’s sudden rise to the top of Florida’s execution list points to a serious problem with the death penalty in America.  The manner in which it is carried out is arbitrary.

In Furman v. Georgia,  the 1972 decision that struck down the death penalty, Justice Potter Stewart wrote, "These death sentences are cruel and unusual punishment in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.” Justice Potter further noted, “I simply conclude that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed."

Carrying out an execution today is as freakishly arbitrary as imposing the death penalty was in 1972. If you are one of 697 inmates on California’s death row, a state that has not carried out an execution in five years, and suddenly you are scheduled for execution—that is a lot like being struck by lightning.

The modern trend with regard to carrying out the death penalty is even more dismal—only eight percent of condemned inmates were executed within the last ten years, a little more than one in ten.
Pennsylvania has had the death penalty since 1977. There are 222 killers on the state’s death row. Yet, Pennsylvania has executed just three men. All three waived their appeal rights and asked to be executed. Year after year, men and women in Pennsylvania are tried, convicted and sentenced to death with literally no chance of being executed.

Each execution revealed often less than sympathetic figures, men and women, whose conduct was downright frightening. Many display a callousness toward other human beings that makes one relieved that the death penalty exists.

There is no doubt that some members of society are so anti-social that they present a clear and present danger to law abiding citizens. We are, however, fooling ourselves if we believe that the each offender executed represents America’s “most dangerous” citizens and that the rest of the “most dangerous” are all confined to death row awaiting an unlikely execution.

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