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El Weekender

No 68

One too Many

By. Denise Jimenez

Capital Punishment has been around in America since the first colonies. The first known execution of a criminal, was Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of Virginia in 1608. He was hung after it was discovered he was a spy for Spain.

Then, four years later in 1612 Virginia Governor Sir. Thomas Dale enacted the Divine, Moral and Martial Laws. As crazy as it seems, these laws made the death penalty an option for marginal offenses like, stealing grapes, killing chickens, and trading with Indians.

It was not until Thomas Jefferson, along with other colleagues in the Virginia Colonies presented a bill that acknowledged the death penalty was to be reserved for crimes to do with murder and treason; the new bill was defeated by only one vote.

As some time has passed since the 1600’s, beliefs surrounding the death penalty have changed and vary from state to state. Some states have even completely abolished the death penalty like New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, and Nebraska. This leaves the other 43 states to utilize Capital Punishment as a sentence. Of course, with something as serious as Capital punishment, this comes with sometimes divisive conversation and protest from concerned citizens who believe the death penalty is a cruel form of punishment, with no evidence of it promoting a positive change in violence in our communities.

According to, a national non-profit organization who releases information concerning capital punishment, since 1973 more than 150 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. That is a chilling number when imagining those who were innocent and not proven innocent in time to be released. There has been one too many cases of exonerating evidence being found; only after the accused was murdered. One popular example, is that of Cameron Todd Willingham, he was executed in 2004 for the murder of his three young daughters who tragically died in a house fire in 1991. Cameron was quickly made a suspect, prosecutors claimed he was trying to get rid of his children, and evidence of Cameron hitting his wife while she was pregnant further exemplified  the accusations. Even with his wife testifying he had not abused her, prosecutors were determined to find him guilty. In August of 1992 prosecutors offered a life term in exchange for a guilty plea but Cameron Willingham insisted he was innocent, and rejected the plea deal. Willingham went to trial.

Sadly, in 1992 the science regarding arson was still brand new and almost completely based off opinion. Investigators testified the fire was started by gasoline, using the ash marks left by the fire as reference, this vital piece of “evidence” along with false testimony from a fellow inmate, led to Cameron’s tragic demise. In 2004, the state of Texas executed Cameron Willingham despite evidence of his innocence. An investigation conducted in 2009 by the Texas Forensic Science Commission found that the arson evidence was faulty and the testimony given by a fellow inmate being withdrawn in 2000 (before the execution), proved Willingham was innocent.

The reality of the death penalty is stark to say the least. There is no way to be correct every single time. This means innocent men and women will be put to death. Research shown in a 2014 FBI Crime Report stated that the South has the highest murder rate despite the South being accounted for over 80% of executions. Statistics like make you question whether the death penalty truly deters violent crimes and murders from happening.

However, despite all facts and opinions revolving around Capital Punishment, it is important to remember surviving family and friends of these murder victims. To some, the death penalty is a form of minor relief, and may even rid them of vengeful emotion. To surviving family and friends, the death penalty is crucial to their grieving process and may help them find closure.

Capital punishment may seem barbaric to many; however, it is essential to the justice system for others. Sadly, innocent lives are taken along with guilty ones. Should that fact alone make the death penalty unethical and inhumane punishment?



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