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Capital Punishment

Capital punishment commonly referred to as death penalty is a lawful process, by which a suspect found guilty by the state, is punished through killing.  The word capital punishment was coined from the Latin word capitalis, which accurately refers to the head. Capital punishment, therefore, means punishment carried through beheading. Punishing of criminals through execution has been practiced throughout different civilizations in history. The act was commonly used to silence political enemies and criminals in olden democracies. Currently, death penalty continues to be administered in some countries like United States and China. In countries like China, people convicted of drug trafficking are put on death sentence, while in religious states, especially those under Islamic law, crimes like adultery, apostasy and incest would call for a death sentence. According to Bohm (1999), past accounts indicate that death penalty was imposed by different states as a way of upholding justice. It entailed the offender paying for the loss incurred to the victim, physical punishment through lashing or excommunication from the community. Disputes between warring communities would be solved through formal apology, reimbursement or blood dispute. My main reason for carrying out the research topic above is to look deeply into the arguments for and against capital punishment in order to provide my readers both sides of the story to enable them make conclusive decisions in the future.

The issue of death penalty dates back to the Roman times, pre-historic China laws and the Babylonian Codes of King Hammurabi. The first ever documentation of death penalty case was in Egypt in the 16th century, where one noble member was found practicing witchcraft and was ordered to kill himself. In the Roman Empire, death penalty code was classified in terms of social strata, the royal families versus the slaves and commoners. The process of execution was barbaric and involved either crucifixion, being tossed into the sea, burying criminals alive or stoning to death. Under the Mosaic Commandments, there is a proof that the ancient Jews applied various means to punish crime. This means included stoning, beheading, hanging and tossing a convict over a rock. The aspect of death penalty was influenced more by the British in their colonies. Punishment was carried out through tossing the accused in a swamp. During the 10th century convicted criminals were hanged from the scaffold. Throughout the middle ages, death penalty was carried out through persecution. Records also indicate that convicts were boiled to death in the 1500s.

Joann (1993) asserts that lack of a qualm on death penalty has been a preferred means of upholding justice since there is no second chance of trial after death. The rational means of death penalty could be life imprisonment, in which a convict is put behind bars for the rest of his or her entire life. Many states still execute criminals through capital punishment, although the topic has elicited angry reactions from human rights activists. The abolitionists groups argue that capital punishment should be eliminated due to a number of reasons. One it is seen as a barbaric way of  ending a convicts life, although the act is understood differently across cultures, for example, killing a pet that is in great pain is human, while doing the same to persons is viewed as barbaric, while in some societies, killing is morally accepted. Secondly, crime committed cannot be equaled to taking a person’s life. Additionally, killing a convict does not deter crime. Thirdly, each individual has a right to live as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Activists such as Amnesty international consider taking another person’s life a violation of the declaration. Fourthly, a person may have been wrongly convicted due to poor investigation, lack of evidence or  lawyers commitment to defend the accused fully and later found innocent, death penalty, thus, denies the person a second chance. Life is also considered sacred across many religions and cultures. It is understood that the giver takes life away that is God. Death should occur naturally not in the hands of a fellow man. Abolitionists believing in second chances that a convict should be kept behind bars and given time to reflect in life and change. Killing a person denies one the chance to do so. Consequently, it is not only the victim that suffers pain; the family too goes through psychological trauma during the trial and execution period. A family suffers pain and loss of a family member. Pain experienced during execution whether slow or quick is viewed differently across cultures; the means used to induce pain is, therefore, one-sided.

While those supporters of death penalty argue that putting convicts behind bars is the best way of ensuring safety as the same crime would not be repeated again by the individual. Prison is also considered a way of disciplining convicts by providing an avenue of reflection and change, so that when the stipulated term is over criminals emerge as reformed persons in the society. Figures indicate that the US Government spends approximately two million dollars in processing and executing death penalty cases, while it spends lesser five hundred thousand dollars for life imprisonment cases. This figure shows that death penalty process is costly and will cost the state four times as much. Therefore, putting criminals to death is the most efficient means of saving cost. It is common sense that a serious crime such as first degree murder calls for severe punishment; convicts found guilty should, therefore, face the same as death penalty is often equated to “tit for tat is a fair game”. Convicts charged with first degree murder are often viewed as vicious; thus, the safety of guards, executioners, medical experts and other inmates is put into question. The judgment states that security is a rationale behind death penalty.

Mandery (2005) agrees that death penalty can be administered through various ways. The first method is electrocution. Electrocution was viewed as civilized means of ending a criminal’s life because it was less confrontational. First, a convicts hair is cut off, then, his chest, groin and limbs are tied across an electric chair, where a damp salty sponge is placed on top of the head followed by a metal, curved in the shape of the skull. An extra electrode is dumped with a jelly like substance, which conducts electricity, which is, then, linked to a part of the convicts’ leg that has been trimmed to lessen struggle against electric current. The convict is, then, blindfolded. A panel of the executors, then, settles in the examination room, prison guard then alerts the executioner who then draws the handle linking the power input. A stream of about 500 to 2000 volt is allowed in for about thirty seconds to flow, after which it is switched off the moment the body is seen as calm. Medical experts examine the body for heart beat. If a heart beat is detected another surge of current is applied until the convict is confirmed dead. Defecation, breaking of bones and tissues, urination, vomiting and drooling may occur due to the constant struggle during the process. The corpse normally forms sores, when touched due to heat exposure. It is left to cool off for a few hours before an examination is carried out for a record of third degree burns.

The second method is Lethal Injection. The state of Oklahoma became the first to approve this method in 1977. Five years later, according to Mandery (2005), Texas Charles Brooks fell victim to this method and become the first man to be executed through lethal injection in December 2, 1982. Process involves tying a convict to a stretcher, a number of heart checkers are placed on the body by one of the panel executioners. A pair of needles, one used as backup is then slot into visible veins, normally the arms. The needles are linked up to elongated pipes passing through a boring on cement wall to a number of intravenous drips. A shot of salty solution is given, by the guard’s signal, after which curtains are drawn, exposing the convict to the witness in the next room. A sedative known as Sodium thiopental is injected into the system, putting the convict to sleep followed by pavulon or pancuronium bromide, which weakens the muscles and paralyzes the breathing system. Eventually, a surge of potassium chloride is introduced, which stops the heart beat immediately. Death occurs, when a sedated convicted experiences cardiac and respiratory malfunction in an unconscious state. Severe cases occur, when the chemical is diffused into the muscles and not the veins.

Another method is gas chamber execution. Gas chamber was first introduced in the state of Nevada in 1924. Gee Jon became first to be convicted through gas chamber execution. Cyanide gas was introduced in his cell, while he was asleep. This procedure was risky because traces of gas leaked. This led to the development of an air tight gas chamber. A convict is tied to a chair, then, locked in an air tight compartment. A basin of sulphuric acid is placed under the chair. Once the room is evacuated by witnesses, it is then shut. The guard signals the executioner who taps a switch that discharges granules of sodium cyanide into the basin, containing sulphuric acid. Reaction causes the release of hydrogen cyanide gas. To hasten up the procedure, the convict is plodded to take in deep breaths faster. The convict does not succumb to death immediately, and there are indications of struggle, horror and intense pain and eye socket bulges. Body color changes to purple as the convict starts to struggle. The convict succumbs to a condition known as hypoxia, where there is limited flow of oxygen to the brain. At inquest, an exhaust tube draws any traces of harmful gas in the chamber and the body is sprayed with ammonia to counter hydrogen cyanide gas that might have been trapped in the gas chamber. A team of examiners dressed in gas masks and gloves enters the chamber thirty minutes later to tousle the convicts’ hair with the aim of letting loose of any traces of hydrogen cyanide gas trapped.

The other method is firing squad. In this method, a convict is tied to a seat with leather belts across the waist, arms, and forehead at the fore front of an oval shaped canvas barricade. Several sandbags are placed around the chair to sip in blood oozing from the inmates body. The convict head is then covered with a black hood. Using a stethoscope, a medical expert then finds the exact position of the heart and marks it with a circular white cloth as a target point. Five shooters positioned twenty feet away equipped with thirty caliber rifles loaded with single bullets. One shooter is presented with a black round. Every shooter then targets the heart through a hole on the canvass barricade then fires. The convict succumbs to death due to splitting of veins, heart muscles or lungs, which results to over bleeding and lack of supply of blood to the brain cells. In the case that the shooter misses the heart the convict gradually succumbs to slow hemorrhage.  

Hugo (1998) asserts that hanging was the main death penalty technique, applied in the US before the 1890s. It is still practiced in the states of Delaware and Washington. Prior to the  execution day, a convict weight is determined and trials are made using a sandbag measuring the same as the recorded weight of the convict to establish the extent, in which the body will be dropped to guarantee a speedy death. A lengthy rope could result into ripping off a convict’s head, while a shorter one could slow down the process for about 45 minutes. The rope should measure ¾ to 1 ¼ inch in diameter, boiled and drawn out to reduce bouncing or curling. Tethered ends should be greased with soap or wax to guarantee an even descending fall. Soon after, the inmates limbs are tied and the prisoner is blindfolded, loop tied around the neck with the knot at the rear of the left ear. Convict succumbs to death, when a shut door is opened releasing the rope down. Rupture of the neck or dislocation could result due to the convict’s weight though instant death hardly occurs. However immediate death results into popping of the eye sockets, defecation and sticking out of the tongue. A well built convict with tough neck muscles would record light weight, placing the loop wrongly can cause slow rupture or dislodging of muscles, thus, the inmate succumbs to a sluggish asphyxiation.


Drawing from the arguments against and for capital punishment, it is evident that both sides have many explanations for their case. Besides, the broader society and culture have different arguments in their values, regarding capital punishment. Society’s values and morals, regarding the subject of life and death, are deemed to change in the future. Eventually, governments will have to consider what the mainstream population feels about capital punishment and act accordingly.

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