A Life for a Life

The American Debate Over the Death Penalty

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About the Book

Providing a new look at the intense public debate surrounding the death penalty in the United States, this book explores the various trends in public opinion that influence crime prevention efforts, create public policy, and reform criminal law. It examines eight core issues about the use of execution: cruel and unusual punishment, discrimination, deterrence, due process, culpability, scripture, innocence, and justice. It provides a brief history of capital punishment in the United States from the earliest known execution at the Jamestown Colony in 1608 to executions occurring as recently as 2008. Additional topics include the regionalization of capital punishment sentences, the spiritual and scriptural debate over the death penalty, the role of DNA evidence in modern execution sentences, and the ongoing effects of Furman v. Georgia, McClesky v. Kemp, Baze v. Rees, and other related court rulings.

About the Author(s)

Psychologist Michael Dow Burkhead has worked in varying capacities with criminal offenders for 25 years. He is the author of a number of articles regarding the treatment of mentally ill prisoners and the death penalty. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Bibliographic Details

Michael Dow Burkhead
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 215
Bibliographic Info: charts, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2009
pISBN: 978-0-7864-3368-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures      x

Preface      1

1. Framing the Debate

Introduction      3

Historical Overview      4

The Regionalization of Execution      6

Opposition to the Death Penalty      8

The Furman Decision      12

The Post-Furman Debate      14

A Picture of the Present      16

The Major Questions      21

2. The Question of Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Introduction: The Slave Darby      26

What Is Cruel and Unusual?      28

Public Execution      33

The Method of Execution      35

Why Must Execution Be Painless?      40

3. The Question of Discrimination

Introduction      44

McCleskey v. Kemp      46

Further Research      50

Gender and the Death Sentence      55

Bias and Arbitrariness      56

4. The Question of Due Process

Introduction: What Is Due Process?      58

The Capital Trial      59

Victim Impact Evidence      66

Competent Counsel      68

5. The Question of Deterrence

Introduction      71

Two Waves of Research      73

Is Deterrence Relevant?      78

6. The Question of Culpability

Introduction      81

The Intellectually Disabled      83

Juvenile Offenders      86

The Mentally Ill      90

The Non-Triggerman      93

Summary      93

7. The Question of Scripture

Introduction      95

The Scriptural Debate      96

The Positions of the Churches      99

The Early Church      101

Summary      103

8. The Question of Innocence

Introduction      104

An Example Case      109

DNA Evidence      111

9. The Question of Justice

Doing Justice      114

The Myth of Closure      119

10. The Current Situation

Introduction      123

The Question of Cost      124

Modern Explanations for Our Death Penalty Attitudes      126

The Current Situation      135

Appendices      143

A. The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment (2008)      144

B. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (2008)      154

C. The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission (2007)      161

D. The Tennessee Death Penalty Assessment (2007)      173

Chapter Notes      185

Bibliography      195

Index      203

Book Reviews & Awards

“recommended”—Choice; “I recommend [this book] to anyone who is interested in learning about the formation of death penalty governance in our country, the social-political forces that have shaped past and present debates, and the manner by which empirical evidence is used to sway one’s argument”—Metapsychology.