Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Debate Continues

The debate over capital punishment, sparked by my rant about the Andrea Yates "Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity" verdict, continues. To make this debate easier to read, I have woven my replies in the Reader's comments:

Anonymous said...

We stand in agreement on certain points of this issue. For one, I think we both believe that one of the responsibilities of a government is to protect its citizens from being preyed upon by other citizens.

If government kills a citizen in order to protect other citizens from him, then without a doubt, the dead man can commit no sin against his fellow man. Killing Andrea Yates (whether she is ill or not) would certainly keep her from killing again.

Killing a man, no matter what the circumstances, leaves a person dead. But how we feel about that death varies greatly depending upon the circumstances of the killing. For example:

- A soldier who kills another soldier in combat may be seen as a hero.
- A woman who kills a man who is attacking her, may not be seen as a hero, but is certainly seen as justified in her actions.
- A woman who has been abused by her husband, and then kills him in his sleep… That one may be OK. But there are going to be many questions and some disagreement about that one.
- Parents of conjoined twins may be forced to have one of the children killed and separated from the other in order to give at least one of them the chance of survival. That would be a gut-wrenching position to be in, and most people would probably empathize rather than condemn them for their choice.

Average Joe said...

The following example is where I begin to disagree with your view on the subject. My biggest issue with the situation with Andrea Yates is the insanity defense. I do not believe that the science of psychiatry can accurately diagnose "temporary" insanity. By what measures do you determine if an apparently sane person today was "temporarily insane" at the time of committing such a terrible act as that to which Andrea Yates confessed? That's like going to the doctor to find out if the cough you had a month ago was something serious or just the common cold. Or like taking your car to the mechanic and saying, "It wouldn't start last week, but it's been running fine ever since. Can you tell me what's wrong?"

If you're reading this and unfamiliar with the Andrea Yates case, you may want to bring yourself up to speed at Wikipedia.

Anonymous said...

- A sick woman kills her children because she was instructed to by God. Well, this lady will be hard pressed to find any empathy or sympathy. There is no other way to describe that than as a tragedy.
- A man has watched for months or years as the woman he has loved for 50 years lies in agonizing pain, and he chooses to help her end her pain by causing her death. Is it possible to love a person so much that it becomes more caring to kill her than to keep her alive?
- A man decides that he must end the rivalry with another man, so he plans that man’s death, and kills him or has him killed. Now this guy is going to have a VERY difficult time getting people lined up to support him.

Average Joe said...

I can only speak for myself, but I don't usually struggle long before taking a stance on whether to support capital punishment or not in any particular case. Maybe it's not appropriate for me to make such a judgment, but my judgment is merely my opinion, and that opinion is usually based on one of two things:

1. Who the victim of the crime is. In the Andrea Yates case, the victims are innocent, helpless children who were murdered in the bathtub by the one person who they certainly never feared.
2. The apparent motivation behind the crime. No one can truly say what the motivation was behind the Andrea Yates case. She has cited recurrent postpartum psychosis, among a general mental instability. She was, in fact, being treated for depression and had been taken off her antipsychotic medication only two months prior to the murders.

Maybe this is where society -- and government, specifically -- failed those children in the first place. It seems quite clear that the doctors caring for Yates knew of her instability, but failed to act to protect her children from what they feared she was capable of doing to them.

Does this mean Yates should be found not guilty? I say no. I think it proves one thing quite well, however: if Andrea Yates was suffering from insanity at the time that she murdered her children, it clearly was a long-term diagnosed and treated illness, and not at all temporary. Whether she should be put to death for her crime is debatable, but she certainly should never have the opportunity to be free among society again, and that is exactly what she has with this recent verdict. She has been committed to a state mental hospital with periodic hearings before a judge to determine whether she should be released.

It is my contention that, regardless of the motivation or condition of culprit, someone committing such an act against such a defenseless victim should be removed from society on a permanent basis. I don't particularly care if that removal is accomplished through permanent imprisonment or capital punishment.

Anonymous said...

But today we even have many gray areas in the situations noted above. Several of our military have been charged with, or investigated for, murder in reference to their actions in the Middle East. Women have been placed on trial for killings that in the past would have been considered “self-defense”, but now are being questioned as perhaps pre-meditated.

I set that list in place so that we can consider the fact that it is difficult to create a list of killings that are “OK”, and a list of killings that should be condemned. These are VERY, VERY tough calls to make. Those calls are packed with emotion and disagreement.

Death is final (at least here on earth). There’s no bringing someone back from that.

Throughout the history of man we have empowered our governments to make life-and-death calls for us. Or, more appropriately, our governments have seized the right to make those calls for us. I for one am not really comfortable with permitting our government to use this power against its citizens, particularly since other options are available.

If killing by the government were not final, then the women who were killed for witchcraft could have been “un-killed” once the witch hysteria ended. But it is final and those women remain dead at the hands of their government.

Average Joe said...

I find one significant difference here: Andrea Yates original conviction was handed down by a jury of her peers, in an open and orderly courtroom that was presided over by an experienced judge. Andrea Yates had confessed to the killings. Her conviction was a far cry from the lynch mobs that burned women at the stakes for suspected witchcraft. Those lynch mobs claimed that if the woman was a witch, she would survive the burning, and therefore the burning itself was the trial. In today's society, as in Andrea Yates first trial, the suspect was tried, confessed, and convicted before the capital punishment was meted out. The Salem (and other) witch trials were literally trials by fire that delivered the punishment in order to determine guilt or innocence. I do not believe that this is a reasonable comparison to make.

Anonymous said...

If a citizen is wrong about a killing, then he will be tried and punished. But what of a government that is wrong in its killing? What happens to the government? The people who were killed by the government are just as dead as the people killed by the individual. In fact, in the case of the government killings things are usually far worse, because the government has usually killed many more people than a citizen has killed. For example, Germany, Iraq, Bosnia, Russia, Rome, China, Japan, etc. All of these countries have killed many of their own citizens during acts that they justified at the time, but that history has condemned.

Average Joe said...

Again, I believe there is a distinct difference between mob justice and the type of orderly community justice that is practiced in American courtrooms. In addition, there is no comparison between the American justice system and the acts of tyrannical dictators the likes of Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, et. al.

Anonymous said...

Do we really want to grant permission to our government to kill us? If we are ever to learn anything from history, we should learn that this is a BAD idea. Our governments have proven to be exceedingly bad at making these decisions.

As for a deterrent, there is no real evidence that capital punishment deters others from committing crimes. Most murders are not premeditated. The vast majority of murders happen as the result of deep emotion or motivation that defies logic. Simply put, most people who murder never stop to consider what will happen when they are caught. They are too caught up in emotion, addiction or other factors to ever stop to consider what they have done.

But what about those other, premeditated murders? There is no evidence that capital punishment deters those either. Those who plan murders, plan to not be caught. And most of them succeed in both the murder, and the escape. If I am planning to kill someone, the fact that Andrea Yates was given the needle is not going to stop me from planning it. It will just make me plan better.

We have other options. I am certainly not suggesting that we set Andrea Yates free. I am only saying that we should not allow our government to kill her. There are other options to employ here. It is not a choice of killing Andrea Yates, or putting all of society in danger. There are many other options. I am suggesting that the most appropriate response doesn't come from either end of the extreme, but rather from some other alternative.

In your rebuttal you stated, “Of course killing Andrea Yates would probably not teach her a lesson. I doubt that she is capable of learning any lessons.”. That statement makes me wonder if you agree that Andrea Yates is not well. I suspect that some part of you also sees her as a sick woman.

Average Joe said...

Indeed I do see Andrea Yates as a sick woman. I just don't feel that any sickness can justify the crime that she committed. I don't see how there is any justifiable reason to ever turn this woman loose on society again. Call it punishment. Call it protection. Call it what you will, but she -- in my opinion -- forfeited her privilege to exist in an open and free society at the instant she first considered and acted upon taking the life of a defenseless child. There is no greater sin in my view.

Anonymous said...

There are many kinds of killings, as I noted above. But I submit that the worst kind of all is the one that is premeditated and planned. I further submit that that kind of killing is the most damnable – whether it is committed by an individual, or by a government.

It’s not that I have any particular sympathy for Andrea Yates, or for what she did. Both she and her acts were deplorable. I just think it is worse if our government commits the same crime against her as she did against her children. Particularly since our government would be doing it in a deliberate, planned, premeditated manner.

----- And you probably do know who is writing this. I love your blog.

Average Joe said...

Thanks again for your comments and your kind words about my site. If you have additional thoughts to share, I would love to hear them.
As a quick after note, I find it interesting that in her new trial, Andrea Yates was acquitted in the murders of only three of her children. The District Attorney retains the option of trying her again for either or both of the remaining murders.

Anyone else who may wish to get into the debate, please feel free. You may use the comment link below or email me at


1 comment:

Average Joe American said...

Another quick comment to "Anonymous." I readily concede that, with your background and professional expertise, you are a much more capable judge of the topic of discussion than I am. My thoughs and views are only my opinion. Sometimes that's all a person has.


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