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Why Texas’ ‘death penalty capital of the world’ stopped executing people

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Since the Supreme Court legalized capital punishment in 1976, Harris County, Texas, has executed 126 people. That's more executions than every individual state in the union, barring Texas itself.
Harris County's executions account for 23 percent of the 545 people Texas has executed. On the national level, the state alone is responsible for more than a third of the 1,465 people put to death in the United States since 1976.
In 2017, however, the county known as the "death penalty capital of the world" and the "buckle of the American death belt" executed and sentenced to death a remarkable number of people: zero.
This is the first time since 1985 that Harris County did not execute any of its death row inmates, and the third year in a row it did not sentence anyone to capital punishment either.
The remarkable statistic reflects a shift the nation is seeing as a whole.
“The practices that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is following are also signifi…

Death Penalty May Not Bring Peace to Victims' Families

Screenshot from 'Dead Man Walking', by Tim Robbins (1995)
Does the death penalty provide true justice and closure to victims?

On May 15th 2015, a federal jury condemned Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in killing four people and injuring hundreds in the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. 

Before the verdict, Bill and Denise Richards—the parents of a nine-year-old boy who was killed in the attack—asked that the government not seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev. In an open letter published in the Boston Globe, they explained:

“The continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong the most painful day of our lives.”

The death penalty is often touted as the only punishment that provides true justice and closure for a victim’s family and friends, also known as co-victims. But this is rarely based on co-victims’ actual sentiments.

Research by University of Minnesota sociology-anthropology professor Scott Vollum and colleagues found ambivalence in co-victims’ reactions to capital punishment. Their study showed that only 2.5 percent achieved true closure, and 20.1 percent said that the execution did not help them heal. Co-victims in the study also expressed feelings of emptiness when the death penalty did not “bring back the victim.”

The long judicial process between conviction and execution, which can span many years in some cases, also prolongs grief and pain for co-victims. Uncertainty prevails in the face of appeals, hearings, and trials, while increased publicity inherent in death-penalty cases exacerbates co-victims’ suffering. Through media exposure, they repeatedly relive traumatic events.

Pain and anger, especially, are common in the wake of tragic loss and can be accompanied by an overwhelming desire for revenge. Some co-victims in the Vollum study voiced that the death penalty was not harsh enough, while others communicated a wish to personally inflict harm on the condemned. In the majority of cases though, executions were not sufficient to satisfy these desires.

“More often than not, families of murder victims do not experience the relief they expected to feel at the execution,” states Lula Redmond, a Florida therapist who works with surviving family members. “Taking a life doesn’t fill that void, but it’s generally not until after the execution that families realize this.”

In a number of cases, co-victims actually expressed sympathy for family members of the condemned, often empathizing with the experience of loss. “My heart really goes out to his family. I lost my daughter, and I know today is a terrible day for them as well,” stated one co-victim.

A death sentence can polarize the two families, obstructing healing for both. Prison chaplain Caroll Pickett has witnessed how capital punishment inflicts trauma on loved ones of both the condemned and the victim, as well as prison employees and others in the judicial process, stating in his autobiography, “All the death penalty does is create another set of victims.”

Click here to read the full article

Source: Psychology Today, Robert T Muller Ph.D., October 19, 2016

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