Atheists: What's worse? Execution or life without parole?

I've been reading about the home invasion case that occurred in Cheshire, Connecticut on July 23, 2007. This deeply disturbing act of brutal violence is one of the worst criminal outrages in the history of that state.

Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky robbed, raped and murdered Jennifer Hawke-Petit, age 48, Hayley Petit, age 17, and Michaela Petit, age 11 in their home. The husband and father, Doctor William Petit, escaped with severe injuries and will live with the memory of these events for the rest of his life. Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky were caught, found guilty, and are awaiting execution.

Everyone wants these men sentenced to worst punishment imaginable. But is that really execution?

Most religious theists claim the soul survives the death of the body. The courts openly profess the same belief, having issued the death sentences with the words, "May God have mercy on your soul."

But I don't believe in God, souls, or supernatural punishment. I accept the medical science which shows consciousness ends with the destruction of the brain.

Steven Hayes once said, "Death for me will be a welcome relief..."
Joshua Komisarjevsky has said, "I will never find peace within."

The reality of the death penalty in this case seems rather stark. Each of these reprehensible criminals gets a quick, painless exit from a lifetime of punishment in a merciful fulfilment of his own wishes. 

Or do you see it differently? Is death by lethal injection the worst punishment you can imagine? How does execution compare with life without parole in solitary confinement? What is the atheistic perspective?

Tags: court, criminal, death, justice, penalty, prison

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Hey David, inside for 16 and out now 6, those first couple of years back on the streets must have been hard on you.  If you don't mind me asking, did someone step up and give you a hand?

For some (maybe most) getting out can be a different kind of punishment, the ex-felon tag is hard to shake.

NOTE: My son carries that tag and like you has his own company and family as well.  Good for both of you.

I hope life is going good for you now, it can't have been easy.

I don't think the death penalty is a "punishment" so much as it is intended to be a "justice".  There is the question of rehabilitation and whether or not one is capable. I understand that some aren't capable. Is it "just" to kill them? I don't have an answer for that.

 When someone is sentenced to Life in prison it happens that cell time, your 3 hots, and an hour in the yard isn't a full description of prison life. What you are really being sentenced to is a life of violence, rape, humiliation, torment, demoralization and anal leakage from the bad food. The anal leakage fits in with the humiliation and demoralization but I think it was worth mentioning it because I'd take the death penalty over a life time of anal leakage.

 These two (and a few other cases I can think of) should probably be sentenced to life in prison with anal leakage.


For those of you that don't believe in the death penalty there are two considerations to muse. First, if you let these pathetic excuses for a human being remain incarcerated for decades there is a huge yearly bill to house and feed them. For what end? It's not worth the tax payer dollars to keep air going in their worthless noses. Secondly, you let them stay in prison and they possibly end up "shanking" a correctional officer who made the mistake of letting their guard down for just a moment. These perverts have a maniacal way of staring at you as the blood exits your body and you lose consciousness. 

Don't waste money on lethal injection or other overly humane ways to exterminate these vermin. A big tank of corrosive acid is a cost effective one time purchase and should last for decades.

I may come across as coarse and insensitive. Working in a prison and dealing with these psychotic SOB's will do that to a fellow.


The number of appeals? One is plenty in my book. If eye witnesses are involved one denial of appeal is satisfactory before termination.

"Now imagine just one person out of a thousand was wrongly executed: would you be willing to be that one person just to support the continuation of the death penalty?"

Our judicial system is not perfect and innocents have been executed. With DNA evidence available today the possibility of error is greatly reduced in many cases. Guys who sit on death row with irrefutable DNA evidence or unquestionable eye witness accounts have no need or right to a numerous appeal process. 

The cost of an execution is greatly inflated by some. Walking them off a gang plank into a vat is fairly cost effective.

In an ideal universe, we could fix people, and render them incapable of committing the act ever again.  On the other hand if truly fixed, these people could probably not live with themselves and the knowledge of what they had done.  (And does it make sense to punish someone for a moral flaw they no longer have?)

OK now back to reality--a system which claims to be rehabilitative but fails miserably--and perhaps inevitably so, perhaps rehabilitation is truly impossible.

Well part of the larger issue might be that the law makes no distinction between a completely animalistic act like GM described here, and the man who bumps off a single person for some very specific reason, e.g., to gain an inheritance.  The latter are the sorts of criminals depicted in fiction like the classic show Columbo (an interesting mystery format; you watched the murder on screen, then followed Columbo as he tried to figure out whodunnit).  Those sorts of killers have a very specific motivation, specific to their victim, and I doubt they'd kill again, in all seriousness--except maybe to avoid getting caught.  But of course if they are in prison they have already been caught.  I think someone like that could likely be rehabilitated.   But they are convicted of Murder One, the same as the animals that GM references.  (Yes I realize that we are all animals, I just can't find a better short label for the inhuman way these people act.)

At the risk of leaving reality again, extreme care must be taken, in the case of the death penalty, to ensure that you got the right person.  Much more rigorous than "beyond a reasonable doubt."  I know in Colorado a jury--a different jury than the one that convicted--has to make the decision to put the convict on death row.

We need a Murder Zero category for these people--murder so far beyond the pale that we dare not let them out ever again.  And it does seem fitting to put them in truly *strict* solitary for the rest of their lives, to symbolize their expulsion from society.  By strict, I mean not even allowing them contact with guards.  No human contact or contact with human culture whatsoever.  No internet, certainly.  (My brother and I have an old joke about feeding them flapjacks because those can be slid under the door.)

David Whatley had some useful suggestions too.  In fact some of his suggestions could effectively change "life in solitary" to "greatly shortened life in solitary;" if the guy goes bonkers enough he may manage to kill himself even without the aid of an improvised rope or an improvised knife.

But this would be grotesquely expensive and troublesome.  And only now do we seem to have the tech to truly manage a no-human-contact situation.  So I confess a lot of sympathy with what Ed has said, too.  (Though I suspect a really big vat of acid would be expensive to maintain.) 

In short I don't know what is best.

If one absolutely must go for a "humane" method of execution, by the way, simply letting the guy breathe pure nitrogen for a few minutes will do the trick (and nitrogen is cheap).  You don't get the "smothering I can't breathe" sensation (that is actually caused by CO2 building up in your bloodstream, not by lack of oxygen), apparently people breathe and feel normal until... they don't.

I suppose I should clarify I do not endorse humane punishment for Murder 0 types; that last bit was an aside.

In an ideal universe, we could fix people, and render them incapable of committing the act ever again. On the other hand if truly fixed, these people could probably not live with themselves and the knowledge of what they had done.

This is fundamentally a perfect and precise statement, other than in the ideal universe they would also learn how to forgive themselves.  But it is a great statement.

"In an ideal universe.."

'We could do any twisted thing we like..' for some folks.

or have the good sence to stop ourselves from being monsters,

or learn from our mistakes to reduce our propensity for nuttyness,

or maybe be honest in policy making, business models, etc, so the world around us is truely better than we found it.

Voltarie wrote 'Candide' as a response to this 'best of all possible worlds'....

We do not live there, but or yet... 

In short I don't know what is best.

I think this is important. It is not black and white.

These two people (animals, cretins, monsters, etc.) upon committing the act of Murder 0 (I like the thought of that new category) loose their "right" to be considered human, they are "Mad Dogs" and should be put down in as violent manner as possible.  Fuck Them.

Those victims suffered a level of pain, humiliation and horror that cannot be repaid.  These two assholes wrote checks they can't cash, torment, torture, and then burn them alive.  You won't need to pay for an executioner, just ask for volunteers, there will be plenty.

But then again society isn't structured to deal with this in a manner that would satisfy my blood lust, so just put them down in as inexpensive way as possible (chained to the tracks in the middle of the night, awaiting the morning train comes to mind, but I digress).

Total isolation is a functional punishment, it destroys the mind, but is costly upkeep for what is functionally living bio-waste, I'd go with the cheapest way to flush the toilet.

Bullets are relatively cheap too.

If you can find them. :(


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