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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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. :(

Personally, if I had the choice of being caged for the rest of my life (or even a substantial amount of the rest of my life), I would choose death. But I guess it really depends on what the person thinks.  This has nothing to do with being an atheist. Some xians would much rather die than be tortured or tormented for the rest of their lives.  Some fight to live as long as possible.  There is no "atheist viewpoint" on anything like this.  It really depends on the individual.

As an outsider to the circumstances, my views are rather, I guess you would say "liberal", but realistic. I believe that out judicial system focuses far too much on punishment and not nearly enough on rehabilitation. The problem with focusing on punishment is that it costs far, far, far more than rehabilitation. Just look at all the repeat offenders and it becomes extremely obvious. It is a sad society that is so animalistic, short sighted, and narrow minded that prefers raw punishment over helping people get to the core of their problems and become useful, productive members of society.  On the other hand, when someone proves themselves to be unwilling to accept rehabilitation, what's the point in keeping them in a cell for the rest of their lives? If Hayes would prefer to not live with his decisions, who are we to force him to continue to live? Why are we spending millions of dollars keeping people alive when everyone involved would prefer they die?  I really don't understand the mentality. We all live and we all die.  Why should anyone be denied the right to choose the timing of their own death?

By the way, do you have any idea what "atheism" is? It is simply the disbelief in fairy tales.  There is no "atheistic perspective" when it comes to anything other than the belief in some supernatural nonsense.

I'm not into torture or barbaric practises like capital punishment I prefer to be humane , I'd like to  think we're evoloving from an eye for an eye and choosing whom lives and dies, (isn't that what many religions practise barbaric rituals and punishments for their moral code of what is wrong and right good or evil) , In my humble opinion I have no more right to take ANYONES life than they have to take mine regardless of the crime don't we then become the murderer or offender or as barbaric?

The bottom line for me is simple  we can and we DO and we HAVE got  it wrong when sentencing one to death regardless of how it is done innocent people many have later been proven innocent (after their death) and to me 1 single wrongful accusation and penalty of death will never be worth 1000 so called right ones. I hear the argument but we know for sure he saw it , she witnessed it etc... , that was common even before DNA testing and the like which is also not infallable btw... Eye witness accounts he said she said, witness  motive etc... these are all not infallable therefore capital punishment has no place in my opinion in an 'uncertain and variable and prodominently perceptive ' world...

I think the most humane position is lock em up if you're as sure as you can be  and the law has said you are guilty (after a trial of course) , Okay  they may lose some valuable years but if in fact they are innocent and some have been, like all of us if it were us we'd want the opportunity to prove that innocense .

I agree with Keith Pinster in that I would choose death over life without parole and that such a choice depends on the individual as opposed to one being atheist. Although death is "the end", it's a quicker punishment. I'd rather deal with that then being locked up in a population full of killers, rapists and other violent criminals who are gonna attempt to kick your ass, rape and/or kill you every day for the rest of your life. So I definitely believe life without parole is worse.

I think people who commit violent crimes should have to rot in prison for years and years in solitude.  They should not get to be on TV documentaries about prison either.  No one should even speak to them ever again. 


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