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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The trouble with the prison system is that its a half half solution, and as such, fails to achieve any of the functions it was designed for, namely:-

  • Prisoners don't suffer horribly by way of society's vengeance appeasement
  • Prisoners don't get treated, counseled or made to be more functioning in society
  • A prison sentence is not an effective deterrent to potential law breakers

As a result, nobody is served other than the judiciary and the prison managers. America has more people in prison per capita, than any other country in the world. The system isn't working.

I have heard the argument, "what if it was your mother that was murdered?". It's fallacious. If someone shoved my mother, or upset her in someway, I'd be furious. That's why there is objectivity in the court system, whereby the person or people sentencing are not directly affected, so that fair trials can be held.

The question is, do we want revenge, a deterrent, rehabilitation, or separation from or an elimination from society.

If we want revenge, then torture is the only answer - by that we could talk whipping or solitary confinement, so either physical or mental (or both)

For a deterrent, I think a quiet and efficient execution, no appeals, is more scary that spending years on "Death Row" or otherwise incarcerated. The lack of drama means their ego is not served either.

Separation, via incarceration, should be done in order to remove the problem. Parole should be non-existent. I'm pretty good with permanence here, with the option for the convict to seek and be granted painless death - that makes financial sense.

Elimination, through painless injection, is the most practical of solutions, provided we no longer care about the person concerned. If they are not rehabilitation material, or fail at making efforts to be so, then ideally they should just disappear.

Rehabilitation is something that the accused would have to plead for (I mean in the legal sense, not the knee-scraping one). There should have to be a hearing where the convicted felon is able to assert that he or she does have the desire and the intention to be rehabilitated. Then a program should be designed to enable this to be carried out - subject to the prisoner also trying to achieve this. Failure to achieve the necessary changes would mean the prisoner reverts to incarceration (for life) or elimination (through death).

All this messing about with half-half solutions results in no benefit to anyone, and a cost to the nation that it should not have to back. A clean open approach as to what is required is necessary, and then very clear ways to carry out those requirements need to be put in place.

I know there are lots of "but what about...?" situations.  I really haven't put a study together on it.  I'm just not a believer in revenge.

Definitely depends on the person... some people can deal with life imprisonment better than others. But I'll echo the statement of many and say somewhere in between for added effect. Which is to say, keep them solitary so they can live with their thoughts for a while, loom the death sentence over their head, and if they don't kill themselves go ahead and quietly execute them later.

I am opposed to the death penalty for many reasons; but one of them is that I regard life in prison as the greater punishment.  After all, if death is a punishment, it's one we ALL must face, eventually.  But, for most of us, death is an end to the wonders and rewards of life.  For condemned killers, it is a release from the horrors of prison.  I prefer that they continue to experience these horrors, knowing that they will never be free from them.  Until they die.  

@Gallup's Mirror - I don't believe in the death penalty, especially for the likes of thesetwo, it would be too quick for the horrendous crimes they committed. I take it from the victim's point of view. Can You imagine the terror and pain these three went through. This was not an oops moment, a decision gone wrong, this was pre-meditated, and ongoing torture. Who died first, of the other two, what did they see? Their mother raped, or the eleven year old raped????

No, death is not too stark, it is just too quick, I want revenge in these situations. I don't care if they are rehabilitated or not. The husband and father will live with this for the rest of his life, his life is over. How could anyone get past this.

These men didn't think of anybody else while raping and pillaging. Not even their own families, let alone the family they were killing.

Nup, death is too good for these two.

I don't believe in the death penalty,

I agree. When I mention this, some have assumed I'm against the death penalty because I'm 'soft' on crime and punishment. But it's for the exact opposite reason. I want the hardest possible punishment for these men and I want them alive to experience it fully.

Is life without parole, heavy on the solitary, the hardest it gets? Maybe not. But I do think it's a harsher punishment than execution.

Nup, death is too good for these two.

The courts issue execution sentences with the statement "May God have mercy on your soul". That's what bothers me. The court essentially leaves the punishment to an imaginary friend in the sky in an imaginary afterlife. Does that not also make the punishment imaginary?

Life without parole is slow death by incarceration. Death by lethal injection is a quick path to nothingness. I agree the latter is too good for these two.

Anybody who wants to read about what they did -

Death is too easy. Solitary confinement is better. But not just confinement alone. Mix with it some physical labor. That way they hate their life every day. Hard labor digging a ditch, then covering it up and digging it again. Or other mundane activities. 
I grew up a little gang-banger. Was sentenced to 20 years for armed robbery when I was only 19 yrs old. I did 16 years of that 20 year sentence. Was released about six years ago. I now own my own company and have a family.

My point is ... death is easy. Living everyday and not knowing if you will ever live long enough to see freedom really sucks. Prison sucks. Confinement sucks the worst because then you have no illusions of escape (such as TV or so-called friends or what have ya). You're just stuck with yourself in a 9x12 cell in and day out. 

Can always do the sleep deprivation as well. Where they wake you up every hour... called a wellness check. That will drive a man insane. No ... there are plenty of things that can be done to make a man regret what he has done. I think killing him defeats the purpose. He learns nothing in death.

Sometimes these two ...revenge would be sweet. Just get some lifers to rape them and then burn them alive. Crime dictates the punishment. But they still wouldnt learn.

@David Whatley

Welcome to TA and thanks for your enlightening comments. I have a question about what you wrote, if you don't mind answering it.

Living everyday and not knowing if you will ever live long enough to see freedom really sucks.

Imagine life without possibility of parole. Which would be worse? Not knowing if you'll be free again? Or knowing you'll never be free again?

@Gallup's Mirror

Knowing you'll never be free again allows you to change your mind-set. If you think you will get out again ...then you can't allow yourself to become institutionalized. The minds of those doing a life sentence and those that are not, are different in many ways. If I know, beyond a doubt, that I'm stuck in prison for the rest of my life ... then I will make it my home. 

@David Whatley

 I understand and agree with what you said but for the phrasing of one thing:

"If you think you will get out again ...then you can't allow yourself to become institutionalized."

 I don't think becoming "institutionalized" is a choice. There are a lot of reasons for this. One reason that comes to mind is that some people are in the system since early childhood and simply graduate from "Children's Home" to youth lock up, treatment, psychiatric wards, jail and prisons.

 Ideally one wouldn't become institutionalized and of course it would be smart to work against becoming just that but those traumas run deep.

@jared manley

@Gregg R Thomas

Being institutionalized is a choice. Although it may seem to most that people in those circumstances may be a victim of circumstance. But that's not true. 

I've been the system since I was 8 yrs old. First then I was arrested for was for assault & battery. Next, was three counts of arson. Burglary, grand theft auto, armed robbery, and dozens more. 

I've been in youth development centers, halfway houses, juvenile detection center, work camps, wilderness programs, reform schools, and prison. I've been in gangs (Aryan gangs) most of my life. I've been dirt most my life ...and knew the whole time but didn't care. 

Because I grew up in the system ... it was a joke. My home life sucked. When I went to adult prison for the first time (age 15 as a Youthful Offender), a lot of the guys that were there I had done time with before in the juvenile programs so I knew them. Didn't have to prove myself ...a lot already knew I was a scrapper, been fighting since 11 yrs old. Went to prison the second time when I was 17. Then returned was I was 19 and didn't get out until I was 35. That was about six years ago.

About 10 years ago (age 31), I woke up one morning in my cell and realized I would not be able to raise a family while in prison. The same was true regarding ownership of any business. I was gonna have to decide ... freedom? Or confinement? I chose freedom. Then I had to make my mind up about my life style. Gangster/Thug/Racist/Dirt-bag ... or get educated in order to get an actual job. I chose education. 

Started to slowly wing my so-called friends off. Became more and more isolated in order to study the free world. Styles, cars, hair, make-up, grammar ... everything changed since I first went inside. Then I was released.

It was a little bit of a shock. Everything you used to think was cool and hip was garbage. Babies and kids have years to mock and play and learn. I had to know it now or I was not gonna fit in or at the least be sociable without people thinking you're nuts or too different. So I went to crowded places a lot ... so I can see people mingle. Paid attention to everything. Refined myself. Watched others and decided ...which traits do I keep and which ones look ugly or prejudicial or rude. I decided to become the ever-changing social norm.

I needed a license. I never had a driver license. Was in a high-speed chase at age 14 that ended in a crash. No one was hurt thankfully, but my license was suspended until I was 17 years old and I owed a bunch or restitution (thousands). Since I didn't have the money, I never paid for the restitution before I went to prison at 19. There I was at 35 years old with no license. 

Got a job working at a pizza joint. Saved my money, paid off my license. Now I had a license but no car. So I went to work for a pool service company. They taut me how to do the chemicals and about the pool equipment. As a bonus, I was allowed to drive the truck home. So everyday I drove the truck, did my pools, and made stops along my route if I needed anything so no one would know. 

Then I met the love of my life. We moved in together and she became pregnant. Now I have a daughter. Wife has a good paying job now. I learned what there was to learn and started my own pool service and repair company. Its growing every month. I started with 12 pools. I now have 86 pools. Average pool pays $70 a month (not including repair work). Not rich, but a nice start to success hopefully. 

When I was released after serving 16 years in prison for some mindless stupid armed robberies, it started to dawn on me how fast life travels. The rat race is not slow and it doesn't listen to your needs. It moves ... you either get with the program or get left behind. 


My point is ... although some may well be a product of their environment, or a victim of circumstance, most people in prison will have to decide (and they will all come to that crossroad) to either keep down the same path that got them there or change. To continue acting the same way ... or change. Keep the same state of mind ... or change. For some, change is too hard. Or they are too scared because they fear the unknown. Not to mention the enormous amount of pressure. In prison, you just have to survive. Not that hard depending on your social status and how you carry yourself. In the free-world the pressure comes from everywhere. For every dollar you earn it seems like three people have their hand out wanting more money. If I don't work my family don't eat. Scary thought. I worry about rent, car payment, insurance, health, kids health, daycare, phone, lights, and the list goes on. Ridiculous. It was easier just surviving in prison. I use to hear that prisoners were cowards or how they take the easy way out. I use to laugh at them. Now ...prison is easy compared to being a provider and a business owner (which I learned that I traded 1 boss for 86). 


Being institutionalized is the same as giving up. Not everyone that is institutionalized has given up, but most fit that description. Some are on drugs or simply can't cope with reality itself. After spending so long with the same friends and guards and routine's easy to say no to change. Routine brings comfort and familiarity. Other than watching your back ...there's no fear. It's really hard out here ... until it's not ... for one reason or another. 

I didn't really have a lot of help. Everyone I knew was married with kids or dead or was scared of me or just didn't want an ex-con around. Or they were still doing illegal stuff and I didn't want anything to do with those sorts anymore.

I chose not to be institutionalized. I chose to change my life in order to have a life. Others can to.


@ David W.

You Sir are one of the few.  It take balls to step into the unknown, you do us all proud.

Thanks for sharing your story.

I wish you much success with your life.



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