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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I hate to point this out to you but you are comparing Murder to Self-defense, two very different things. Not a good analogy at all, sorry.

it is not an analogy, I am not comparing it I clearly stated that it was different.

@ Sarah, I must be missing something, you wrote this:

Sometimes, for example if someone is trying to kill you first and you end up killing them instead, that would be a redeemable person because they really would not have any intention of ever killing again.

You seem to be referring to the person who defended himself/herself, is that correct? If so then:

Murder is a crime which results in a death.

Self-defense is not a crime if it results in a death.

They are very different acts one criminal one not, I don't quit understand what you're attempting to say (puzzled).

Actually, you are clearly implying that someone who exercises self defense is committing a crime by stating that they can be "redeemable" because they wouldn't "have any intention of ever killing again", which is ridiculous.  First, just because I have defended myself once with deadly force, does not, in any way suggest that I won't do it again. Second, I would never accept that I need "redemption" just because I was forced to defend myself and my family with deadly force.  I have no problem at all taking another person's life in the act of self defense and have no respect whatsoever for people who don't have the courage to defend themselves and their loved ones, yet expect others to puck up the slack.

I would consider death the worse outcome of the two. Life is limited as it is; I would rather not have it shortened unnecessarily. While there are depths of despair which would almost certainly lead me to commit suicide, I speculate that living the remainder of my life in incarceration doesn't qualify. There would have to be some additional punishment on top of that. If I am wrong, I could probably find the means to end myself, and even if not, engineering different suicide attempts would give me something interesting to do.

My position is that we should NEVER, EVER - under ANY circumstances - unnecessarily take the life of another human being (and I personally extend that to a number of other species).

And furthermore, I would argue that it inexcusable to condemn someone to incarceration without also taking that time to try to help them become a better person during that incarceration (psychotherapy & education for example, they can decline it but it should be made available and I think some form of degree should be a requirement for exiting prison for violent offenders).  NO PERSON should be subjected to abuse (period, no beatings nor rape -- I'm disgusted by people who get enjoyment out of the idea that someone will be raped in prison) or unnecessary force during incarceration either.  I'll grant that sometimes force is necessary to restrain someone to prevent them from harming others (or sometimes even themselves) and that sometimes injuries are going to happen, but they should be accidents.  Purposefully harming someone who is powerless to prevent it is just inexcusable barbarism - it doesn't make you a good person if you're doing it out of a false sense of retribution.

That said, if ANYONE wishes to calmly and rationally decide to end their life I think they should be given that option.  This does NOT include people who are acting irrationally, nor does it include children for the same reasons that such persons cannot enter into legally binding agreements.

It comes down to bodily autotomy - if there is but one thing a person should retain control of (assuming they are in possession of the faculty of reason - otherwise someone else must be their proxy, acting in their best interest), it is the ultimate disposition of their own body (and that includes ones mind).

The 'worst' thing I can imagine from *my* 'atheistic' perspective is ceasing to exist because I believe this time, right now, is the ONLY time the *I* that is *me* has a chance to exist and experience life -- and I feel a sense of duty to try to extend to others a place where they can also experience what life has to offer, even if they have been extremely bad people themselves.  And while I appreciate my life very deeply, I don't fear death and on three occasions in my life, I believed that it was very near and it hasn't changed my perspective (the first time as a child falling from a high cliff, the second as an adolescent on LSD [also one of the peak joyous experiences of my life, second only to the birth of my son], and the most recent was a motorcycle accident).  In that most recent case I had this sense of having failed my loved ones in that I wouldn't be able to do all the things I had intended for them.

We currently lack the technology to bring people back on the occasions when our certainty has failed us (as it has many times with the death penalty).  Ask me again if that changes.

I do believe in corrective punishment (I do NOT believe in spanking or hitting children, ever, for any reason - nor the psychological damage constantly screaming at them or belittling them does) but I think that our system of incarceration is clearly not working.  We need to work on improving the lives of those in need in our society and when that fails them we need to work on assisting them in getting back to be a productive member of society.  What we do TODAY however is ensure that once a criminal (and we've cleverly ensured that tens of millions of previously non-violent minority 'drug' users will be labeled as such and become violent criminals) you cannot get housing assistance, food, education, or a job -- which has to be among the STUPIDEST things any society has ever undertaken and the results speak for themselves.

What I think we should be doing is making them get an education, making them work at specific jobs, and getting them to a place where they CAN care for themselves and their families (if that applies).

But this is a by-product of a hate-filled society that feels that, at all costs (and it does cost them dearly) we must be 'tough on crime' - which really means we're prepared to abuse the heck out of criminals while ignoring the massive war crimes our government is committing in places like Iraq.  But hey, a few tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqi's isn't our problem, right.  We have three people who were murdered to deal with!   Who is really the greater criminal - the one who murders three people because they really cannot control themselves or the systematic and purposeful murder of tens of thousands in a carefully thought out and legally defined fashion?  One is surely easier to point the finger at, because it doesn't point back to ourselves.

In the end it comes down to love, empathy, and compassion.

Damn, that was a lot of typing.

Here is where you can watch a video or two for a bit of insight into what prisons are really like.

Pondering the comments about rehabilitation, I'm not sure why it's relevant if the topic is "Execution or life without Parole" so I didn't include my views on Rehabilitation in my earlier post.

Tthat doesn't mean as another post suggests that everybodies way of thinking here is throw anyone  in a hole and we should all be ashamed for not looking at rehabilitation instead of punishment  LOL .

The fact is people do horrible things people go to Gaol and in some places sadly they are put to death.

There does seem to be  a presumption that no one wants them rehabiltated so I'd like to address (clear that up) . I'm for Rehab!

  Personally  I'd like to see literacy mandated in all correctional centres, Not sure how it works where others are but  in Australia you are "offered" to learn to read and write, and various other educational courses to improve vocational rehabilitation and choice making skills whilst you do your time ....

I do think one DOES NOT have good choice making skills if one is guilty and has ended up in prison so once they are there how about some basic "must do's" maybe it shouldn't be a choice once your in the system?

How can we make prisoners take it up you say?

Well given the law can't make someone learn I figure they already get TV, Internet, priveledges, meals, some even get money for labour whilst inside .

Link it all to make them earn these through Literacy programs, take the rewards away if they don't try.

At the moment they earn rewards  from appropriate behaviour which I find kind of ironic if they had the skills for appropriate behaviour would they be where they are ?

Start at the beginning which is hard work and trying to achieve something to make your behaviour and decision making skills better linking positive behaviour to reward teaches both positive behaviour and in this case the side effect would be literacy!

I am a firm advocate of higher  literacy levels helping people help themselves and  there is plenty of research that supports that, it helps one climb out of the cycle which is poverty too.

With various friends working in the industry of Gaols here , I have heard from them poverty, low literacy levels , poor role models and harsh backgrounds with little or no opportunity are quite common traits  of most hardened criminals they've dealt with. That's by no means excusing them. (let me note). But it does give us a rehabilitation starting point .

However I do note the point another contributer made whilst the law allows us to lock someone up for Life are we flogging a dead horse teaching lifers anything? Because the questions becomes what for and for how much dollars?

Either way the question was Execution or life without Parole , I definately as per my last entry am not for execution so I'm trying to think about rehabilitation and it's uses for a lifer hmmmm (outside the box) ...

Maybe rehab for a lifer will make a prison guards work day smoother?

Teach the Prisoner Literacy ?

Maybe literate lifers can be mentors or helpers to illiterate prisoners not their for life ?

It certainly could in the long term change the experience (culture) of learning more bad shit from other baddies in prison so to speak ....

Personally, I find the death penalty dangerous and immoral. Too many innocent people or mentally challenged people have been killed at the hands of the state. That being said, I find that life in prison would be much more gruesome than execution. Execution is short... They inject you and it's over. With a life sentence, the criminal is reminded of his acts every day. He or she is punished consistently. I enjoyed your perspective on how belief in the afterlife may change one's perspective. If I believed in hell, I might see it differently, at least with regards to the punishment question. However, I could never condone the execution of an individual, regardless of his or her crimes.

I guess they could be physically tortured for the rest of their natural lives. 

Hi David.  Thanks for having the courage to share your story. And congratulations on getting your life turned around. I know it can be extremely hard.

I've never been in prison, but the possibility has been all too real for me.  I have been charged with 7 felonies over my lifetime, luckily none managed to make it to court. I have, on the other hand, been homeless and although it's not nearly the same, it's been a long hard climb from that to being an application developer making $80/year.

I grew up with some major anger-management issues and those can be pretty debilitating. My mother chose to not medicate me and I think that may have been the biggest blessing she could have bestowed on me.  I had to learn to deal with my manic depression related anger on my own, and, luckily for me, I was able to get it under control.  Unfortunately, I know that a lot of people just don't have that sort of self-awareness.  I really think there is a lot we can help people with that wouldn't take that much time, effort or money if we bothered to try.

I know this doesn't hold a candle to your story, but I hope it conveys the idea that everyone has the possibility of making their lives better, if given incentive and direction to do so.

One thing I'd like to poitn out to all the people that think that all the people in prisons are sub-human and don't think that they should be extended any civil treatment is that we are all criminals.  We are all either one mistake, one emotionaly drive decission, one run-in with a corrupt cop (and there are plenty of THOSE out there) away from having a criminal record, so before you decide that people are not "redeemable" because they are low-life criminals, I think the one and only thing that religion actually expresses a good point is the golden rule: how would YOU like to be treated with disdain for the rest of YOUR life because of either a mistake or just because someone of authority decided to railroad you because they just didn't like your face?

I'm no angel but I was never arrested for committing a crime therefore that would seem to indicate I never did anything illegal, which would be my position if ever asked under oath.

Our criminal system does not work, David got 20 years for armed robbery, 3 guys I ran with (I wasn't there that night) stabbed a young man to death, left him in a ditch to bleed out and that's where his body was found the next day.

The guy who did most of the stabbing got 5 years the other 2 got 3 years each, all three were paroled early.

Most hard guys I have known have a "Dirt Line", there are just some things they won't do, the two asswipes mentioned in the first post that started this thread, crossed my "Dirt Line" and need to be put down.

But it ain't up to me.

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