The Barbarism of Capital Punishment

The Barbarism of Capital Punishment

Aidan Phillips, Editor

Brandon Bernard was only 18 years old when he was tried for murder. Bernard committed a terrible crime in Texas in 1999. He was charged and convicted in a double homicide of a couple, whose bodies were burned in the trunk of his vehicle. The couple, Todd and Stacy Bagley, were on their way home from a church service when they were robbed and murdered by five teenagers, Bernard being one of them. However, the guilt of Bernard in this case has been questioned. The decision to charge Bernard for murder, rather than just as an accomplice, rested on the debate of whether or not it was Bernard who killed the couple by burning them in his car, or if the couple was already dead from gunshot wounds inflicted by a co-defendant in the case, Christopher Vialva. Evidence showed Todd Bagley likely died instantly from the gunshot, while evidence was inconclusive for Stacy Bagley. Bernard maintained that he was meant to be a getaway driver in a robbery gone horribly wrong, and has since repeatedly expressed great remorse for his actions. He claims he only burned the car with the bodies and evidence due to intimidation coming from others in the group. The fairness of Bernard’s trial has also been questioned.

During his initial trial, Bernard’s lawyers were underprepared and did not give opening statements, and no witnesses were called to testify by his lawyers in the penalty stage. Bernard was a young African-American man in 1999 with only one African-American on the twelve person jury, and today, five of the nine living jurors from Bernard’s case say they would not have found Bernard guilty of the crime due to new questions surrounding the case and new evidence unknown at the time. At the time of writing, Bernard has been in prison for over 20 years. At the time of publishing, Brandon Bernard is dead. He was executed by lethal injection on Dec. 10.

In July, Donald Trump ended a 17-year hiatus on federal executions. Only three federal executions had happened in the last half century, but in just the last few months, eight people have been executed and five more have been scheduled to be executed before Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20 of 2021. Trump has even expressed that firing squads and electrocution ought to be used to speed up and streamline the process. An unprecedented spree of executions are taking place throughout the United States, and Brandon Bernard’s story is not the only one. Julius Jones is another man with a similar story. Julius Jones is a man who was sentenced to death for murder in 2002, despite him not matching the description of the murderer, having a credible alibi, and allegations of racist misconduct directed at Jones throughout the trial, with Jones being an African-American man. Julius Jones may die soon in Oklahoma despite possibly being innocent. Both Bernard and Jones were men who were possibly not guilty of the crime which got them the death penalty, yet Bernard has been executed and Jones is set to be executed soon. 

There are three primary issues with capital punishment: it takes the life of a human being when it is not necessary to do so; the process of executing someone is extremely costly; and many innocent people end up being executed. The killing of another human is an action which is only acceptable if it is absolutely necessary to defend the lives of yourself and or others. The death penalty does not defend people from anything, it takes the life of someone who has already been removed from society to protect others. It may give the criminal what they “deserve,” but capital punishment will not bring back the life of the victim or victims, nor will it protect anyone from future harm. There is no evidence to suggest the existence of capital punishment deters violent crime. Pursuing and carrying out capital punishment often times costs far more than sending someone to life prison. Adding up the cost of a death penalty trial, the cost of appeals, the cost of incarceration on death row, the cost of the execution, and other expenses throughout the process, the cost of executing someone can be five times that of giving someone life in prison. A greater financial burden is placed on taxpayers for the death penalty. Furthermore, it is estimated that at least four percent of death row inmates are not guilty, according to a study done by the National Academy of Sciences. Capital punishment can and will put innocent people to death. If those who were not guilty on death row in the past had been given life in prison, they could have been freed, but being executed prevented them from possibly being freed in the future.

There is no reason for the death penalty to still exist. The only possible positive that comes from capital punishment is a subjective victory that comes with ending the life of someone who people may view as deserving of death. One can have the view that someone deserves to die for a terrible crime they have committed, and that view would not be unreasonable. However, the question is whether or not the government has the authority and ability to put people to death. The government does not have the ability to always properly carry out the death penalty, and the government does not have the authority to execute someone because it is not necessary in order to protect the lives of others. Over 100 other countries have fully abolished the death penalty, and the United States ought to do the same.


Sources: VICE, Associated Press, Death Penalty Information Center, National Academy of Sciences, Vox