Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC NEWS
 You are in:  Talking Point
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
Forum 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 


Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

SERVICES 
Friday, 15 March, 2002, 11:55 GMT
The death penalty: Is it ever legitimate?
Tracy Housel has become the first British man to be executed in America for seven years.

The 43-year-old was given a lethal injection and certified dead at 0028GMT on Wednesday (1928 local time) in prison in Jackson, Georgia.

Housel had been on death row for 16 years after he admitted raping and strangling 46-year-old Jeanne Drew during a two-week homicidal spree in 1985.

Can the death penalty ever be a legitimate option?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction


We are living in a politically correct world where the do-gooders rule the roost

Amanda, UK
Re: Martin's (UK) comment. Thank goodness for people like you! You are completely right; we are living in a politically correct world where the do-gooders rule the roost. We are almost at a stage now where the victim is the one with little or no support whilst the criminals get the support and rehabilitation to "get them back on the straight and narrow". If you were attacked or someone broke into your house and you fought back, the likelihood is that it would be you in prison whilst they got community service. The death penalty is a good thing for any country, it is a deterrent and with science moving on as much as it is proving who did it should be almost a certainty.
Amanda, UK

I am logically in favour of the death penalty, but overall I am against it, because I do not want to live in a country whose state kills people, for whatever reason. So no, I do not think it is ever legitimate.
Amy Green, UK

To Jack from Georgia. A very egocentric viewpoint. You expect us to stand " shoulder to shoulder" with you whilst your country interferes in foreign politics through brute force, but we aren't allowed to even comment on the use of the death penalty in your country? Very strange.
Steph, UK

I agree with the death penalty but I also believe that it is the easy option for the criminals. They should be given just enough food and just enough water to keep them alive and then tortured like they tortured their victims.
India Chohan, UK

I do not agree with the death penalty for 2 reasons. The first being the chances of someone innocent being put to death. The second is that it is an easy way out for the guilty. Perpetrators of heinous crimes like Roy Whiting who murdered Sarah Payne, should be made to serve, suffer and look themselves in the mirror every day. Life behind bars for this human rubbish should be a living hell, not a health club.
ARF, UK


What right has our Government to decide that the voters are wrong?

Malcolm, UK
Since there seems to be little chance of agreement on this controversial subject, isn't it one where the majority view has to prevail? Especially since that popular view has remained steady over the years. What right has our Government to decide that the voters are wrong? Well done to the American justice system, and let's have a referendum on reintroduction for the UK.
Malcolm, UK

The death penalty is not considered to be a Christian act and so my opinion is that Americans cannot class themselves as Christians if they believe this is a way to behave. God did not tell us to take revenge on others. It is not also an appropriate way to behave from a country such as America which is looked at from around the world as a focal point for other countries to base their laws. God will judge Americans who believe in the death penalty in the same harsh way for any of their mistakes in life.
Albert Malik, UK

It has clearly not occurred to Steven Wey that the reason 90% of Alabama's death row cells are occupied by black prisoners is because black citizens commit 90% of Alabama's murders. Being politically correct is all very well - but for Steven's argument to carry any useful weight it needs to be statistically correct too.
Chris B, England


Murder by the state is no different than murder by the individual

Daveyb, UK
Of course the death sentence is justifiable - I mean - just look at the US crime statistics -it is obviously such an effective deterrent. By the way, detected the tone of sarcasm yet? Murder by the state is no different than murder by the individual. ANY country that still thinks that this is an effective way to address crime is stuck in the 18th century. It is revenge, pure and simple. For a Christian country, not a very Christian attitude. What happened to the lesson about not casting stones / turning the other cheek? Or is that bit just not in American Bibles? Oh and by the way, Housel WAS a UK citizen and so DID deserve our intervention. It is just a shame that he grew up in a country run by ignorant barbaric hypocrites.
Daveyb, UK

The death penalty is legalised murder. Murder is never justified. It adds to the sum of evil in the world and we need to increase the sum of good. A powerful force conveying this message is the Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation in the USA - relatives of murder victims who have learned that "closure" and peace come from overcoming the desire for revenge and that we honour the dead not by committing murder in their name but by goodness: love, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption which can lead us to a world without violence. Killing is wrong - no matter who does the killing.
Virginia Wenzel, UK

A number of the arguments put forward here in favour of the death penalty are fundamentally flawed. Most murders are not premeditated and it is not common that murderers will re-offend, thus the 'They chose to take a life etc' argument will not stand. Those who seek a biblical justification for their thirst for vengeance do so relying on a misreading of the Old Testament passage, and a complete lack of appreciation for the fact that the New Testament, which advocates turning the other cheek, and condemns notions of revenge. Finally, the key reason why the Death Penalty will never be legitimate is the risk of state sponsored killing resulting in the loss of an 'innocent life'. For all those who presume that this is an acceptable risk, and even seek to quantify it in terms such as 1 in 100, I ask, What if that one was you?
Anonymous, UK

Peter from the Netherlands, "Sub-Sahara" Africa did not hang anybody till the British "civilised" them. And there are more state executions in Algeria and Egypt than in the whole of "black" Africa combined. Separate your emotions from your facts.
Austin Amadasun, Nigeria


Who are we to decide who should live or die?

Brendan McGowan, Ireland
For any actions, there are consequences. For serious crimes, there should be serious consequences. BUT: Who are we to decide who should live or die? Yes, many who live deserve death. But many who die deserve life - can we give it to them?
Brendan McGowan, Ireland

To Jon Cooper (and to others who see a theological basis for the death penalty) who writes that he feels no sympathy towards murderers and that it puzzles him why people with an obviously compassionate nature who try and help death row inmates don't focus their efforts on more deserving causes. Isn't that the whole point about compassion and mercy? It is easy to show it towards those who deserve it but not so easy towards those who seemingly don't. However it strikes me that when Jesus said, "love your enemies" that was exactly what he meant.
Jane, Wales, UK

The death penalty must be kept. There are some crimes for which only death penalty is a respective punishment. To me, these crimes are terrorism, some kinds of murders and assaults. If there is no "fearful" punishment in the society criminals become too bold because they feel their impunity.
Natalie Paramonova, Russia

"An eye for an eye and the world would be blind." - Gahndi
Mike Leverington, UK

1

Such visceral responses are not a sound basis for law.

Tim Heffernan, USA
The death penalty remains a part of American justice solely because American voters want it to. Candidates for elected positions almost universally support the penalty because voters almost universally approve of it. This despite its obvious failures (numerous innocents have been freed recently, almost all of them black men) and clear legal, practical, and moral weaknesses. Of course, we all want to see murderers get killed; that's human nature. Such visceral responses are not a sound basis for law, however; or, if they are, they demand an equally visceral administration of punishment. Right now, we execute our murderers behind closed doors, where their deaths are effectively beyond the public's comprehension. I wonder how the average American would feel about the death penalty if he was ordered to do the executing himself?
Tim Heffernan, USA

I don't believe the death penalty needs to be a deterrent. These people have no conscience anyway and probably assume they'll get away with it. To me its meant to say, as you devalued that person's life, so now is your life devalued. I can only seem to view from the victim's point of view. I immediately feel the helplessness and sheer horror these people must feel in their finally moments as their life is given zero value by the murderer and is maliciously taken from them. Most murder circumstances make me ill. Unfortunately, in Texas, the death penalty can only be applied to multiple murders, of a child younger than 6, of a police officer or murder while committing a felony. Consequently many murderers such as Patrick Richardson who strangled his wife and slashed her throat several times in front of his three young children (one of the boys will probably be forever traumatized by the fact that he ran and got the scissors to "help mama" because she couldn't breath. The father took the scissors from him and then slashed and stabbed her) will probably end up paroled.
Suzanne, Texas, USA


Murderers determine their own fate.

Kathy Drawdy, USA
To abolish the death penalty in the USA would only serve to tie the hands of the states while leaving murders free to kill and kill again. Murderers like Tracy Housel follow no rules but their own and would kill again if given opportunity. If a murderer is given life imprisonment only, he still has LIFE, something his victims didn't. Consider the last hours of his victims life and the terror and suffering they must have felt. Murderers determine their own fate. When they take the life of someone else, they make the choice.
Kathy Drawdy, USA

The death penalty should be administered in full public view, preferably on national television. The horror of seeing it might restore it as an effective deterrent.
Mark, USA

The death penalty can't be right if the quality of your lawyer decides whether you live or die. Full stop.
Volker, England (ex Germany)

I am against the death penalty. Until we have a foolproof justice system where we get the verdict right 100% of the time, the risk of killing an innocent person is too high. One life wrongly taken is too high a price. However, if you commit a crime in a foreign country you are subject to their laws. If you commit murder in Texas you know that the penalty could well be the death penalty. I don't really see why being British exempts you from the laws and due process of that country. If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.
Deborah Grieves, UK


It is the punishment for a crime

George Estrada, USA
The death penalty is not and should not be a deterrent. It is the punishment for a crime. When a person violates the human rights of another person by killing them, then they lose all claims to any human rights. Tracy Housel committed a crime and now he has paid, considering the way his victims died, he got off easy.
George Estrada, USA

If you don't think capital punishment is politically motivated just look at Southern US states like Alabama. Over 90% of people on death row and in prison in some states are black.
Stephen Wey, UK

I have always believed the purpose of the justice system was twofold: To punish and to rehabilitate those who commit crimes. The US justice system is very good at the part on punishing, but not so good on rehabilitation. The death penalty makes that even more difficult.
Shannon, Canada

It is interesting to note that Bermuda still carries the death penalty by way of hanging. Hasn't been used in a long time, mind.
Jim, Bermuda

Moral arguments aside, it costs less money to lock them up for life with no possibility of parole than to execute them.
Bob, USA


The death penalty will make perpetrators responsible for their own actions

John Yiu, Hong Kong
The death penalty can't be a deterrent to criminal activities but it will make perpetrators responsible for their own actions. So I think the death penalty is legitimate in Tracy Housel's case.
John Yiu, Hong Kong

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the death penalty, the British Government has no business interfering in the US or any other country's judicial processes.
Andy, UK

Andy's comment that the UK government should not 'interfere' in US law enforcement processes, where Britons are involved is ridiculous. As a Briton abroad I expect my country to support me in cases where the judicial system may be wrong and need looking at more closely. In the case of Housel, I am glad he got the death penalty. He did the crime, he confessed and eventually got the appropriate judgement.
Tim, USA (From UK)

In Europe, the death penalty now exists only in Turkey - and the last actual execution there was nearly twenty years ago. Russia, the Ukraine and most other parts of the former Soviet Union have all abolished it. Which leaves the US in the uncomfortable company of other primitive societies like China, the Koreas, the Islamic countries and sub-Saharan Africa.
Peter, Netherlands

An eye for an eye...
Martin, England

To Martin from England: Presumably by quoting "an eye for an eye" you're attempting to invoke some kind of theological support for capital punishment. What a shame it isn't forthcoming. Check Matthew 5:38, where Jesus makes it clear what he thinks of "an eye for an eye":

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, also give him your coat. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you."

By the way, I'm not religious, and one reason for that is because religion has this way of twisting what people said...
Nick Brown, France


If a person knows the punishment for breaking a law, he has no right to complain after the event

Simon, UK
If a person knows the punishment for breaking a law, he has no right to complain after the event. It was, after all, his choice whether to commit the crime. Furthermore, the deterrence argument seems to be distorted by the do-gooders. As youngsters, we were all terrified of the idea of killing someone - even accidentally. The concept of being hanged was appalling. We never even considered risking it. Finally, the argument of madness is frequently used. Execution is the only safe answer here. What - as they say - do you do with a mad dog??
Simon, UK

What you Brits do with your criminals is none of my business and I will not comment on whether or not I think the UK should reinstate the death penalty. Likewise, I would expect the same from you. I was deeply troubled that our closest friend overseas would want to step in and interfere with the punishment of a man who was no more a Briton than I am and who brutally raped and murdered one of my fellow citizens. It could have been my wife, my mother, my sister, my daughter, when I think of it in those terms I am proud of the state in which I live and justice was indeed served last night. Best regards and thanks to the UK for your overall support and friendship.
Jack, Georgia, US

I come from Michigan in the US and am proud that the state of Michigan has never executed anyone. The penalty there for first degree murder is life in prison without any possibility of parole. Only a pardon from the governor can get a convicted murderer out of prison and that has rarely ever happened in the history of the state. The only way these people ever get out of jail is in a hearse after they have died a natural death. The answer is prison for life and meaning it!! Not prison for life and getting an early release. Just sit there and rot until you die. That is a fine punishment for such people.
Mark Spielman, France


The occasional mistake is a price worth paying

Shaun, Teignmouth UK
There is no easy answer here but one thing is certain. The ever increasing leniency that has been shown to offenders at the expense of the victims for the last 30 years or more has led to much higher levels of actual crime. This trend has to be reversed, and I for one feel that the risk of the occasional mistake is a price worth paying when you balance it against the greater good for society at large that would arise as a result of reintroducing the death penalty. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the do-gooders have had their chance and patently failed. If we kill 100 convicted murderers we risk maybe one or two innocents being killed humanely. If we imprison then release them we risk multiple innocent lives subsequently being taken, some of them brutally. Figure the odds and it becomes a much easier decision.
Shaun, Teignmouth UK

Surely there is more to modern society than a simple mathematical equation? If all that matters is the number of lives lost or saved, then driving cars would be made illegal, as would smoking, as would the eating fatty foods. Surely there are fundamental values - such as the freedom of the individual and the sanctity of life - to be taken into account as well?
Matt, UK

Where would the Birmingham Six be with the death penalty in place? And if you feel that the death of a few innocents is worth getting rid of all the other murderers, what happens if that innocent is you?
Niall, Scotland


The US is to be congratulated on upholding the will of the people

Matthew, UK
Seeing as the majority of public opinion in the US and the UK supports the death penalty, the US is to be congratulated on upholding the will of the people. Shame on the UK political class. Furthermore, when there are so many suffering innocents in the world, should so much effort be made on behalf of a self-confessed murderer and rapist? At midnight tonight there will be one less evil person in the world. It may not solve many problems but at least it's a step in the right direction. Tony Blair and the EU should be ashamed of themselves for seeking leniency for an evil man.
Matthew, UK

If Tracy Housel is put to death by lethal injection, it will mean justice for the family of Jeanne Drew who was raped and butchered by this man. People seem to have forgotten her in this debate.
Dean Cox, US

The Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the Tottenham Three - that's thirteen innocent people just off the top of my head who would now be dead if capital punishment was still enforced. There are also countless others to numerous to mention. Thank God we no longer have the state sponsored murder of innocent people.
Ryan Sykes, UK

My opinions on the death penalty aside, this man committed the crime in a state that practices the death penalty. He has been found guilty and I fail to see on what grounds we interfere JUST for his benefit. Surely we must be against all instances of death penalty or none. This inconsistent approach is quite odd.
Matthew Swabey, England


By executing criminals society is effectively saying that it is alright to kill

Jonny Moss, England
How we treat our criminals in a measure of a civilised society. By executing criminals society is effectively saying that it is alright to kill. Introducing the death penalty will not reduce the number of people being murdered - which is shown by the fact that the UK murder rate is lower than the US murder rate. It is not how strict a penalty is that deters criminals, but the risk of being caught.
Jonny Moss, England

If we cast aside the moral arguments for a moment, we could learn a lot from "Executioner" the autobiography of Albert Pierrepoint. Pierrepoint stated that he could not think of a single instance where the death penalty served as any form of deterrent. Coupled with this, he draws attention to the invidious influence of political considerations when determining who should die and who should be reprieved. His book is a potent testimony for the abolitionist case.
Peter Sykes, England

I do have an alternative take on this issue: why not make the death penalty optional? A convicted criminal can either spend the rest of their natural life in a prison (no holiday camps please) or be put to sleep. Then no one needs feel guilty.
Steve, UK

We here in Texas often receive the most (and not always unwarranted) criticism concerning the death penalty. I can see both sides of the issue and agree that, in many cases it seems unjustly administered and unnecessary. But then there are some cases in which I can not feel it unjust at all. For example, there was Kenneth McDuff. In the late 60s he was convicted of the murder of two teenagers in the Dallas area. He received the death penalty but, when it was declared unconstitutional in the 70s his sentence was commuted to life. He served his time and eventually, in 1989 he was paroled. He had served his time with no infractions and the parole was completely by the book. By the time he was recaptured and executed in 1998, he had abducted, tortured, raped and killed at least five women, probably more. What do you do with people like Kenneth McDuff? Some may say to keep them in prison forever. Why? Isn't this just a death sentence in its own way? I noticed there were no anti-death penalty activists protesting at his execution.
David, Texas,USA


Death is the backbone of American justice

John, CA, US
I have better things to do with my time and tax dollars than worrying about some scumbag living in a clean quiet cell, getting three square meals a day at my expense. It's very simple in America: if you are destructive to our society (and its people), you will be destroyed. Death is the backbone of American justice, from having armed citizens to state sponsored execution of violent criminals. If one doesn't want to be put to death in America, all one has to do is not kill others in cold blood; I think this is more than fair and quite easy to understand for even the most uneducated deviant. As far as the long wait on death row, some may not know but all death penalty convictions are automatically appealed and subject to possible years of litigation all in the interest of not killing innocent people. Ask anyone who has been pardoned on death row and they will tell you that the wait wasn't that bad after all.
John, Anaheim, Ca, US

This man might deserve to die, but the main problem I see who decides. I wouldn't want that responsibility, and I certainly wouldn't trust another with it.
Merlin, Czech Republic


After Victoria Climbie my opinion has changed

Anon, UK
I never used to agree with it; however after reading about murders that seem to only get more gruesome and horrendous with time I am beginning to think that bringing it back would be a good idea. Certainly there is nothing in the British legal system that is a big enough deterrent from stopping people murdering or attacking others. Our justice system seems to protect the guilty and not the victims and after Victoria Climbie my opinion has changed. These monsters that take lives from others have no regard for other human beings and are in no way fit to be part of society. They show no justice nor mercy for their victims so why should society show them justice and mercy in return?

I definitely believe that if we still had the death penalty in place we would not witness the senseless murders of children by children such as the case of Damilola Taylor. I think we should bring it back - even if there is only one capital punishment in Britain I believe it would be a big enough deterrent to stop children turning to crime. As it stands a rap on the knuckles is not enough - nor is sending them on holidays on taxpayers expense or sending them to detention centres where they have Sky TV and games machines!
Anon, UK

I understand that the murder rate went down in the US when they briefly abolished the death penalty in the 70s and went back up when they reinstated it. Would any of the string-em-up party care to explain that?
Tony Green, UK

Never, ever. It represents a totalitarian relationship between the government and the people. How can you trust a government that has the power to kill you? It is backward, misguided and sad.
Ruairi, Ireland


The only people who are being punished are his family

James, London
Never mind the fact that this guy was given awful legal advice and is mentally insufficient, by killing him the only people who are being punished are his family. Why should his mother have to see her son killed?
James, London, UK


The majority of the executed are from the poor and destitute classes

Richard Torné, Spain
A society is defined as civilised by its ability to be self-critical and to aspire to a higher level of humanity. There is no possible justification for the death penalty because in the end it's just an exercise in revenge. This emotion is, sometimes, understandable in humans but it is a luxury no state should ever be allowed to exercise. The US is a country so stagnant in its always overly simplistic, comic-book view of the world that it is unable to do exactly what a civilised society should do.

This country also shows how hypocritical it is when one sees that the vast majority of the executed are from the poor and destitute classes of society. Would any powerful, rich American found guilty of murder - however foul - face the death penalty? If anybody can give me an example it would still be anecdotal. The argument that we should also think about the relatives of the murdered as justification is a specious one. I would like to know how many of these relatives can say that they finally achieved inner peace when the murderers were executed. We really have to mature as a species and not think that cathartic gestures are real solutions to the problems we face as "progressive" societies.
Richard Torné, Spain


It brings closure for the victim's family.

Phil, US
Yes, the death penalty is legitimate. It brings closure for the victim's family. Around the world the people support it. The elite few oppose it. Whether your country has the death penalty or not lets you know whether your government reflects the will of the people or the will of the elite few.
Phil, USA


What America should do is bring back public executions

Ralph Hunt, Memphis, US
I'm a strong supporter of the death penalty, but I can understand why some people are against it. What America should do is bring back public executions. Then people can see for themselves if we are truly for or against the death penalty. If people were to watch someone being hung it would give them a more balanced argument.
Ralph Hunt, Memphis, US

Didn't some of the pro-US propaganda shown whilst pursuing the Taleban invite us to hate the uncivilised foreigners a bit more because they performed public executions?
Richy, UK


The deterrent clearly does not work

Sarah, UK
America's seeming unwillingness to retrospectively look at mitigating circumstances in murder trials is extremely worrying. What Tracy Housel did was clearly wrong, but he was not in control of himself at the time the murder was committed and the ineptitude of his defence counsel at the time of his conviction should not be the cause of his death now. The death penalty should never be an option - the deterrent clearly does not work and miscarriages of justice cannot be undone.
Sarah , UK

The death penalty is the ultimate sanction and must always be kept as an option by government. I have witnessed the aftermath of several executions whilst in the PRC (bullet in the head) and these were for hideous crimes. This option must always be available.
Peter, UK

Until there is a way of absolute proof, the death penalty cannot be considered. To take a life when there is a possibility of a mistake makes the court a murderer. To those who advocate the death penalty I ask you this: could you, personally pull the lever to kill your own relative, knowing that they are innocent, but unable to prove it in court of law? If the answer is no, why do you ask someone else to do the same thing? The death penalty is not the answer.
Alex Knox, UK


If I had lost a loved one at the hands of a deranged killer, I would gladly do the killing myself

R Callister, UK
I think in extreme cases, sentencing murderers to death is certainly viable. These animals show no respect for human life, so why should they expect to be shown any in return? Personally, if I had lost a loved one at the hands of a deranged killer, I would gladly do the killing myself. Those taking the moral high ground really ought to think about the families of those victims that have been erased from existence forever, yet see the killer walk free in 10 years. The punishment should fit the crime and society would be stronger and fairer as a result. We all die in the end, but some should die sooner than others.
R Callister, UK

While I would not like to be the one that presses the button, and while I feel that this penalty is contrary to my moral viewpoint, there have been occasions where I can understand the desire to rid the planet of such abhorrent people. Let us not forget that this person stole the innocent life of another. I pray for the soul of this man, as I do the souls of those who have lost, and have yet to lose their lives in this troubled world.
Jon P, UK

Why should murderers, rapists, child abusers etc be allowed to live in a civilised world? Whether behind bars or released to re-offend, people who obviously have no respect for life should not be allowed to ruin ours. Lethal injection, electrocution, gas, all sound like an easy way out to me. Quick and painless beats being raped and murdered!!
Dean, England

People who commit murder should receive their punishment, and if that is death by execution so be it. I have not yet heard of an executed prisoner re-offending. Having said that it should only be used in cases of pre-meditated murder.
Greg, UK

Greg from the UK points out that no one who has been executed has ever murdered again. True. And no one who has been wrongly executed - and nobody seriously denies there have been wrongful executions - has ever walked free. Happily, with so much exculpatory DNA evidence emerging in the last few years, Americans are gradually changing their views on this barbaric practice and coming to realise that the death penalty is not about justice or deterrence, but about base revenge.
Greg, New York

I have always liked the argument, that no executed criminal ever re-offends, which has been proffered by one of the sages contributing to this topic. It reminds me of a comic book character, Judge Death, whose logic ran, all crime is committed by the living, make living a crime punishable by death and there will be no crime.
Andrew Bartlett, UK


Execution doesn't provide any more security for society

Mr Ed, US
To those who say "An executed man never commits another crime," I say neither does one locked up for life. To those who say "It's cheaper to execute than to keep one imprisoned," I say this also applies to any criminal so shall we execute thieves as well? Execution doesn't provide any more security for society than life imprisonment and it doesn't undo the crime, resurrect the victim, or end the pain of families. It does, however, provide opportunity for innocents to be killed and an opportunity for the state to abuse this incredible power. A civilised society has no need for this practice. This is the practice of fascists.
Mr Ed, US

Ideally, you want criminals to regret their crimes, to understand what they've done wrong. In a way, if you kill killers, they don't get a chance to understand the suffering they caused. To this end, the death penalty only works if Hell exists.
Cassandra, UK

As one who does not believe in the after-life, punishment ends with the death penalty. Why not prolong punishment with many years of hard (and I do mean hard) labour. Or is it that the death penalty is the easier option?
Jon Pearce, UK

Its all very well saying that you are against the death penalty, but would your argument change if you were related to the victim?
Dan, Ireland ex UK

This guy murdered, and if let out again, potentially would do so again. I wouldn't want that risk to be an option. Put him to sleep and keep us all from danger. Oh, and while we're on, bring back the death penalty in the UK as well. Murderers are no use to anyone, but present a danger to everyone.
Paul MacLean, Midlands, England

He obviously knew the maximum penalty for the crime he committed. He offended against the laws of America and should be served with American justice. If that is a death sentence, then so be it. He didn't spare his victims the luxury of life.
Dave Allen, London, UK


Making people wait so long on death row anticipating their death is barbaric

Kirsty, UK
Either intentionally killing someone is wrong or it's not. I believe it's wrong whatever the circumstances. I also believe that making people wait so long on death row anticipating their death is barbaric. If someone has committed a truly evil crime locking them up for the rest of their life will stop them from doing it again and would be quite punishment enough. Those who want to kill want it for reasons of revenge which makes them as bad as any murderer.
Kirsty, UK

In this case, yes, the death penalty is justified. This man (for want of a better term) raped and murdered a woman and surely it should be her family who gets our support, not the perpetrator of the crime. He has admitted to being a serial killer, has committed his crime in a country where the punishment does fit the crime. No one can be forgiven for this sort of subhuman activity, and whilst his death will bring little satisfaction to anyone, at least it ensures that he can't carry out any more of these attacks. I realise this may sound extreme, but too much leeway has been given to the criminals, what about the rights of the victims, what about their human rights, and above all their rights to live in a peaceful environment?
Gary, UK

With the science of DNA the death penalty should now be re-introduced into the UK. Criminals have got away with far too much for too long and it is now time for the do-gooders to stand down. They have had their way tried and tested, and proven it does not work. The death penalty should only be used where a life has been taken or attempted to be taken as long as there is DNA proof. It is now time for reform of the judicial system, so why not add this to the courts choice? A permanent non re-offending choice.
Martin, UK

If the death penalty acts as a deterrent, there are less murderers on the streets. If it doesn't there's one less murderer alive. That is not something I'm going to have a moral dilemma about.
James Sellincourt, UK


Presumably the possible consequences of their actions do not occur to murderers when they commit their crimes

Peter Martin, UK
The death penalty is not about deterrent - presumably the possible consequences of their actions do not occur to murderers when they commit their crimes. The death penalty can only ever be about revenge, and we have to make a moral judgement based on that - can revenge ever be justified? Sometimes, I think it can. We also have to remember that advances in science make it much easier to determine guilt than ever before and hopefully prevent the innocent from being wrongfully executed. The Bible says both "an eye for an eye" and also "forgive us our trespasses", so which is right and which is wrong?
Peter Martin, UK

The woman he killed could only be identified through dental records. If this doesn't deserve the death penalty then what does? Look at how many murderers have left prison only to murder once more.
Gareth Paul, UK

The way I see it, you can execute a murderer, or you can lock him/her up for many years. However, it seems overly cruel to do both i.e. lock someone up for 17 years, and then kill them. You can't have it both ways. By British standards, this man has already served a substantial portion of the life-sentence he would have received in the UK for the same crimes. I believe that the US should commute Tracy Housel's sentence to life in prison without parole.
Michael Franks, UK

The death penalty fails to be a deterrent, as can be seen in the US. Miscarriages of justice have occurred in the past, and while the death penalty exists, they will continue to occur. Executing someone costs up to four times as much than incarcerating someone for life.

Those are the practical reasons, which should be enough in themselves, but it must also be seen that execution is state sanctioned murder in revenge. Not justice - revenge. This lowers the judicial system and society to a moral level equal to or lower than the criminal, and so it therefore loses its legitimacy to pass judgement over a citizen and punish them accordingly. This is literally a matter of life and death and so should be decided as objectively as possible, and so obviously without the knee-jerk and overly emotive reactionaries. The sensible option is to discard the idea of capital punishment as the barbaric idea that it is.
Paul M, UK

I feel sick that the Western world can still be having this discussion. It brings out the absolute worst in people. What are we defending if we throw our morals out of the window to deal with people who have committed the ultimate sin by committing the ultimate sin ourselves? That is the point after all; every time someone is killed in the US it is done so in the name of the US people. I for one would feel disgusted if my country were to start killing in my name where other options exist.
Mick, UK


An execution is as much murder as the original crime itself

Roly, Iceland
Surely, by definition, an execution is as much murder as the original crime itself? It amazes me how in the year 2002 certain countries persist in utilising this abhorrent method of "punishment". Furthermore, given the stance on the death penalty by the British Government, I cannot understand how Tony Blair et al can work so closely with the States where this sort of act is commonplace.
Roly, Iceland


Execution following a fair trial is NOT murder - it is justice

Cathy Wilson, US
As a resident of Georgia, and a firm believer in the death penalty, I believe this man should be executed. Execution following a fair trial is NOT murder. It is justice, on behalf of the murderer's victim, who had no say and no extra 15 years to appeal. Incidentally, when did this man first appeal the fact that he was not visited by a British diplomat? Did he wait 15 years to pull this rabbit out of the hat?
Cathy Wilson, US

If the death penalty results in fewer innocent people being killed then it is not only justified, it is required on moral grounds. The question then is whether the death penalty dissuades more people from killing than are killed by mistake. A very unpalatable choice, but one we must make. To say that miscarriages of justice mean that we should not execute people misses the point. We should take the path of greatest overall benefit to society. If there is no clear evidence either way, then we should come down on the side of execution if only for the fact that it is the ultimate punishment. If however there is clear evidence that the death penalty does not save lives then we should not adopt it.
Andrew Torrance, Wales, UK

The death penalty is never an option.
Denise, UK

If society is to survive the increasing wave of crime it needs to send a strong signal to the criminals that killing an innocent person will not be tolerated and their own lives will be forfeit. In this case the man went on a self-confessed murder spree and I think too much time and resources have been wasted on him already. I just wish Amnesty and all those other groups would spend more time defending the rights of victims instead of supporting the criminal which only serves to give support to their actions
John, France


It's time the UK restored capital punishment as well

Garry Ryan, UK
With our burgeoning prison population it's time the UK restored capital punishment as well. Think of all the money saved by not having to guard murderers and other serious offenders. The government could give all this money to the NHS and those of us that are left could enjoy almost eternal life with unlimited health care.
Garry Ryan, UK

In response to Mr Ryan, capital punishment is actually far more expensive than imprisoning an individual for life, because in order to execute somebody millions of dollars has to be spent on appeals and the bureaucracy needed to get that person to the execution chamber. Likewise I can't think of any evidence that shows capital punishment leads to lower murder rates, for example the US has a much higher murder rate than the EU.
Michael, UK

When you have a man locked in a cell, totally under your control, to execute him is murder. I am not religious, but to kill someone who wishes to live, and is no longer a danger to society, can never be justified. Life without parole is as big a deterrent as the death penalty. Also to Garry Ryan, two things, first to justify the death penalty on the grounds of cost savings simply disgusts me. Secondly in America it has been proved that the cost of 10 years of appeals is more expensive than life in prison.
Julian, England

Given the months maybe years of appeal and counter appeal, the death penalty is no longer an efficient deterrent. I agree that if you take a life, you should have yours taken, unfortunately if you don't have the death penalty, you have life imprisonment, which after good behaviour is maybe 30 years. Hardly a life for a life, is it? My point is that the legal system is regulated by groups of people who want to make sure that people who have committed a crime are treated humanely. Why on earth should people who have broken the law, especially murderers, be allowed to exist behind bars with any form of human rights. To effectively deter potential criminals from ever stepping over the legal line penalties have to be so harsh, so unthinkable, that prison should be the last place anyone would want to be.
Craig, England


America hasn't joined us in the 21st century

Steve Hodgson, UK
The death penalty does not bring back the victim. It does not act as a deterrent (see for example the murder rate in the US). It does not even save "tax dollars". It is revenge, pure and simple. I give thanks for living in a civilised country that does not kill its own citizens; it's a shame that America hasn't joined us in the 21st century. They should abolish the death penalty and re-assess their justice system, which in the case of Tracy Housel, has been nothing short of a farce.
Steve Hodgson, UK

Personally if pushed, I don't agree with the death penalty, as I don't feel any of us has the right to end someone's life. However I don't feel so strongly that I would expend any effort on the behalf of people such as Mr Housel. It puzzles me why some people with an obviously compassionate nature who try and help death row inmates don't focus their efforts on more deserving causes. It's hard for me to feel sympathy for murderers, I must be honest.
Jon Cooper, UK


Saying sorry to a wrongly-executed dead man is not enough

John Welford, UK
No - there is no excuse for any civilised country to maintain the barbaric practice of executing criminals, whatever they have done. Leaving aside the moral argument, surely the fact that miscarriages of justice are possible, and are known to have happened, should settle the argument once and for all. Saying sorry to a wrongly-executed dead man is not enough.
John Welford, UK


This man deserves death

Anthony Jones, UK
If there's a chance that the person may be innocent or there is a dispute over evidence then it would be best not to execute them. However, in this case, the murderer freely admits his actions and is trying to get off with a technicality. He isn't even really British, but is just trying to use this to save his neck. If only the individuals trying to get Tony Blair to intervene showed half as much concern for the woman this man brutally murdered. Don't intervene Mr Blair. This man deserves death.
Anthony Jones, UK


Time runs out

Key stories

TALKING POINT
 VOTE RESULTS
The death penalty: Is it ever legitimate?

Yes
 53.97% 

No
 46.03% 

25781 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

12 Mar 02 | Americas
Final hope for death row Briton
12 Mar 02 | Americas
Death-row Briton denied clemency
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Talking Point stories