Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 2001
9 Pages, Grade: 12 Points
2 Short account of the content of the story “Dead Man Walking”
2.1 My opinion of the film
3 Methods of Execution
3.1 States and their methods
4 Timothy McVeight - Oklahoma City Bomber
5 Innocent on Death Row
6 Pros and Cons
When I first saw the film and read the book I already knew the topics I wanted to write about in my paper. The film, on which I’m mostly concentrated, is about the death penalty in the United States of America. That is why I chose to write just about the death penalty in the USA, although it exists in many other countries in the world. After summarizing the content of the story I wanted to show up the following topics:
- The different methods!
- Which states do actually use the death penalty? · An example of a murderer!
- An example of innocent on death row! · Pros and Cons!
- My opinion!
I chose these topics because in my eyes they are the most interesting
aspects when I think of the death penalty! For example I never knew before that the USA actually uses hanging as a method.
Also it’s important to me to show that there are real murderers on death row but also innocent who were sentenced to death.
The book “Dead Man Walking” by Sister Helen Prejean tells the story of how she became the spiritual adviser of at least two death row inmates named Patrick Sonnier and Robert Willie.
Elmo Patrick Sonnier and his little brother Eddie Sonnier killed a teenage couple after raping the girl. David LeBlanc and Loretta Bourque were the Sonnier’s victims.
Patrick got the death penalty and his younger brother Eddie received a life sentence.
Robert Lee Willie and his partner Joe Vaccaro raped and killed Faith Hathaway.
Both, Elmo Patrick Sonnier and Robert Lee Willie died trough the electric chair.1
The film “Dad Man Walking” is based on this book. Tim Robbins who was inspired by this book and mixed up these two inmates Patrick Sonnier and Robert Willie to one person named Matthew Poncelet directed it.
One day Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun who is working in a rural community in Louisiana, receives a letter from a death row inmate named Matthew Poncelet. He’s a white man who is sentenced to death because he and his friend Vitello attacked a teenage couple, Hope Percy and Walter de la Croix, in the forest at night. They raped the girl a few times and then they shot both to death. His friend received a life long sentence and Matthew was sentenced to death. It’s almost his second letter and after she read it, she decided to write him back. After a short while she visits Matthew Poncelet in prison. She talks with him and he asks her if she could help him to file an appeal from the judgement he received. He swears that he is innocent. He tells her that he was there in that night but that his friend Vitello raped the girl and killed the teenager couple. She decided to help him and to reach that his judgement will be commuted into a life long sentence. The lawyer Hilton Barber should help them. But nothing helped and the date for Matthew's execution is set. He calls Sister Helen that evening when they told him the date and asks her to become his spiritual advisor. In his eyes she is the only person, apart from his family, in which he can trust.
The victim’s parents are shocked that Sister Helen supports Matthew, the killer of their children, without visiting and speak to them. That is the moment when Sister Helen first realized how difficult this is. She wants to be the friend of Matthew but also of the victim’s parents but that is impossible. She visits them and tries to find out what they want. She sees the hate in the eyes of the suffering parents who wish the death to Matthew and who can’t wait till the execution takes place.
The day of Matthew's execution comes nearer and nearer. The tough racist he is turns more and more into a nervous little man. He still swears that he didn’t do it.
He wants a Lie Detector Test but it failed.
On the day of his execution he gets another prison cell where every 15 minutes a police officer comes to see if he didn’t commit suicide. He has to say goodbye to his mother and his three brothers and it’s very hard for everyone. Flashbacks of the murder are shown quite often. Shortly before his execution he tells sister Helen that he really raped the girl and that he shot them to death. He asks for forgiveness. The attendants bring him to his execution. Sister Helen walks the last steps with him and prays for him.
He cries. She told him: “I want you to look in my eyes when you die. There you’ll find love.”
And that is what he does. His last words go to the parents of Hope Percy and Walter de la Croix. He excuses for what he did and hopes that it makes them a little more satisfied.
Then the three injections are given. He’s dead.1
In my eyes the film “Dead Man Walking” shows very well both sides of such a story. Tim Robbins did good work by showing the pain of the victim’s families and the pain of the family of Matthew Poncelet. The film doesn’t make it easy to stay in your opinion to the death penalty. When I saw it the first time I thought, “Well, is it right that I support the death penalty?” It made me think about it.
But a friend of mine had the same problem even though she is against the death penalty. After watching the film she thought about being right with the opinion that the death penalty is wrong.
This example shows that the film doesn’t make it easy for both sides.
Whether you are against the death penalty or not isn't important. Everyone thinks about his or her opinion after watching the film. And this is what it makes a brilliant film for me.
In that moment when you begin to feel pity for the murderer, Tim Robbins shows flashbacks about the murder itself. How cruel it was and how the victims suffered.
Then the pity feelings are gone.
In the film I get support for my opinion that every “tough” man on death row becomes a little, nervous man when it’s his life that is in danger. They would never feel this fear when they receive a life long sentence. You can see how the tough racist Matthew Poncelet turns out into a crying little nothing.
Although Tim Robbins is an opponent of the death penalty1it’s not really an anti-death penalty movie.
It shows (as I said) both sides.
In this chapter I will write something about the different methods of execution that are used in the United States of America. The current methods are:1
- Lethal Injection · Electrocution · Gas Chamber · Hanging
- Firing Squad
In the following I will show up each of these five methods.
The Lethal Injection was first used in 1977 in Oklahoma and Texas. Charles Brooks was the first one who died trough the Lethal Injection in December 1982.1
When the Lethal Injection is used, the inmate is tied to a gurney with ankle and wrist retrains.
A Cardiac monitor is attached and shows the heartbeat of the inmate. In each arm is a saline intravenous line and the inmate is covered with a bedcover.
Then the 3 injections are given:
1. Sodium Thiopental to cause unconsciousness
2. Pancuronium Bromide to stop respiration
3. Potassium Chloride to stop the heartbeat3
This procedure resembles to the method which is used in the anaesthesia with the difference that during an execution deadly quantities of these means are given.4
The Electrocution was introduced in 1888 because the state thought it would be more human than Hanging.
The method is the following:
After the inmate is tied to the Electric Chair, the executors fasten dampened copper electrodes to the head and the legs of the prisoner, which were smooth-shaved before in order to guarantee an effective contact between the electrodes and the skin. Then, for short amount of time, strong electric shocks are released. Death occurs by cardiac arrest and paralysis of the respiratory tract.1
The inmate is restrained in a steel chamber that is hermetically sealed. The prisoner is sitting in a kind of pan. When the executioner opens the valve hydrochloric acid flows into this pan. After a while potassium cyanide crystals are dropped into the hydrochloric acid. This produces hydro cyanic gas. This gas destroys the ability to build haemoglobin. If the prisoner holds his breath, it takes longer until unconsciousness occurs. If the prisoner takes a deep breath, unconsciousness happens within a few seconds. Normally death occurs within six to eighteen minutes.2
How long it takes until the inmate dies, is based on the prisoner’s weight. The noose is laid around the prisoner’s neck, and when he drops down the instant death is caused by the dislocation of the third or fourth cervical vertibrae.3
There does not really exist an information about what happens during this procedure. The only thing that is for sure is, that a squad of five men shoot in the same time at the inmate, and just one of them uses a blank bullet. So none can be sure, who of these five men shot the inmate to death.1
These are the five methods that are used in the USA. Other countries in the world (like Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Central Africa) also use beheading and stoning.2
Lethal Injection, Electrocution, Gas Chamber, Hanging and Firing Squad are actually used in the USA. But not every state uses each method. Mostly the Lethal Injection is used, second the Electrocution, third the Gas Chamber, fourth Hanging and last but not least the Firing Squad.
In the following I’ll show you which states are using which methods.
Arizona: Lethal Injection, Gas Chamber
Arkansas: Lethal Injection, Electrocution California: Lethal Injection, Gas Chamber Colorado: Lethal Injection
Connecticut: Lethal Injection *
Delaware: Lethal Injection, Hanging Florida: Electrocution
Idaho: Lethal Injection, Firing Squad Illinois: Lethal Injection
Indiana: Lethal Injection Kansas: Lethal Injection *
Kentucky: Lethal Injection, Electrocution
Louisiana: Lethal Injection
Maryland: Lethal Injection, Gas Chamber Mississippi: Lethal Injection
Missouri: Lethal Injection, Gas Chamber Montana: Lethal Injection
Nebraska: Electrocution Nevada: Lethal Injection
New-Hampshire: Lethal Injection, Hanging * New-Jersey: Lethal Injection *
New-Mexico: Lethal Injection *
New York: Lethal Injection
North Carolina: Lethal Injection
Ohio: Lethal Injection, Electrocution
Oklahoma: Lethal Injection, Electrocution, Firing Squad Oregon: Lethal Injection
Pennsylvania: Lethal Injection
South Carolina: Lethal Injection, Electrocution South Dakota: Lethal Injection
Tennessee: Lethal Injection (since 1999), Electrocution* Texas: Lethal Injection
Utah: Lethal Injection, Firing Squad
Virginia: Lethal Injection, Electrocution Washington: Lethal Injection, Hanging Wyoming: Lethal Injection, Gas Chamber US Military: Lethal Injection * US Government: Lethal Injection *1
* no execution since 19762
Only 12 states in the USA do not use the death penalty. These states are:
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Tim McVeight, also known as “the worst mass murderer in U.S. history”1, will die trough the lethal injection at the 16th of May 2001. He killed 168 humans and injured 500 more, when he bombed the Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah federal building on April 19, 1995.
He was arrested in Oklahoma few hours after he did it.
But the trial moved to Denver because Tim McVeight couldn’t get a fair trial in the state where the massacre took place. The 2nd of June, he was found guilty of murder and conspiracy by a federal jury in Denver. Now he’s arrested in Indiana, in the Terre Haute prison. That is the one with the maximum security, like Alcatraz.1
His reason for the bombing was an act of revenge for the death of 80 members of the Davidian sect when in 1993 the FBI made a run on their fortress in Waco, Texas.
Tim McVeight wants a TV execution “Because the closed-circuit telecast of my execution raises these fundamental equal access concerns, and because I am otherwise not opposed to such a telecast, a reasonable solution seems obvious”,2he wrote.
His family stands behind him although they will not join his execution. He said goodbye to them on April 10. His father said: “He’s my son and I love him, but what he did was absolutely wrong, and I have no idea how anyone could do it.”3
His mother said that she feels that people need to move on, and get over it already.4
What is really unfair and sad is the fact that every year many innocent humans are sentenced to death. This happens quite often and the reasons for it are usually incorrect inquiry or a young assigned counsel who doesn’t enjoy his job and who has no idea of dealing with capital crime.1
In the following I will show up an example for an innocent man named Randall Dale Adams who sat 12 years on death row until someone proved his innocence.
His 12-year-long nightmare started in 1977 when Randall Adams went out to refill his car at a petrol station in the evening. Two month later the police came and arrested him for a murder he never did. They told him that he shot a police officer to death.2
The main piece of evidence was the statement of the 16-year-old Davis Harris who told the police that he was sitting at the back seat of the car when Randall Adams shot the police officer, from the drivers seat, to death.
In the counter-move to this statement the public prosecutor’s office didn’t bring a charge to David Harris.3
After the statement of the psychiatrist Dr. Grigson, also called Mr. Death, who attested Randall Adams a “split personality” and who compared Randall Adams with a monster like Adolf Hitler, the members of the jury declared Randall Adams for guilty.
After 12 long years on death row a journalist found out that the now 28- year-old Davis Harris, who made his statement against Mr. Adams, was the real murderer of the police officer.4
To murder or to rape someone is such a cruel act. It can‘t be excused, by nothing. Not by a bad childhood or a low IQ! These “excuses” cannot weaken a crime of such extent.
Is a crime not as bad and cruel as all the other crimes, just because the murderer is stupid? Even little children know that they are not allowed to cause pain to other humans. But don’t people with a lower IQ know such things?
And a bad and cruel childhood because the parents struck and tormented the culprit? Shouldn’t the offender know it better and shouldn’t he learn from it? Shouldn’t he know that it’s not allowed to hurt other people?
If that is an excuse for a rape or a murder, what is with the children that grow up in wartime? Are they all potential murderers of tomorrow? If so, we can expect bad times.
How can someone try to excuse a crime with the stupidity of the murderer? Had the victim therefore fewer pain or fewer fear? Did the victim suffer fewer?
Opponents of the death penalty say for example:2
- It’s against the human rights to kill a person.
- The murderers also have a requirement on life.
- We are no more in the Middle Ages when this motto was current: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Just because someone killed another person we don’t have the right to kill him.
Amnesty International writes on their web page:
1. “Why do we kill people, to show people, that killing people is wrong?”1
Surely it’s not right to kill humans. But there is the question if a person that raped and killed another human really is a human being or if he’s just a monster.
Cannot only that person appoint himself to the human rights, who keeps and respects them? And because murderers do probably not respect the human rights, they don’t have the right to appoint themselves to them just because it’s their life now, which could be endangered.
Who kills must count on the consequences, especially in a country where the death penalty actually does exist.
Surely the argument is correct that we do not have the right to kill someone only because he killed. No, we do not have the right. But the state has this right! Quite simply said, the state is there to provide right and order in the country. Murderers provide unrest in the country, they bring fear and frightening to humans and mourning to the members of the victims. They bring everything except of right and order. This entitles the state to eliminate these murderers to protect everyone around and to give the feeling of confidence and security to the population.
1Book: Dead Man Walking
1 Film: Dead Man Walking
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