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The Death Penalty in the Democratic Party Presidential Debate

The death penalty came up briefly in the Clinton-Sanders debate.  Even though it came second, let me quote Sanders first:

MADDOW: Senator Sanders, you have singled out the death penalty, and Senator Clinton's support for the death penalty, as an issue that makes it hard to consider as progressive in your mind...

SANDERS: ... Look, I hear what the Secretary said, and I understand, but look, there are -- all of us know that we have seen in recent years horrible, horrible crimes. It's hard to imagine how people can do, bomb, and kill 168 people in Oklahoma City, or do the Boston Marathon bombing, but this is what I believe, and for a couple of reasons.

Number one, too many innocent people, including minorities, African Americans, have been executed when they were not guilty. That's number one. We have to be very careful about making sure about that.

Too many?  Name one, Senator Sanders.  Name one demonstrably innocent person executed in the modern capital punishment era (1976+).

For many years, Roger Coleman was the poster boy as the absolutely, incontrovertibly innocent person wrongfully executed.  Then improved DNA technology conclusively proved him guilty.  Oops.  Then they latched on Cameron Willingham, a case where the arson evidence was shown to be inconclusive.  (Contrary to myth, the arson evidence does not affirmatively show accidental fire.)  When AP contacted the jurors, every one they could find said that would have made no difference, because it never was the forensic evidence that convinced them in the first place.  The most damning evidence against Willingham was his own words and actions, all of which still stand.

"We have to be very careful about making sure about that."  Correct.  And we are.
But, second of all, and maybe, in a deeper reason, of course there are barbaric acts out there. But, in a world of so much violence and killing, I just don't believe that government itself should be part of the killing. So, when somebody commits...
If there is too much kidnapping, is that a reason not to imprison kidnappers?  If there is too much theft, is that a reason not to impose fines on thieves and collect them by taking their property?  By the same logic, it would be, but that is absurd.

SANDERS: ... Somebody commits any of these terrible crimes that we have seen, you lock them up, and you toss away the key. They're never going to get out. But, I just don't' want to see government be part of killing. That's all.
Never?  Are you certain?  If the death penalty is abolished on Tuesday, the campaign to abolish life without parole begins on Wednesday.  We don't have to speculate about that.  We have already seen it with the 17-year-old murderers.

Back to Mrs. Clinton:

MADDOW: Welcome back to the University of New Hampshire, and the Democratic candidates' debate.
Secretary Clinton, on the issue of the death penalty, here in New Hampshire, the one person who is on death row is there for killing a police officer. It's a crime that has caused anguish in this state, both among death penalty opponents and death penalty supporters.

The last time I had the chance to talk with you on this issue, on the death penalty, you said that capital punishment has a place in a very few federal cases, but you also said you would breathe a sigh of relief if the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty nationwide. Tonight, do you still support capital punishment, even if you do so reluctantly?

CLINTON: Yes, I do. And -- you know, what I hope the Supreme Court will do is make it absolutely clear that any state that continues capital punishment either must meet the highest standards of evidentiary (ph) proof of effective assistance of counsel or they cannot continue it because that, to me, is the real dividing line.

I have much more confidence in the federal system, and I do reserve it for particularly heinous crimes in the federal system, like terrorism. I have strong feelings about that. I thought it was appropriate after a very thorough trial that Timothy McVeigh received the death penalty for blowing up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children in a daycare center.

I do for very limited, particularly heinous crimes believe it is an appropriate punishment, but I deeply disagree with the way that too many states are still implementing it. If it were possible to separate the federal from the state system by the Supreme Court, that would, I think, be an appropriate outcome.
A great many state cases are very much like the McVeigh case in terms of the thoroughness of the trial.  If she wants the highest standards of proof in making sure we have the right guy, fine.  I agree.  If she means some kind of higher standard of effectiveness of lawyers in presenting mitigating evidence that has no connection with the case, then it sounds like she is trying to support the death penalty on its face while rendering it impossible in application.

At least she understands that the death penalty is justice for the worst of the worst.  That's something.

That "(ph)" is NBC's, by the way.  Apparently their transcriber doesn't speak legalese.  My spell-checker doesn't either, but it's correct.


Hillary Clinton would nominate federal judges who would eviscerate the death penalty.

We all know this.

My wish for the death penalty is that it be carried out by hanging.

When so many heinous crimes are being committed it’s time to make the worst criminals experience the walk up the steps of the gallows. It has to be sheer terror but is the only thing that comes close to what some criminals have done to their victims.

I know it will never happen so long as Americans remain squishy about justice and willing to accept injustice. The hangman’s art should not be lost. I understand that when done properly it is a quick and painless form of execution. Almost like flipping a switch.

The walk up those steps has to be the worst part, and it’s no less than the worst criminals deserve.

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