____Chapter 4: Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment
Focus your writing on the first two cases, answering the questions following the case study. But,
again, be prepared to discuss all four cases.
1. Paul Jennings Hill (See the story by Tom Kuntz in The New York Times, September 24,
1995.) Paul Jennings Hill was a Presbyterian minister. He was also a murderer, executed in 2003 in
Florida’s electric chair for the shotgun slayings of an abortion doctor, Dr. John Bayard Britton, and a
security escort, James H. Barrett. He shot and killed both men outside a Pensacola, Florida, abortion
clinic in July 1995.
On the morning of July 29, 1995, Hill waited outside the clinic. Dr. Britton arrived in a
pickup truck with his wife and Mr. Barrett, a seventy-four-year-old retired Air Force officer. Mr.
Barrett was driving, Dr. Britton was next to him, and Mrs. Britton was sitting in the jumpseat in back.
All were unarmed. Hill opened fire with his new 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun, bought two days
before the killings. He fired three shots at the driver’s side of the truck, reloaded, and fired four more
shots, killing Mr. Barrett and Dr. Britton. June Barett was wounded in her left arm but was not killed.
Hill claimed to believe in the death penalty, but he maintained that it is not justified in his
case. He argued that the homicides were justified because he was defending innocent lives. He
compares his action to that of police who kill people to prevent other people from being killed. His
argument goes more or less as follows: Abortion is the murder of innocent unborn people. God wants
us to save the lives of innocent people, and killing guilty abortion doctors (who are comparable to
Nazis in Hill’s view) is a way of saving innocent lives. Saving innocent lives in accord with God’s
will is morally right. So killing guilty abortion doctors is morally right.
Is this a good argument or not? Explain your answer.
Did Hill deserve the death penalty? If not, then what punishment, if any, would be justified
in this case?
Several pro-life murderers of abortion doctors have been sentenced to death recently, some of
them before the Hill murders, but it seems that this had no deterrent effect on Hill. On the contrary, he
welcomed death. He believed that his death would make him a martyr who died to save innocent
lives. If the death penalty does not work as a deterrent, and in fact encourages people to commit
murders, then would it still justified?
2. William Alvin Smith. (Reported in Time, July 19, 1989.) William Alvin Smith robbed
and killed the owner of a grocery story in rural Georgia when he was twenty years old. He turned
himself in to the police and signed a confession. A local jury condemned him to death in the electric
chair, but in July, 1989, a federal judge ordered a new sentencing hearing for Smith on the grounds
that he lacked the ability to understand the significance of waiving his rights to remain silent and to
have an attorney present. Smith has the mental capacity of a ten-year-old.
Does Smith deserve the death sentence or not? Why or why not?
It is estimated that about 30 percent of the convicts on death row are mentally retarded or
mentally impaired. Should they be executed?
3. David Brom. (Reported in the Star Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities, October 6,
1989.) In 1988, David Brom, 18, murdered his father, mother, sister, and brother with an ax. At his
trial, he pleaded to not guilty by reason of insanity. According to Dr. James Stephans, a Minneapolis
psychiatrist who testified for the defense, Brom has a multiple personality disorder. On the basis of
several examinations of Brom, Stephans said that Brom has at least three alternate selves, each with
different characteristics and a different name. But it was a fourth personality that Brom never
encountered before that killed the family members. Stephans also testified that Brom suffers from
depression and an atypical psychotic disorder that produces hallucinations.
Does Brom deserve the death penalty? If not, then what punishment, if any, does he deserve?
4. Karla Faye Tucker was convicted of murder in Texas in 1984 and put to death fourteen
years later. She was the first woman to be executed in the United States since 1984, and the first in
Texas since 1863. Because of her gender and widely publicized conversion to Christianity, she
inspired an unusually large national and international movement advocating the commutation of her
sentence to life imprisonment, a movement which included a few foreign government officials. Her
crime, though, was heinous. During a burglary, she and her boyfriend, Danny Garrett, encountered
Jerry Dean (it was his apartment) in his bedroom. When they entered his bedroom at 3 am, Tucker sat
on him to hold him down. In an effort to protect himself, Dean grabbed Tucker above the elbows,
whereupon Garrett intervened. Garrett struck Dean numerous times in the back of the head with a
hammer he found on the floor. After hitting Dean, Garrett left the room. Tucker remained in the
bedroom. The blows Garrett had dealt Dean caused his head to become unhinged from his neck and
his breathing passages to fill with fluid. He began making a "gurgling" sound characteristic of this
type of injury. Tucker wanted to "stop him from making that noise" and attacked him with a pickaxe.
Garrett then re-entered the room and dealt Dean a final blow in the chest. Garrett left the bedroom
again so as to continue loading his burgled stuff. Tucker was once again left in the room and only then
noticed a woman who had hidden under the bed covers against the wall. The woman, Deborah
Thornton, had met Dean at a party earlier that afternoon. Upon discovering Thornton, Tucker grazed
her shoulder with the pickaxe. Thornton and Tucker began to struggle, but Garrett returned and
separated them. Tucker proceeded to hit Thornton repeatedly with the pickaxe and then embedded the
axe in her heart. Tucker would later tell friends and testify that she experienced intense multiple
orgasms with each blow of the pickaxe.
In September 1983, Tucker and Garrett were indicted and tried separately for the murders.
Tucker entered a plea of not guilty and was jailed awaiting trial. Soon after being imprisoned, Tucker
took a Bible from the prison ministry program and read it in her cell. She later recalled, "I didn't know
what I was reading. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of my cell floor on my knees. I was just
asking God to forgive me." Tucker became a Christian in October 1983. She later married her prison
minister, the Reverend Dana Lane Brown, and held her Christian wedding ceremony inside the prison.
Between 1984 and 1992, requests for a retrial and appeals were denied, but on June 22, Tucker
requested that her life be spared on the basis that she was under the influence of drugs at the time of
the murders, she would not have committed the murders had she not taken drugs and she was now a
reformed person. Her plea drew support from abroad and also from some leaders of American
conservatism. Among those who appealed to the State of Texas on her behalf were Bacre Waly
Ndiaye, the United Nations commissioner on summary and arbitrary executions; the World Council of
Churches; Pope John Paul II; Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi; the Speaker of the U.S. House of
Representatives Newt Gingrich; televangelist Pat Robertson; and Ronald Carlson, the brother of
Tucker's murder victim Debbie Thornton. The warden of Texas's Huntsville prison testified that she
was a model prisoner and that, after 14 years on death row, she likely had been reformed. The board
turned her down on January 28, 1998, and Governor George W. Bush refused to offer her clemency.
Six days later, she was executed by lethal injection. As the lethal chemicals were being administered
she was praising Jesus Christ. (Cribbed from Wikipedia.)
Should Karla Faye Tucker have been executed?