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Death Penalty

25th Birthday for Lethal Injections

Posted Dec 7, 2007 6:20 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Exactly 25 years ago today, strapped to a gurney in a Texas death chamber, 40-year-old Charlie Brooks Jr. became the first person in the U.S. to be executed by lethal injection.

Since then, the method has been adopted by many states throughout the country, which considered it a humane alternative to the electric chair, among other ways of executing inmates. After Brooks was put to death in 1982 for murdering a 26-year-old auto mechanic by shooting him in the face during a botched kidnapping, an additional 404 inmates were executed in Texas alone, reports the Houston Chronicle. Texas reportedly has by far the highest number of executions in the nation, four times as many as any other state.

However, both the death penalty and the lethal injection method have generated fierce criticism. As discussed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, a de facto death penalty moratorium is now in place, postponing scheduled executions nationwide until the U.S. Supreme Court decides a Kentucky case concerning lethal injections. The ABA has also called for a moratorium on the death penalty until it can be both fairly and accurately applied.

Even if the current lethal injection method is disapproved by the Supreme Court, debate over the death penalty will surely continue among experts and in the court of public opinion.

A professor at Columbia Law School who studied capital murder cases in Harris County, Texas, for more than 20 years, says the death penalty is an ineffective deterrent to crime, the Chronicle reports:

"A good, efficient criminal legal regime that finds offenders once they commit crimes, calls them to account and punishes them proportionately and appropriately will keep crime rates in check," says Jeffrey Fagan. "You gain nothing by putting execution on top of that."

But the death penalty isn't just about deterrence says Robert Blecker, a New York Law School professor who favors the death penalty. While he believes executions are a "marginally effective deterrent," he says the main reason for the death penalty is that it is a fitting retribution for the crime that gives murder victims their due.

"It would be nice if it was a more effective deterrent," Blecker says of the death penalty. "The issue for me is justice."

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