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September 10, 2011

"Behind the Death Penalty Cheers"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing column authored by James Henson for the Texas Tribune.  Here is how it starts:

One of the oddest moments of the GOP presidential primary debate Wednesday night in California occurred when the audience burst into applause in response to moderator Brian Williams’ recap of Gov. Rick Perry’s record of presiding over 234 executions.

Williams had not yet even finished asking his question when the crowd erupted with clapping and even whistles.  The effusive audience applause in response to both Williams’ mention of Perry’s record and the governor’s full-throated, guilt-free answer seems to reflect a Republican primary audience that, like the governor, is untroubled by the death penalty, either in principle or in practice.

Results from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll and national polling confirm that one shouldn’t be surprised by the borderline atavistic response from an audience of Republican primary voters.  It’s not news or even mildly shocking, of course, that Texas voters support the death penalty in substantial numbers, even in the face of doubts about the fairness of the process.  Our polling regularly shows over 75 percent of self-reported registered voters support the death penalty either strongly or somewhat for those convicted of violent crimes.  And there isn’t much ambivalence lurking in the distinction in support — the strong support is routinely over 50 percent.  The overall levels of support in Texas are 10 to 15 percentage points higher than support for similar items in national polls....

In fact, Democratic identifiers in Texas also support the death penalty, or are ambivalent, in substantial numbers.  In the same February 2010 survey, over 60 percent of self-identified Democrats expressed some support for the death penalty — again, a fairly common pattern in Texas, though about half of this support comes from the less enthusiastic “somewhat support” responses.  Only 16 percent said they were “strongly opposed” to the death penalty.  Compared to national surveys, the Texas numbers for Democratic support are again in the neighborhood of 10 or more points higher than national Democratic approval.

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September 10, 2011 at 10:36 AM | Permalink


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The poll to which Henson refers had this question:
"Which of the following best describes your opinion on the death penalty for those convicted of violent crimes? (February 2010)
Strongly support; Somewhat support; Somewhat opposed; strongly oppose; don't know"

a) it doesn't even focus on the crime of murder
b) it offers no alternative to the death penalty

In short, it is a useless poll which tells us nothing about real attitudes/opinions in Texas. When people are not forced to think about the issue with genuine alternative responses possible, any polling exercise is invalid.

Posted by: peter | Sep 10, 2011 11:54:34 AM

The public opinion polls about the Death Penalty are highly misleading. Although 2/3 to 3/4 of Kentuckians surveyed regularly says that they support the Death Penalty in appropriate cases, in 2008 no Ky. jury voted to imposed the Death Penalty, out of 106 Death Penalty-eligible cases tried that year. It is one thing to say that one supports the Death Penalty in theory. Things change when a juror has to look a specific person (a defendant) in the eye and vote to kill him.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Sep 10, 2011 12:08:19 PM


That's a nice little set-up you have going on in that head of yours.

If the juries in Kentucky (even if we ignore your fallacy called "cherrypicking") do not vote to give defendants the DP, it means that they really do not support the DP.

Of course if they DID vote for the DP in, say, 10 of those cases, they would be bloodlusting troglodytes. Perhaps even "atavistic."

In other words, at least in your head, there is no way the abolitionist argument can lose/be wrong. Everyone either agrees with you or is morally inferior. Like I said, that's a nice rhetorical set-up you have going there.

It is not logically sound but who cares about that?

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Sep 10, 2011 1:01:44 PM

The audience was cheering, cause they ain't had enough executions to keep 'em happy lately - especially in California. Ya find a party, ya enjoy yourself. Best parties we ever had in this country were the public lynchings. Bring those back and everybody'll be in high spirits.

Posted by: Al Ammo | Sep 10, 2011 1:39:26 PM

Jim Gormley --

Juries consist of 12 people, and in Kentucky, all 12 are required to be on board to impose the DP. Thus, if 8.3% of the jury (i.e., one juror) does not want to impose the DP in a given case, and 91.7% does, it will not be imposed.

But 91.7% is still 91.7%, and that is hardly indicative of flagging support for the DP.

Now you might respond that we don't know that it's just one juror, and you'd be right. But it is precisely the fact that we don't know what the jury breakdowns are that prevents us from saying -- as you attempted to say -- that the non-imposition of the DP by juries shows low support for the DP when the rubber hits the road. Support might be low, but it might be high; indeed, 91.7% is higher than the two-thirds that polling shows.

Bottom line: You can't tell what the level of public support for the DP is from the jury returns you mention.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 10, 2011 2:02:09 PM

Al Ammo --

Your attempts to burlesque death penalty backers are pathetic. They're also shopworn.

If you have an argument against the DP, make it and test it against the counter-arguments. Parody to paint DP backers as wahoos gets to be juvenile.

George Washington, Abraham Lincloln, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and (verily) Bill Clinton all both supported AND USED the death penalty. Were they all wahoos?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 10, 2011 2:21:48 PM


I am hurt that you would think ah'm agin Abe, Dwight, Ron, Bill, and especially YOU. Please don't get defensive. Makes ya look week.

Posted by: Al Ammo | Sep 10, 2011 2:36:59 PM

Al Ammo --

I think you meant to say it makes me look weak. Is that what you intended?

Not that it makes a difference. The issue is not about me or how I look. The issue is whether the death penalty is just. If you think it isn't, feel free to explain why. Just sticking your tongue out doesn't have a lot of analytic value.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 10, 2011 3:56:51 PM

I would like the death penalty applied to the 15,000 members of the lawyer hierarchy, all in one great day. They allow millions of crimes to go unanswered, including mass slaughters of innocent people. They execute the wrong person 20% of the time. They are destroying the patriarchal family, our economy, and our American way of life. If the public is oppressed by these internal traitors, the lawyer is doubly so, and the ordinary judge triply so. They are the Inquisitors. They must be arrested, given an hour's fair trial, and immediately executed. As they show no quarter to the American people, so the American people must show them no quarter. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 10, 2011 5:05:16 PM

Al: One could not take a train trip or stagecoach ride without ge4tting stopped by pitiless robbers. They shot anyone offering resistance, or sometimes offering no resistance. Your advocacy on behalf of murderous robbers, making life unbearable is morally disgusting.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 10, 2011 5:09:02 PM

SC -

"They execute the wrong person 20% of the time."

Have you and peter exchanged brains?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 10, 2011 8:57:39 PM


There is no objective DNA testing available for the 3000 people on death row. The final fraction is unknown.

However, for every 5 executions each year, there is one exoneration. As a rough order of magnitude estimate, it is the best that is available.

Because of the expense and care in death penalty cases, one must assume this is a bottom number. For lesser charges and penalties, the false positive may be far higher, for example, 40%.

The failure of the current lawyer hierarchy is in two directions, 90% false negative, at least, perhaps 99.9% false negative, and at least 25% false positive. This massive failure is explainable by its atavism, its reliance on supernatural core doctrines, and its priority on procedure rather than correct outcomes. Hyper-proceduralism is a method of lawyer rent seeking. Rent seeking is armed robbery, in bad faith, with knowledge, and a mass crime of monumental proportion dwarfing all terrorism, most organized crime, smaller only than the crimes of Communism and Nazism. The lawyer makes 99% of policy in the US government, and the power of government amplifies criminality by 1000 fold. We pity the Iraqi and Mexican people beset by criminals. They should pity us.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 10, 2011 9:13:52 PM

SC --

Rather than extrapolate from persons currently housed on death row, we have quite a large sample to look amongst. That would be the 1266 persons executed in the last 40 years. If, as you have said, we "execute the wrong person 20% of the time," that means that we would have executed 253 innocent people since Gregg.

Even the craziest abolitionist around doesn't claim anything close to that. And of course -- putting claims to one side, which is where they belong -- there has been no proof of A SINGLE innocent person having been executed in that period, much less a couple of hundred.

Still, I did make a mistake. You didn't exchange brians with peter. Peter is off the beaten path, but not by that much.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 10, 2011 9:37:47 PM

I have some concern for false executions, and support a remedy in torts. That would be a satisfactory answer. Malice or knowledge in a prosecutor or judge should result in exemplary damages from a per se verdict, from their personal assets, since they are violating rules and statutes. If prosecutors and judges do not want their assets exposed, let them buy insurance, as all other productive targets of the plaintiff bar must do. All others are more productive and deserve immunity from these perdators far more. It would make authorities end those systematic methods that cause them. I do not want to see anyone executed falsely. In perspective, that error has small importance to humanity.

The failure to execute has been of horrendous consequences to humanity. Hitler was in prison for treason. Saddam Hussein committed his first murder at age ten. Ayman El Zawahiri was in a conspiracy to assassinate Anwar Sadat. He went on to re-animate Al Qaeda. Joseph Stalin robbed banks. Imagine having executed those for their capital crimes and for repeated crimes in 123D, prior to their political careers. Those who spared their lives are a factor in the historic damage these individuals caused. All those responsible are lawyers. The innocent lives save by their summary executions would be a million times any number falsely executed.

In this study by the National Institute of Justice of 10,000 people, in 1995, about 25% of those tested were falsely convicted.


I hope you do not feel frustrated by such facts, but invigorated to change methodologies.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 10, 2011 9:57:13 PM

The lawyer also prevented our warriors from killing a million intellectuals, financiers, and religious leaders after the attack on the World Trade center in 1993. The lawyer is a collaborator with the mortal enemy of our nation. At some point, the public will have had enough. If that happens, I do not know if the killing can be limited to the lawyer hierarchy. I hope it can. The public can be fooled but not forever.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 10, 2011 10:39:51 PM

SC --

You are in many ways a good man, and you speak uncomfortable truths from which others shrink. But there are occasions, and tonight is one of them, when you're flying too high for me.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 10, 2011 11:28:42 PM

Bill: The numbers are so big, they are like the sun. One cannot stare at them too long. One must don rose colored glasses such as, "Ours is the greatest legal system." This has the validity of "Soviet Communists invented lipstick." Comforting , self reassurance of adequacy in complete denial of the numbers. It took 70 years. Communism fell in the face of the numbers. What can be done to avoid a similar fate?

Empiricism must dominate decision making.

Merciless removal of all supernatural doctrines.

Pilot testing of all laws and regulations for safety, effectiveness, and tolerability of unintended consequences. Meet Daubert criteria.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 11, 2011 9:28:11 AM

Blog Boss Bill,

Thanks fer correctin' my punktuation or whatever. I confess that I do not have a higher education. I didn't even go to low shcool.

Luckily, the professor has a man of letters like you to police the blog for him.

You the man!: BILLY THE MAN!

Posted by: Al Ammo | Sep 11, 2011 4:13:12 PM

Texas commission signals halt to investigation of 2004 execution


Posted by: George | Sep 11, 2011 4:26:27 PM

Al Ammo --

If you have an argument against the death penalty, you're free to make it. Do you?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 11, 2011 7:21:55 PM


No, I don't have an argument against the death penalty. I'm FER the death penalty. Sorry if my posts ain't been clear 'nuf to ya. I'll try harder.

Thanks fer the freedom offer, though.

Posted by: Al Ammo | Sep 12, 2011 11:46:00 AM

Al Ammo --

"No, I don't have an argument against the death penalty."

Then why do you try to portray DP supporters as a bunch of bloodlusting wahoos?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 12, 2011 4:46:11 PM

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