In November 1949, Betty Evans and her baby daughter Geraldine were brutally murdered at their residence in London. They had been strangled. Police investigation into these gruesome murders commenced and the top suspect was none other than a 25-year-old Welsh van driver called Timothy. Timothy Evans to be precise was Beryl’s husband and Geraldine’s father. The following year, the trial of Timothy Evans began. Among those who were called to testify for the prosecution was one of Mr. Evans’ neighbors, John Christie and his wife, Ethel. After only three days of trial and forty minutes of deliberation by the jury, Evans was found guilty of homicide and sentenced to death by hanging. He appealed against the verdict but failed. Subsequently, “Timothy John Evans was hanged on March 9, 1950” (Paternoster, Brame and Bacon 49). Just three years later, the very John Christie whose testimony had led to the conviction of Timothy Evans; was found to be an infamous serial killer who had murdered several women – including his own wife Ethel, and yes; even Betty and Geraldine Evans. Timothy Evans had been innocent after all. He had pleaded not guilty and even implicated John Christie in the murders, but no one had cared to believe him. Following John Christie’s conviction, the public, the press and even parliament began to raise questions concerning the possible innocence of Timothy Evans. A national debate ensued and with time, it became apparent that both the police and the jury had been prejudiced against Evans, and had not been willing to consider the possibility that he was innocent, despite several clues that pointed to the fact. Eventually in 1966, Timothy Evans was posthumously granted an official royal pardon. “He was exonerated from the charges of murdering both his wife and daughter” (Turow 71). His remains were exhumed from Bentonville Prison and reinterred at a Roman Catholic cemetery in Greater London. Timothy John Evans’ life was cut short unfairly. He was accused, convicted and condemned for a misdemeanor he never commit. He went to the gallows in place of someone else. And nothing - not even a royal pardon or any form of compensation will bring him back.
The Timothy Evans case is just but one of the many cases where justice has been miscarried. History recounts several other similar cases, including that of Mahmood Mattan; a 28-year-old Somali sailor who was wrongly convicted of murdering one Lily Volpert. Mattan was executed in 1952, only to be exculpated 45 years later in 1998. Again, though the family was in 2001 generously compensated for the wrongful conviction, the damage was already done. Mattan was well and long gone, never to return. “Time and space hinder me from stating the case of Carlos De Luna, Jesse Tafero, Ruben Cantu, Larry Griffin, David Spence, Joseph O’Dell, Claude Jones, Cameron Todd Willingham, and more recently Troy Davis” (Paternoster, Brame and Bacon 27). All of them are thought to have been wrongly put to death for offenses they never engaged in. These cases, if nothing else should sufficiently persuade any just person that capital punishment must have no place in our justice system for the simple reason that it is irrevocable (Turow 45). Once meted out, there is no turning back. There is no reconsidering the case. There is no admitting of new evidence, and should there be a miscarriage of justice as with the Timothy Evans case, nothing can be done to restore the life wrongly terminated. “As the saying goes, to err is human” (Turow 81). Human beings are prone to err – even in matters of administering justice. The police can be mistaken, investigators can be wrong, the prosecutors can be pressurized, the witnessed can be compromised, the defense counsel can be incompetent, the suspect can be intimidated and the jurors can be prejudiced. In other words, the system can fail, and it would be tragic to depend on a system that can fail to make a decision that cannot be reversed.
Regrettably, some people still prefer the death penalty. They prefer it to other humane forms of penalty like hard labor and life sentence. These other types of penalty argue, are too lenient and ineffective. Some pundits still propound it. They opine that capital punishment deters crime. They add that when capital punishment is meted against a convict, other prospective offenders would draw their lesson from it and stay away from crime altogether lest they too suffer the same predicament (Bedau and Cassell 134). Some religions still preach it. They preach that capital punishment makes the world a better place by ridding it of hardcore criminals and making sure they never get another opportunity to offend again. Some prosecutors still propose it. They propose that sentencing a murder, robbery or rape convict to death, for example, provides closure to surviving victims or loved ones and helps them feel pacified. Some states, countries, and governments still practice it. To them, “capital punishment is a fair penalty to gross offenders for their crimes” (Bakan 2).
But how can that be? How can it be that humans can want to be so barbaric and cruel to their fellow humans to the extent of wanting to take their lives away in the name of punishing them? How can it be that the death penalty deters crime? The death penalty cannot be said to be a deterrent to crime because most crimes punishable by death are usually unpremeditated anyway. They are not always planned, but as a result of illogical thinking, temporary insanity, emotional imbalance, or spontaneous fits of passion. No wonder we have heard many offenders confess, “I do not know why I did it” or “I just found myself doing it.” In fact, several surveys conducted in the West have indicated that most police officers and law enforcers do not think that capital punishment deters crime (Turow 108).
How can it be that capital punishment makes the world a better place by ridding it of hardcore criminals and making sure they never get another opportunity to offend again? At the very heart of punishment is a desire to correct and reform, not to condemn. Capital punishment dispels the hope and possibility of reforming an offender because it takes away the life of that very offender who needs reformation. “It is commonly said that everybody deserves a second chance” (American Civil Liberties Union 3). It is also said a mistake is not a mistake the first time it is made; rather, it is a lesson on what not to do next time. If these sayings be true and worthy of our acceptance, why do we deprive gross offenders their second chance? Why do we deny them the chance to learn from their past mistakes? Why do electrocute them, or shoot them, or behead them, or crucify them, or drown them, or hang them, or burn them, or stone them, or boil them, or feed them to wild animals, or suffocate them, or poison them? Why do we kill them? Dead people cannot have a second chance or learn from their mistakes.
Sending an offender to the hangman is indeed very presumptuous and escapist. Presumptuous because it is a conclusion by one or more human beings that another human being is incapable of rehabilitation or reformation and therefore is not fit to live. This is quite blasphemous. It is playing God. No human being has the right to brand another human being “perished good” and dispose of them in a “dustbin” called a grave. And capital punishment is escapist because it is an admission that we as a society have failed in our duty to help one of our own abandon his unacceptable tendencies and be a responsible citizen. It is also a suggestion that the only way we can deal with social ills is by killing those who cause them. If this is our philosophy, then we all have cause to worry. Soon we will all be killed for one offence or another – shoplifting, loitering, littering, gambling, and even poaching! In the end, we will have created a monstrous and violent society that takes pleasure in the death of its members. As a society, we would therefore be better and early advised to look for better ways to solve our problems and tackle the real underlying reasons why people commit gross crimes (Bakan 1).
How can it be that the death penalty pacifies surviving victims or loved ones? Do two wrongs make a right? The Good Book teaches us to do unto others as we would have them do to us, not as they have done to us. If we kill killers, are we also going to rape rapists, rob robbers and kidnap kidnappers? Moreover, are we going to kill serial killers again and again? Even gross offenders have loved ones who would be devastated when they are put to death. As Kerry Kennedy Cuomo wrote, “I saw nothing that could be accomplished in the loss of one life being answered with the loss of another, and I knew, far too vividly, the anguish that would spread through another family - another set of parents, children, brothers, and sisters thrown into grief” (Banner 321).
Besides this, how can it be that the death sentence is a fair penalty? The death sentence is itself, unfair. It violates a person’s fundamental and natural right to life. Therefore, injustice cannot be used to uphold justice. By sentencing innocent Timothy Evans to death for example, the jury was guilty of the very crime they accused Mr. Evans of - murder. As Coretta Scott King once observed, “one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder and assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses. “An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation” (Turow 48). Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. “Morality is never maintained by a legalized murder” (American Civil Liberties Union 1).
In conclusion, the urgent need to abolish capital punishment in areas of the world where it is still prevalent cannot be overstated. It must be done and that, today. Human beings all over the world must rise against their fellow human beings propagate and practice this inhumane, unnatural, sacrilegious and anachronistic act. Political leaders who defend it must be voted out of office and replaced with more humane leaders who will defend the right of the people to live. Members of the clergy who preach it must be deemed heretical and shunned altogether. Constitutions that still permit it must be amended to reflect the true will and nature of the human race. “Those already condemned to death must have their sentences commuted forthwith so that they get their second chance to reform and be responsible citizens of the world” (Turow 121). Therefore, capital punishment should never be practiced again in any country.