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A choice between death and life in prison

Email South Carolina appellate attorney Joe Savitz did everything he could to try to prevent the execution of Michael Passaro — not necessarily because he believed in his innocence, but because Passaro wanted to die. Last September, Passaro was executed for the 1998 death of his daughter. Passaro was in a custody dispute with his second wife in November 1998 when he doused his van with gasoline, strapped 2-year-old daughter Maggie inside and then sat down in his car before lighting it on fire.

However, before the fire could consume him, Passaro jumped out of the car but left Maggie to die. Passaro pleaded guilty to murder in 2000 and requested — and received — the death penalty.

Passaro did not, and never wanted, to appeal his guilty plea, and rejected his attorneys' attempts to help him. Savitz argued that Passaro should not be executed because he would see it as a reward, not punishment.

Death Penalty Vs. Life in Prison

Passaro, Savitz said, had a long-standing death wish to join his first wife, who was killed in 1992 when a car struck her while she was trying to help an accident victim. He sees it as an escape from punishment," Savitz said before Passaro's lethal injection.

He wants to die and has gotten the state to help him carry it out in what is essentially a state-assisted suicide. He is not doing this because he feels a sense of remorse. More death-row inmates have been volunteering for their executions: Between 1993 and 2002, 75 volunteered for death, compared to the 22 consensual executions between 1977 and 1992.

  • It puts a strain on the economical and human resources of the judicial system;
  • These are unique view points from different groups that exist simultaneously which is not paradoxical;
  • Moreover, that is only applicable in lower severity crimes; no capital crime is dealt with in this way;
  • Yes that's true but you have to provide some analysis about why it is an easy option given that I have provided the reason that under the law in these states the death penalty is considered a harsher punishment than life without parole.

Gary Gilmore, the first prisoner put to death after the Supreme Court reinstituted capital punishment in 1976, "volunteered" for his execution in 1977 because he did not want to live the rest of his life on death row.

Some critics argue that this shows that, contrary to popular belief, death is not the ultimate punishment for prisoners.

Some inmates had been on death row for more than 10 years and seemed to grow tired of appealing their cases, not knowing when or if they were going to die.

Others, like Passaro and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001, chose not to pursue their appeals either at all or to their fullest extent. Experts say prison conditions as well as increasing reluctance by governors and courts to grant clemency and appellate relief to inmates have helped fuel the rise in volunteer executions.

I believe that is true in 35 out of the 38 states where the death penalty is available," said Michael Radelet, professor of sociology at the University of Colorado. Many live in isolation, allowed out of their cells for only an hour a day.

Time allotted for activities for a choice between death and life in prison inmates has dwindled. And, some experts argue, as human conditions on death row have diminished, so have prisoners' sense of humanity and will to live.

No one, they argue, is on death row because they want to be. They went through a legal process to land on death row where they were arrested by law enforcement, convicted and sentenced by either a judge or jury. Why can't death-penalty opponents call it what it is: Some death-penalty opponents claim to be concerned about preserving the dignity of death-row inmates and not resorting to barbaric methods to punish murderers.

But at the same time, they suggest that a life sentence — which they admit could be a punishment worse than death — would be better for the prisoners they are trying to help. Give me a break," Clements said. Most have been on death row for years.

  1. Do you have another question or a response to the answer I provided?
  2. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons The exact circumstances that dictate whether or not a suspect can be sentenced to death depend on state law, but ultimately the crime or crimes in question must be deemed to be of a particularly heinous nature.
  3. Life Imprisonment Death Penalty The United States has a history of performing executions which date back to the very early 1600s, when the first person was recorded to have been executed for spying. Can you tell me why you think this differs from state-assisted suicide?
  4. Also as this is taking place in states where this penalty already exists it is likely to be seen as a harsher punishment than life without parole. What I am advocating for is an efficient way to achieve a just resolution to a terrible crime.
  5. A prisoner who has appealed against his own choice of punishment does not have any legal standpoint. The only thing that changes with this debate is that the individual makes a choice between life without parole or the death penalty.

Why can't we call it what it really is? Some accept responsibility, some do not. Anti-death-penalty advocates and defense counsel are doing a disservice and dismissing and minimalizing the actions of the people they claim to be protecting by doing what they do.

These cases especially, some experts maintain, show that many prisoners have death wishes and are using law enforcement officials to help them carry out their suicides.

Politics & law

Some death-row prisoners suffer from mental illness and depression and may admit to things that things they didn't do. Allowing volunteer executions, critics say, empowers prisoners, allowing them to essentially schedule their deaths … and escape accountability, not embrace it.

The DPIC's Dieter suggests there should be limits placed on punishment — that perhaps the ultimate fate of a death-row prisoner must be determined by the legal system after a certain amount of time. If the time limit runs out, Dieter says, then the prisoner should receive an automatic life sentence. But what kind of closure do victims' families want?

One guarantee is that the debate over the death penalty and its effectiveness will go on as prisoners continue to volunteer for lethal injection and DNA evidence casts doubt over some capital murder convictions. Before he leaves office on Jan. George Ryan, who has placed a moratorium on executions in his state, is expected to make a decision on whether some of the 160 condemned inmates will receive clemency. The Illinois Prisoner Review Board reportedly has recommended clemency for fewer than 10 of the 140 death-row prisoners who have requested that their sentences be commuted to life in prison.