The McFarland/Richardson Murder Case

She was a famous New York City stage actress named Abby Sage. But after her ex-husband Daniel McFarland killed her lover, journalist Albert Richardson on November 25, 1869 at Richardson’s place of work at the New York Tribune, it was Sage’s lifestyle that was put on trail, not just McFarland.

Daniel McFarland was born in Ireland in 1820, but he emigrated to American with his parents when he was four-years-old. McFarland’s parents died when he was 12, leaving him an orphan. Determined to make something of himself in America, McFarland worked at hard labor in a harness shop, saving his money so that he could attend college. By the time he was 17, McFarland had saved enough cash he was able to attend the distinguish Ivy League university – Dartmouth. At Dartmouth, McFarland studied law and did extremely well. Upon graduation, McFarland passed the bar exam, but instead of practicing law, McFarland took a position at Brandywine College, teaching elocution — the skill of clear and expressive speech.

In 1853, McFarland traveled to Manchester, New Hampshire, where he met a very beautiful 15-year-old girl named Abby Sage. Abby came from a poor but respectable family – her father was a weaver – but Abby was quite bright, and soon she became a teacher, as well as as a published writer. Four years after they had met, McFarland and Abey Sage married. She was just 19, and he was double her age.

Later Abby wrote in an affidavit concerning McFarland’s murder trial, “At the time of our marriage, Mr. McFarland represented to me that he had a flourishing law practice, brilliant political prospects, and property worth $30,000, but while on our bridal tour he was forced to borrow money in New York to enable us to proceed to Madison, Wisc., which was decided upon as our future home. We had resided in this town but a short time when he confessed that he had no law practice of any consequence, and that he had devoted himself solely to land speculation, some of which had resulted disastrously.”

In February 1858, the McFarlands moved to New York City. McFarland told Abby that in New York City, he had a better chance of selling $20,000 to $30,000 worth of property he owned in Wisconsin. However, McFarland sold nothing at first, and soon Abby had to pawn most of her jewelry to pay the rent. With the bills piling up and still no money coming in, McFarland figured it was better he went at it alone. As a result, McFarland sent Abby back to her father’s home in New Hampshire. In late 1858, McFarland was finally able to sell some of his Wisconsin properties. Soon after, he brought Abby back to New York and they settled in a rented cottage in Brooklyn. There their first son Percy was born in 1860, and a second son Daniel was born in 1864.

McFarland’s land-selling business went flat and he started drinking heavily. Abby later wrote, “At first Mr. McFarland professed for me the most extravagant and passionate devotion, but soon he began to drink heavily, and before we were married a year, his breath and body were steaming with vile liquor. I implored him to reform, but he cried out: ‘My brain is on fire and liquor makes me sleep.'”

At the start of the Civil War, the McFarlands briefly returned to Madison, Wisconsin. Soon McFarland realized, under the right circumstances and with some training, his beautiful, young wife would be the better earner of the two. To implement his plan, the McFarlands traveled back to New York City in order to school Abby to become an actress.

In New York City, Abby tired her hand at dramatic readings, and she discovered she had a talent for the stage. One thing led to another, and soon Abby was acting in several plays and making the tidy sum of $25 a week. Abby’s career advanced so quickly, soon she appeared opposite the great actor Edwin Booth in the Merchant of Venice (Edwin Booth was the older brother of John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot and killed Abraham Lincoln). Abby also supplement her income by writing several articles about children and nature. She even penned a book of poetry entitled Percy’s Book of Rhymes after her son Percy.

Abby’s artistic achievements allowed her to increase her circle of friends. She became fast pals with newspaper magnate Horace Greeley, his sister Mrs. John Cleveland, and New York Tribune publisher Samuel Sinclair and his wife.

However, his wife’s successes did nothing to placate the wild nature of McFarland. He used his wife’s new friends and their connection to get himself a political appointment. Abby later said, “Through the influence of Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune, I procured a position for him (McFarland) with one of the Provost marshals.”

Soon McFarland became jealous of Abby’s new friends, and his drinking increased exponentially. McFarland kept the money Abby made from her acting and writing, and spent it all on booze. McFarland started opening Abby’s private mail, and if he didn’t like what he read, he would threaten to kill Abby and himself.

“By this time he had become a demon,” Abby said. “He would rise in bed, tear the bed clothing into shreds and threaten to kill me. When he became exhausted, he would tearfully beg my pardon and go to sleep.”

One time McFarland became so enraged, he struck Abby in the face, so hard, it caused her to stumble backwards. From that point on, their relationship changed dramatically.

“There was a look in his eyes that made him burst into a paroxysm of tears and to beg wildly that I should forgive him,” Abby said. “But from that moment, I could never tell him that I loved him or forgave him, because it would not have been the truth.”

In January 1867, the McFarlands moved into a boarding house at 72 Amity Street in New York City. Soon after, Albert Deane Richardson, who was in his mid-thirties at the time, moved into the same boarding house. Richardson was already known to Abby, since they had met at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair. Richardson had an orange-colored beard and hazel eyes, and was considered to be a very distinguished-looking individual of the highest character.

Richardson, born in Massachusetts, was one of the most famous reporters of his time. He was well known for his writings as a war correspondent for the New York Tribune during the Civil War, and he also spent time acting as a spy for the North. In 1862, Richardson was captured by the South at Vicksburg, and he spent a year and a half in two separate Confederate prisons. In December 1863, while imprisoned in Salisbury, North Carolina, Richardson and another war correspondent escaped from prison and traveled four hundred miles on foot, until they reached the Union Lines in Knoxville. At the time of his imprisonment, Richardson had a wife and four children. When he returned home, he discovered his wife and infant daughter had died. Richardson assumed the support and care for the three other children, which at the time of his death, were thirteen, ten and six.

Back at his desk at the New York Tribune, Richardson capitalized on his Civil War heroics by writing about his escape. The title of his newspaper article was “Out of the Jaws of Death and Out of the Mouth of Hell.” It was considered one of the finest pieces of journalism that came out of Civil War era. Richardson expanded this article into a book, and combined with his other writings, Richardson had transformed himself from a war prisoner into a wealthy man. So much so, Richardson bought shares in the New York Tribune, making himself a minority owner of the newspaper.

At the time he moved into the same boarding house as the McFarlands, Richardson was now an editor/writer for the New York Tribune. (Editor’s note: I was a sports columnist for the reincarnation of the New York Tribune in the 1980’s.) Richardson used his room at 72 Amity Street as an office, as well as a place to sleep. On his staff at 72 Amity Street, Richardson employed a stenographer, an artist, and a messenger boy to deliver his work to the New York Tribune offices downtown on Park Row.

On February 19, 1867, McFarland returned to the boarding house and his found his wife standing outside Richardson’s door. Abby claimed Richardson and her were discussing one of his articles, but McFarland would have none of that.

Abby later wrote, “When we entered our apartment, my husband flew into a rage and insisted that an improper intimacy existed between Mr. Richardson and I.”

McFarland immediately went on a three-day bender, where he again threatened Abby’s life and said he would commit suicide. Finally on February 21, Abby left McFarland for good. She grabbed her two children, and took up residence with Mr. And Mrs. Samuel Sinclair.

At the Sinclairs, Abby summoned her father, who now lived in Massachusetts, and apprised him of the situation. It was agreed upon that McFarland should be invited to the Sinclair residence, and in the presence of the Sinclairs and her father, Abby told McFarland that their marriage was over.

That same evening Richardson called at the Sinclair residence. Richardson offered Abby his condolences and said he would do anything he could do to help her in her time of need. Then as he was leaving, Abby followed him out to the hallway.

With tears in her eyes she said: “You have been very kind to me. I cannot repay you.”

Referring to Abby’s two children, Richardson said, “How do you feel about facing the world with two babies?”

She answered, “It looks hard for a woman, but I am sure I can get on better without that man than with him.”

Before leaving, Richards told Abby, “I wish you to remember, that any responsibility you choose to give me in any possible future, I shall be glad to take.”

Two days later, Richardson asked Abby to marry him, telling her that he wanted to give her his motherless children for her to care for as she would her own.

Abby later said, “It was absolutely impossible for me not to love him.”

On the night of March 13, 1867, Richardson met Abby at the theater where she had just finished a performance. Just as they turned a corner, McFarland rushed up behind them and fired three shots; one of which pierced Richardson’s thigh. It was a superficial wound and Richardson was not badly hurt. McFarland was arrested by the police, but due to some inexplicable courthouse dealings, McFarland somehow managed to escape jail time.

When it was obvious to McFarland that his wife was lost to him forever, he decided to sue to get custody of both their children. The courts came to a split decision, whereby Abby would get custody of Daniel, and McFarland — custody of Percy. In April 1868, Abby attempted to see her son Percy, but she was denied doing so by McFarland, who flew into a rage and threatened to hit her. At this point, Abby had no choice but to file for divorce.

In the state of New York, the only grounds for divorce was adultery. So in July of 1868, Abby decided to go to Indiana for her divorce, where the grounds for divorce was more extensive. Those grounds included drunkenness, extreme cruelty, and failure to support a wife. Abby stayed in Indiana for 16 months until her divorce from McFarland was final. Then Abby traveled to her family’s home in Massachusetts, and Richardson met her there to spend Thanksgiving Day 1869 with her and her family.

On November 25, 1869, at 5:15 p.m., McFarland walked into the Park Row offices of the New York Tribune. He hid quietly in a corner for about 15 minutes until he saw Richardson enter though the side entrance on Spruce Street. While Richardson was reading his mail at the counter, McFarland rushed up to him and fired several shots. Richardson was hit three times, but he was still able to walk up two flights of stairs to the editorial office, where he flung himself on the couch, mortally wounded with a bullet in the chest. When the medics arrived, Richardson was carried across City Hall to the Astor House, and laid down on a bed in room 115.

At 10 p.m., McFarland was arrested in room 31 of the Westmoreland Hotel, on the corner of Seventeenth Street and Fourth Avenue. The arresting officer, Captain A. J. Allaire, told McFarland he was under arrested for the shooting of Richardson. At first, McFarland said he was innocent of the charges. Then he shockingly said, “It must have been me.”

Captain Allaire took McFarland into custody and brought him to the Astor House, room 115. After Captain Allaire asked Richardson if the man in front of him had been his attacker, Richardson rose his head off the pillow weakly and said, “That is the man!’

Abby Sage was immediately summoned to New York City. As soon as she arrived, at Richardson’s request, arrangements were made by Horace Greeley so that the Abby and Richardson could be married at Richardson’s deathbed. The marriage ceremony was performed by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and the Rev. O.B. Frothingham. Three days later on December 2, Richardson took his last breath, leaving Abby Richardson a widow.

Before McFarland’s trial, his defense attorney John Graham told the New York press that Abby Sage’s intentions towards Mr. Richardson were anything but honorable. Graham said, “This tender and touching marriage was a horrible and disgraceful ceremony to get the property of a dying man, and that tended to hasten his demise.”

At first, Richardson’s fellow New York City journalists defended the honor of Richardson, and they began delving into McFarland’s life, trying to find anything that would discredit McFarland. The New York Tribune wrote that McFarland was in “the habit of opium eating to for the purpose of drowning his sorrows.”

However, the New York Sun went on a campaign to discredit both Abby and Richardson. In an editorial entitled “A Public Outrage on Religion and Decency” The Sun accused Richardson of luring Abby away from her loving husband. The Sun even dredged up a quote from McFarland’s brother who said, “Abby went reading just to get a chance to paint her face, pass for beauty, and get in with that free-love tribe at Sam Sinclair’s.”

What followed was a battle in the press where most of the New York City dailies opined that it was Richardson and Abby who were immoral, and that McFarland did the honorable thing in killing the man who had stolen his wife away from him.

McFarland’s trial commenced on April 4, 1820. Since she knew her husband’s defense lawyer was on a mission to disgrace and discredit her, Abby stood away from the trial. Yet Graham sought to secure sympathy from the jury towards his client by having McFarland’s son Percy sitting next to him during the trial.

In his opening argument, Graham implored the jury to understand the mental anguish his client had been forced to endure. Graham said, “So sensitive and tender was the defendant’s mental organization that he was incapable of grappling with and bearing the deep sorrows and misfortune that awaited him. His speculations were disastrous and that the seeds of dissatisfaction first began to be sown.”

Then Graham got to the main thrust of his defense, when he attacked the virtue and honor of Abby. “When she first met my client, she was but a poor factory girl. Yet on one occasion she told my client, ‘All I need to make me an elegant lady and popular with the elite of New York is money.'”

Then Graham told the jury that the turning point in his client’s life came on February 21, 1867, when McFarland arrived home at 3 p.m. and saw his wife exiting Richardson’s room.

“This beautiful woman was completely corrupted,” Graham said. “She had placed before her as temptations the honors of the stage and the society of great men. She was then too elegant and too popular for her humble lot, and the demon that placed her before all these temptations for which she must pay the price with her soul was Richardson”

Graham pointed out the boiling point for his client had been reached one day when McFarland went to the office of the New York Tribune. There he was given a letter by an office boy that was addressed to “Mrs. McFarland.” The boy had mistakenly thought the letter was addressed to “Mr. McFarland.”

Graham told the jury, “My client opened the letter, peruses it and finds it is a love letter written by Richardson, who was in Boston, to Mrs. McFarland. In this letter, Richardson openly claims his intentions to marry this woman if she can obtain a divorce from Mr. McFarland.”

During the trial, the prosecutors, led by former judge and then-congressman Noah Davis, concentrated on how McFarland, during his marriage, had mistreated his wife, and on occasions beat her. To back up these claims, the prosecution called in Abby’s relatives and friends, including a man of great clout – Horace Greeley.

However, Greeley was no fan of the corrupt Democratic machine Tammany Hall, whom Greeley excoriated many times in his newspaper. As payback, Tammany Hall used their considerable influence, before and during the trial, to discredit Greeley, and Abby.

At his final summation to the jury which took two days, Graham tried to sway the jury into thinking his client was just the victim of unbearable consequences.

“The evidence proves the insanity under which the defendant was laboring at the time of the shooting,” Graham said. “This was a condition of mind superinduced by the agony he endured at the thought of the loss of his home, his wife, and his children.”

The jury bought Graham’s incredible defense like a mark buys into a three-card-monte game. On May 10, it took them only one hour and fifty-five minutes to return a verdict of not-guilty on the grounds of insanity.

Although she was deeply despondent, after the trial, Abby Sage Richardson steadfastly remained in New York City. She became a successful author and playwright, and was well received in both the literary and social communities. She also edited and published a book of Richardson’s unpublished work.

Abby also kept her promise to the dying Richardson that she would raise his three children as her own. She also raised her son Daniel, whose name was changed to Willie (not to be associated with his father Daniel McFarland). Abby’s other son Percy left McFarland and returned to his mother. He changed his surname from McFarland to his mother’s maiden name of Sage.

On December 5, 1900, Abby Sage Richardson died in Rome of pneumonia.

Daniel McFarland traveled out west in 1880. He was last heard from in Colorado, and there is no recorded account of his death. However, according to historian Edmund Pearson, “It did not take him long to drink himself to death.”

Albert Richardson was buried in his home town of Franklin, Massachusetts. Prominently displayed in Franklin is a monument to Richardson’s heroics in the Civil War. The inscription on the monument reads: “Many give thee thanks who never knew thy face, so, then, farewell, kind heart and true.”

Is the Law on Diminished Responsibility Satisfactory?

Voluntary manslaughter, as established by the Homicide Act 1957, is determined by three sections: diminished responsibility, provocation, and suicide pact. These are all known as partial defences meaning that they do not give full acquittal of a sentence they only shorten that of murder to manslaughter. Diminished responsibility is established by Section 2 of the Homicide Act which states that “Where a person kills or is party to a killing of another, he shall not be convicted of murder if he was suffering from such abnormality of mind as substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts and omissions in doing or being party to the killing.”

It may be used as a defence to murder if the defendant can prove an abnormality of the mind, if, for example, the defendant is an alcoholic, or has a mental condition as in Byrne (1960), where the defendant had uncontrollable sexual desires. The defence is that the defendant does not have the necessary control over their actions, when compared to a reasonable person. Diminished responsibility has been criticised for a number of reasons, the very term ‘Diminished responsibility’ has been criticised by authorities such as the Butler Committee, who say that it is ‘not a medical fact relating to the accused’. There are also many other areas which makes this area of law controversial as I will be discussing.

Abnormality of mind covers a wide range of situations and was describes by Lord Cj Parker in the Court of Appeal in the case of Byrne (1960) as “a state of mind so different from that of ordinary human beings that the reasonable man would term it abnormal.” In Byrne (1960) the defendant who was a sexual psychopath, strangled to death and then mutilated a young woman. He was convicted of murder but the Court of Appeal felt that his condition came within the definition of diminished responsibility and so his conviction of murder was substituted for one of murder.

The main problem was that the medical experts had describes Byrnes condition as amounting to ‘partial insanity’ and the Court of Appeal had approved of this. However, in Seers (1984) it was held that comparisons with insanity are not helpful and should be avoided. In this case the defendant stabbed his estranged wife and claimed diminished responsibility on grounds of chronic reactive depression. The trial judge directed that for the defence to be successful Seers had to be bordering on the insane. He was found to be bordering insane and as a result his so his conviction of murder was substituted for one of murder.

Another problem with the law on diminished responsibility is that diminished Responsibility covers a wide range of mental conditions such as paranoia and epilepsy. Some conditions have been known for years, but some of the conditions have been recognised more recently such as ‘battered woman syndrome’ which was demonstrated in the case of Hobson (1998). In this case the defendant stabbed her alcoholic and abusive partner to death in 1992, during an argument. At the trial she claimed that she had acted in self-defence, and there was a subsidiary issue on provocation. Diminished responsibility was not specifically raised and the defendant was convicted. She appealed on the grounds of diminished responsibility based on battered woman syndrome which previously was not regarded as abnormality of mind until 1994. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and ordered a retrial. The problem with this area of law is that some conditions are not regarded as abnormality if mind until later on and so the development on this area of law is very slow which leads to people who have a genuine condition being punished for something they had no control over.

The Abnormality of mind must be caused by one of the matters set out in the brackets within section 2 (1) of the Homicide Act 1957. These are: a condition of arrested or retarded development of mind, any inherent cause, induced by any disease or injury. Inherent cause means one which comes from within the defendant, as opposed to an outside factor and it does not have to be permanent. The important point is that there must be medical evidence given at the trial, of an abnormality of mind arising from one of the specified causes.The abnormality of the mind has to be such as to substantially impair the defendant’s responsibility for his actions. In Lloyd (1967) it was held that ‘substantial’ does not mean ‘total’, nor did it mean ‘trivial’ or ‘minimal’. It is something in between and it is up to the jury to decide if the defendant’s mental responsibility was impaired and if so, was it substantially impaired? In seers (1984) the court also considered the phrase ‘substantially impaired’ and held that ‘substantially’ means more than ‘trivial’ but not ‘total’ or ‘absolute’ impairment.

Diminished responsibility and alcohol makes things more complicated as there are various combinations of intoxication and diminished responsibility that have to be considered which are: intoxication only, intoxication and a pre-existing abnormality of mind not connected to the intoxication, intoxication which has caused brain damage and intoxication due to dependency/addiction.There is a clear rule that intoxication alone is not Diminished responsibility. In Di Duca (1959) – The court of appeal held that the immediate effects of taking alcohol or drugs were not an injury, even if it did have an effect on the brain. So a ‘transient’ state of intoxication was not an abnormality of mind.

There are also difficulties in cases where the defendant has some abnormality of mind but, in addition, is intoxicated at the time he does the killing. This problem was considered in Gittens (1984). In this case the defendant was suffering from depression. During a visit home from hospital he argued with his wife and beat her to death and then raped and killed his stepdaughter. At the time of the offence he had been drinking and taking drugs for depression. The jury had to consider all the factors excluding the intoxication and see if it amounted to a substantial impairment of the defendant’s responsibility for his acts. The decision was interpreted as meaning that the defendant could only prove diminished responsibility if he could satisfy the jury that he would have killed because of the abnormality of mind even if he had not been intoxicated.

This point was later confirmed by Dietschmann (2003). In this case the defendant killed a man in a savage attack whilst he was very drunk. He was also suffered from a mental abnormality, namely an adjustment disorder which was a depressed grief reaction following the death of his aunt, Sarah, with whom he had a close emotional and physical relationship and whom he (wrongly) believed had committed suicide because of her drug problems. It was held that to benefit from the finding of diminished responsibility, D does not have to show he would have killed had he been sober. Also by being intoxicated it does not entitle the defendant to the benefit of the defence of diminished responsibility, the only factor which the law recognises as capable of diminishing his mental responsibility is the mental abnormality described by the expert witnesses. It was also said that drink is only capable of amounting to Diminished Responsibility if it either causes damage to the brain or produces an irresistible craving so that consumption is involuntary (e.g. alcohol dependence syndrome)

If the brain has been injured through alcoholism, then that injury or disease can support a finding of diminished responsibility. This was stated in Tandy (1989). In Tandy (1989), the defendant, an alcoholic, had drunk nearly a bottle of vodka when she told her mother that her eleven year old daughter was involved with her husband (Tandy’s). So she strangled her eleven year old daughter. (She normally drank Vermouth or Barley wine), the court of appeal held that where the defendant is unable to resist drinking, so that is involuntary, this may amount to diminished responsibility. The same point was considered again in wood (2008), where the court of appeal pointed out that the ‘sharp effect of the distinction drawn in Tandy between cases where brain damage has occurred as a result of alcohol dependency syndrome and where it has not, is no longer appropriate. The court of appeal also said that the jury should ignore any consumption of alcohol which they decide was voluntary. In the case of Wood (2008), the defendant was drunk and went to the victim’s house and had fallen asleep. When he awoke he found the victim trying to perform oral sex on him and hit the victim with a meat clever killing him.

Although diminished responsibility had provided a more satisfactory defence than insanity for defendants who kills but are suffering from a mental abnormality, there are still problems with the defence. One such problem is the burden of proof as in most other cases the defence only has to raise the defence and it is up to the prosecution to disapprove it. At the moment, defendants pleasing diminished responsibility are at a disadvantage which is not faced by those raising provocation.

Another problem is the wording of section 2 of the Homicide Act 1957. The definition in this has been constantly criticised. Lord Justice Buxton describes the wording as a ‘disgrace’. The law commission in its report, murder, manslaughter and infanticide (2006) pointed out two principle problems with the current law. These were that the section does not explain what is involved in ‘substantially impairment of mental responsibility’ and that the definition in section 2 was not drafted with the needs and practices of medical experts in mind.

There were also many proposals for reform. For example the Butler Committee recommended placing the burden of proving that the defendant did the act (or made the omission) with the requisite state of mind, on the prosecution. The rationale behind the Committee’s proposal seems to have been the perceived anomaly of the issue of burden of proof in relation to the defences of insanity and diminished responsibility. The Criminal Law Revision Committee also felt that the prosecution should bear the burden of disproving insanity and diminished responsibility. They felt that, however happy lawyers may be with the difference between being sure and being satisfied on the balance of probabilities (adding “if indeed any are”), juries are probably confused by these subtleties and by the different placing of the burden of proof for different offences. The Criminal Law Revision Committee expressed their confidence in the judges to ensure that defences which have no proper basis on the evidence are withdrawn from the jury.

The Butler Committee also recommended that it should be possible, where the prosecution are in possession of evidence indicating that a defence under the section can be made out, for them to charge manslaughter in the first instance rather than murder. The Committee stipulated that the prosecution would be likely to adopt this course only when it is clear that the defence were agreeable to it. If the defence wished to resist evidence of mental disorder the charge should be murder as is currently the case.

The Criminal Law Revision Committee have endorsed the Butler Committee’s recommendation, being of the opinion that the mental condition of a disturbed person is not likely to be improved by having a charge of murder outstanding. They also felt that it cannot be right that charges should be preferred in the most solemn way known to the law, i.e. on indictment, when the prosecution know that there is a defence to the charge which is likely to succeed. In this the Criminal Law Revision Committee had the support of several prominent public bodies.

This recommendation, however, has not been enacted in the Bill. Sparing the defendant from the anxiety of having a trial for murder pending and from the anguish of appearing in court on a murder charge would have given expression to the foundation of humanity on which the defence is based. Only cases where the medical evidence was contested by the prosecution would be tried as murder. Thus valuable court time and expense would have been saved as judges would not be faced with protracted medical testimony on the issue of diminished responsibility before deciding whether or not to accept the plea or to leave it for jury determination. This leads me to conclude that yes the law on diminished responsibility is indeed satisfactory.

Michael’s Murder – Capital Punishment Vs Life Imprisonment

This article examines capital punishment in murder cases, one case in particular. While many people support the death penalty and have good reasons to support such a controversial issue, I will offer deeply personal and compelling evidence to demonstrate why I do not support capital punishment.

A Brutal Murder and the Aftereffects

On January 15, 1982, in his birthplace of Oklahoma City, OK, a 29-year-old man was gunned-down in the parking lot of a popular night club by his roommate, a person who he considered his close friend. The murder victim had a young son, siblings, and one surviving parent. A very talented man, he built and sold wood furniture and played the drums. He worked hard at everything he did, and he had many friends.

His murderer shot him twice, once in the chest, and once in the abdomen, but did not stop with just killing him. He drove the victim’s body 50 miles from the murder scene where he dumped it in a drainage ditch like a sack of garbage. A road crew found the body five days later. The man had been robbed and his clothing partially removed. On January 30, 1982, the Oklahoma City police department notified the victim’s family of his death.

The killer’s trial began in April 1982, and after deliberating for 22 minutes, a seven-woman, five-man jury found 27 year-old Dennis Ray Benton* guilty of first-degree manslaughter and later sentenced him to 70 years in prison.

Every three years when Benton’s parole hearing takes place, the victim’s sister petitions the Oklahoma parole board in an effort to keep him incarcerated. Although she did not want his life taken as he took her brother’s life, she feels that he should serve his total sentence. She reasons that he suffers more for his crime by living his life in prison, whereas he would suffer very briefly if executed. If Benton lives long enough to serve his sentence which got reduced to 46 years, a 73 year-old broken-down man will leave prison with no income, and a lot of worry about survival on the outside.

My older brother, Michael, should not have died in such a gruesome and tragic manner. However, while it seems logical that the state of Oklahoma should have taken Benton’s life, killing him would not have brought Michael back.

Although I still grieve heavily over my brother’s death, I do not believe that the execution of Benton would have provided my family and me with relief or closure. Yes, Benton took Michael from us, but the intentional taking of a human life by any method, including government mandate, still constitutes murder.

Judicial Death

Since 1976, judicial death has claimed the lives of 1,184 Americans with 20 of the executions carried out in 2011. As journalist William Bole questioned, in 1977 countries such as Western Europe and Cambodia stopped using capital punishment, so why does the United States still kill in order to demonstrate that killing is wrong? When other nations view a practice collectively, the United States takes a different position regardless of the consequences.

In America, 34 states practice the “an-eye-for-an-eye, a-tooth-for-a-tooth” method of retribution against people who commit savage and barbaric crimes such as murder. Other than the satisfaction that each stakeholder in an execution feels when the killer realizes that his or her own death has arrived, how can we justify committing the same crime that the offender committed to bring justice and closure to victims’ friends and families? How can the murder of a second person correct the murder of the first person when not one, but two or more lives have been taken?

Bedau’s Fantasy Argument

I’ll give an example of the death penalty offered by professor of philosophy, Gary Colwell, where in 2002, he presents philosopher Hugo Bedau’s fantasy-world argument to establish the morality of the death penalty. What if the execution of each murderer simultaneously restored the murder victim back to life as if no murder had ever happened?

Bedau, in his argument, stated:

Consider… an imaginary world in which executing the murderer would invariably restore the murder victim to life, whole and intact, as though no murder had ever occurred. In such a miraculous world, it is hard to see how anyone could oppose the death penalty on moral grounds. Why shouldn’t a murderer die if that will infallibly bring that innocent victim back to life? What could possibly be morally wrong with taking the murderer’s life under such conditions?

If the execution of my brother’s killer would bring him back to life as if nothing had ever taken place, perhaps my opposition to the death penalty would not exist because something good would come out of the sacrifice of evil. As the family member of a murder victim, the restitution that I would receive from the forfeit of the killer’s life, under Bedau’s conditions, would not seem as brutal as the “life for a life” method of justice that some parts of our nation currently use.

The flaw in Bedau’s fantasy-world argument makes it difficult to decide if taking a murderer’s life would right the wrong, because if it would, then capital punishment would represent moral justice which we all know that the act of murder by itself cannot do. If Benton’s life ended and restoration of Michael’s life began, the expression “a life-for-a-life” would no longer be valid since Michael would no longer be a murder victim, and Benton would no longer be a murderer which would make the execution of Benton completely immoral.

Why Kill Again?

The question remains: What possible fulfillment could a person get out of killing another human being unless the killer has perverse tendencies? In order to execute a killer, another murder must occur which makes the state carrying out the execution, and supporters of the execution have the same perverse tendencies as those of the killer.

Most capital punishment supporters feel that a murderer should receive the same treatment that the victim received. When my family and I learned of Michael’s murder, we felt the same way. That thought and feeling subsided when we considered the fact that Benton must be alive to suffer for his crime, and he would not pay for what he did if he received the death penalty.

Life vs. Death

In addition to my argument against the death penalty for the reasons I have already presented, I also examine the alternate to the death penalty, life in prison without parole, and why it provides more punishment than execution does. Some people feel that for a murderer, life in prison with no chance of ever seeing the outside world does not provide satisfactory punishment; however, I feel that a life sentence without parole, and in Benton’s case where he will serve almost a life sentence, fulfills the punitive expectation that I have for my brother’s killer.

Contrary to what many people think, prisoners who serve life sentences do not have it easy. Even though they do have many things such as television, access to a library, and educational opportunities, they actually have much more to worry about on a minute-by-minute basis than non-prisoners do, such as the loss of their lives, beatings by other inmates, and constant sexual assault.

The reality of their existence inside prison walls differs substantially from what we, as non-prisoners, visualize. True life prisoners pay a steep price for their crime, and to support my statements, I will provide examples of why “lifers” pay a hefty price for choosing murder over living as a productive member of society. My illustration consists of seven side-by-side comparisons of their lives on the inside vs. our lives on the outside.

Comparisons

  1. Living space: We can choose our living space and decorate it as we see fit. A lifer’s living space typically consists of a 6′ x 10′ cell with a toilet, sink, and a bed. Decoration must conform to prison policies.
  2. Time: We can spend our time any way we choose. A lifer must spend his or her time as dictated by prison dynamics and management. Time moves slowly, and days drag by.
  3. Work and education: We spend part of our time at our jobs for which we receive no less than minimum wage. If a lifer has a job, he or she earns anywhere from $1.00 a week to $20.00 per month. We can spend our money any way we choose, but a lifer has no real place to spend money, and nowhere except inside the walls to use any degree earned.
  4. Family and friends: We can choose the time that we spend with our family and friends, and the activities that participate in. If we lose a friend or family member, we can attend the funeral. A lifer cannot choose time spent with family and friends, and eventually, most friends of lifers stop visiting. If a lifer loses a friend or family member, prison regulations and policies forbid the prisoner to attend the funeral.
  5. Freedom: We have the freedom to come and go as we choose, freedom of speech, and control over most events in our daily lives. A lifer has very limited freedom. Prisoners who exercise freedom of speech in such a volatile atmosphere often get severely injured or lose their lives.
  6. Possessions: We have our possessions that we enjoy. Lifers do not have many possessions, and what little they do have frequently gets stolen. Prisoners who fight for their possessions sometimes end up getting brutally injured or killed.
  7. Conscience. We did not commit murder, so we do not have to live with the guilt. We do not have to live with the horrific fact that we took another person’s life. Some lifers do not have a conscience or a soul, but the ones who do must look at themselves in the mirror every day and live with what they did. Guilt can age a person physically and emotionally overnight, and many lifers suffer guilt related health problems and die a premature death.

Career Advancement

Even with all that I have demonstrated so far, some people will always support the death penalty, and will still feel that the “life-for-a-life” punishment is ethical, which is their right. In his 2005 interview with Sister Helen Prejean about how prosecutors often treat the family members of murder victims, associate editor of America magazine, George. M. Anderson presented Prejean’s story that prosecutors who have their sights set on judgeship frequently seek the death penalty to enhance their political careers.

How do we justify the sacrifice of a human life, even that of a cold-blooded murderer, as a means of professional advancement? How do we teach our children and grandchildren the importance of human life and then demonstrate the opposite by using the judicial system as a murder weapon?

The Debate

When we debate between capital punishment and life in prison without parole, we have to consider the values that must be weighed when deciding the penalty for the crime. What public purpose, other than the eternal absence of the killer, does the death penalty serve? If the court pronounces the sentence of execution, after the sentence is carried out, the killer’s family endures the punishment since the killer can no longer suffer. Why should we punish innocent families?

To quote attorney Richard C. Dieter from 1994: “Assuming that the death penalty is ethically acceptable, and even constitutional in theory, are there, nevertheless, practical burdens which capital punishment places on society? Whether one supports the death penalty or not, are its negative effects outweighing the personal satisfaction which some may get from using it? “

As a society, if we do not condone the taking of a human life, why do we support court-sanctioned murder? What makes this type of murder any less immoral than the heinous crime of the person who gets executed?

Innocent People Executed

We must also consider the fact that in spite of strong evidence that won a conviction, execution has taken the lives of innocent people. In 1999, The Christian Century Magazine exhibits a case where Anthony Porter, convicted of murder and sentenced to death, got released from prison 16 years later when a Northwestern University journalism professor and his students reexamined his case and led police to the real killer who confessed to the killings. Had Porter not had the luck of a court-ordered hearing on his mental competency, and the help of the professor and his students, he would have been executed for a crime that he did not commit. The overturn of his conviction took place just two days before he was scheduled for execution.

In 2001, The Christian Science Monitor referenced then Illinois governor George Ryan’s act of halting executions in Illinois in order to put safeguards in place to prevent the executions of innocent people. He also noted that wrongful convictions take place when police and prosecutors mishandle evidence, and when defendants have pitifully inadequate legal representation during trial.

An innocent person receiving the death penalty is as appalling as the crime of murder itself. When a person takes another person’s life, it is murder; and when a state executes an innocent person, it is still murder. How can there be any difference when both murder victims were innocent?

Lorna Siggins, Western Correspondent for the Irish Times in 2007 described innocent people who get convicted and sentenced to death for violent crimes. She stated that professor of law Bryan A. Stevenson who represents disadvantaged and death-row prisoners in the United States got 125 death penalty cases overturned because the prisoners were found innocent, some just days before execution was scheduled to take place.

The fact that this many innocent people received the death penalty is deeply disturbing. No words could ever express the sorrow felt by their families and friends if those people had died for crimes that they did not commit.

Supporters of the death penalty might think about how they would feel if one of their friends or relatives got convicted of murder and was executed, and then five years later the real killer got caught and confessed to the murder that the friend or relative did not commit but died for. Writer Mark Dow, who has authored many death penalty articles and commentaries, made a strong case in 2005 against the death penalty when he pointed out that a court can undo a conviction but it cannot undo an execution.

I know how I would feel if my brother Michael had died for a murder that he didn’t commit instead of the way that he did die. Either way he is gone, but court-ordered murder does not convince people not to kill. My example of career enhancement by lawyers who seek the death penalty blatantly lays the groundwork for a corrupt judicial system to get rich off of the blood of others.

Additional Crimes for Death

Writer Rod Morgan, a well-known author of many books and articles on criminal justice and penal policy, supported putting an end to capital punishment on the grounds that it violates human rights and fundamental freedoms. He pointed out something that should concern everyone: In recent years, many of the states with the death penalty have passed laws that added crimes that qualify as a capital case such as attempted assassination of the President, and major drug trafficking.

If a friend or relative committed one of those additional crimes, although a dreadful crime, should that person be put to death, or would life in prison without parole form a better solution so that he or she could actually pay a debt to society for the crime?

Final Thoughts

We must look deep inside and ask ourselves this question: If we were judges in a court of law, could we, without much regard to overall society, sentence another human being to die? Professor of law James S. Liebman asked the same question in 2007: “Why, then, is the Court’s stance toward the death penalty one of both detachment and deployment? Why not one or the other? Why, in its dance with death, is the Court suspended between near-embrace and near-escape?”

Now I return to my brother’s killer, Dennis Ray Benton. My family and I did not ask the prosecutor to seek the death penalty because in reality, he would not have suffered for taking the life of our loved one. Killing Benton would not right the wrong that he did to our family.

The fact that Michael’s killer lives and suffers daily the consequences of his actions brings me comfort. I see his suffering, and the physical signs of his misery which does much more for me than his dead body lying in the ground could ever do.

In Michael’s case, justice really has prevailed without the use of capital punishment.

*Name changed to pseudonym to protect family privacy

Copyright 2011 Patti McMann. All rights reserved.

Life for Life: Is the Death Penalty Murder?

During the recent Boston Marathon bombing trial for the convicted co-bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a gentleman outside the courthouse held a sign that said, “Death Penalty Is Murder.” Is the death penalty for convicted murderers really murder?

Answer: No, death penalty for murderers is not murder. In actuality, the death penalty for murderers is one of the oldest ordinances Yahweh God established for humanity. Therefore, to not execute a murderer is to disobey the commandment of God.

First, what is murder?

Murder is the illegal killing of humans according to the laws of Yahweh God. These killings are not murder: 1) killing at the battlefields, 2) killing in self-defense, 3) accidental killing where the death couldn’t have been reasonably prevented, and 4) the death penalty. All other killings of human beings are murder.

When did Yahweh establish the death penalty for murderers?

The death penalty for murderers is instituted by Yahweh since Noah’s day, so it is one of the oldest ordinances God has ever established for humanity (Genesis 9:6). It is an obligation that Noah and all his descendants, including us, must fulfill. Anyone who murders a human being must be put to death. Even an animal that kills a human must be put to death, even though animals technically do not commit murder (Genesis 9:5).

Why did Yahweh order the death penalty for murderers?

A murderer must be put to death for two reasons:

a) Humans are made in the spiritual image of God, so to murder a human is to kill what is most precious to God (Genesis 9:6). Only God has the authority to take away a person’s life. Murder is therefore one of the gravest sin against both God and humanity, and the murderer has to pay for this grave sin with their life.

b) Innocent blood that is shed pollutes the land. The only way expiation can be made for the land is “life for life,” where the blood of the murderer is shed to make recompense for the innocent blood that is shed. The blood of the murderer is to make expiation for the land. No one else’s blood can make expiation for the land. If a murderer is not executed, the land remains polluted (Numbers 35:33).

How can we ensure that we’ve caught the murderer?

Before we execute a murderer, we have to be one hundred percent certain that the suspect indeed committed the murder. This was why God required at least two witnesses to establish a case or bring a charge of sin against someone. No one should be put to death based on the account of only one witness (Deuteronomy 17:6). So if a person indeed murdered someone but there’s only one witness to the crime, then the murderer cannot be executed. Simply put, we have to be absolutely certain that we have the right suspect. It’s better to let a guilty person go (due to a lack of evidence) than to execute an innocent person.

What if a witness testifies falsely?

To minimize false testimonies, God ordered that false witnesses receive the same penalty that they intended for whom they falsely accused (Deuteronomy 19:18-19). For instance, if someone falsely testifies against someone of murder, then that false witness should receive the same penalty they intended for the wrongly accused: the death penalty. We have so many false witnesses today because we don’t put God’s laws into practice.

Executing murderers is justice that God demands. It is not about our personal beliefs, sensitivity, emotions, or opinions. Some people protest, “Execution doesn’t bring the murdered person back.” But this is not the point. The point is to obey God, deliver justice for the victim, and to make expiation for the land.

When we obey God’s order to execute murderers, we are not deciding the eternal fate of murderers. What we do is to carry out the justice called for on Earth, while God decides the eternal fate of the murderer upon their resurrection. We should do our job, while God does His.

An Overview of the Criminal Law

All crimes may be scrutinized, charged and arbitrated at the federal or the state level. The following sections will contain a brief overview of Criminal law.

Types of Crimes

Crimes can be categorized as follows:

1. Felony: Very serious crimes are known as felonies, wherein the accused are required to serve at least one year in jail. Felonies can be further classified as follows:

  • Rape
  • Kidnapping
  • Murder
  • Arson
  • Robbery

2. Misdemeanor: The lesser crimes are known as misdemeanors and usually entail less than one year in jail. Some of the various types of misdemeanor are listed below:

  • Assault
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Public Intoxication

Sometimes depending on the criminal code prevalent in the state and the description of the crime, certain crimes are classified as either felony or misdemeanor. Such crimes that often include assaults are known as wobblers.

Constituents of Crime

In order to prove the crime committed by the convicted, the prosecuting party must persuade the arbiter that the accused person had guilt in mind while committing it. The description of the mindset of the accused depends on the following:

  • Knowledge
  • Purpose
  • Recklessness
  • Negligence

To cite an example of the above, it is to be noted that murder occurs when a person intentionally kills another human being. For proving the crime committed by the incriminated, the prosecuting party thus needs to convince the jury of not only the act of murder, but also the intention of the murderer.

The Rights of the Person Guilty of Crime

If one is convicted of felony, misdemeanor or wobblers, he/she holds some rights after the arrest is done. This includes the following:

  • Right to Maintain Silence: This right is proposed to fortify the accused from stating something that may prove the commitment of the crime.
  • Right to Appoint an Attorney: If you are held back at the police station, you are given the right to get in touch with your criminal lawyer. The main role of appointing a criminal attorney is to provide advice to the convicted and to represent him/ her in the court.
  • Right to a Public Defender: If the person accused of a crime does not have enough finances to appoint an attorney, a public defender can be appointed to represent him/ her.

Criminal Law Procedure

The following steps are followed in a criminal case:

  • Arrest: This is the initial step in the criminal process, wherein within a certain small period of time, the police will either file a case against you or order your release.
  • Charge: If one is found guilty of crime, he/ she will have to make an appearance in court for indictment. All the charges against a person are made public and the accused is provided with the chance to file a petition (guilty or otherwise). The arbiter will announce a trial date if one files a not guilty petition.
  • Plea Bargain: You may enter “plea bargain” with the prosecuting party while waiting for the trial. The plea bargain is a procedure wherein the incriminated pleads guilty to a crime of lower degree to acquire a light sentence.