A slightly disorganised article on the Independent at least clearly lets us know that about 743 prisoners in the state of California (USA) are on Death Row but that California has only used the death penalty on 13 prisoners since 1978. Keeping all these prisoners on Death Row, they’ve been handed the death penalty in court but haven’t been executed yet, costs the American taxpayer $4 billion which is £2,820,377,320!
A useful fact within the article is that death row inmates are waiting longer and longer to actually get the death penalty because DNA is repeatedly proving that people deemed guilty in the past were actually innocent. Last year alone, six death row inmates were cleared of wrongdoing. It’s anyone’s guess how many more wrongly convicted murderers are still there.
A man who was wrongfully convicted of a crime in 1982 has just walked his first steps outside prison for 30 years. He had been found guilty of murder and rape mostly based on one eye witness’ evidence and teeth marks, but newly acquired DNA evidence shows another man, who has already died in prison for a different offence, was the perpetrator.
Perhaps this is a good case study to use in arguments against the death penalty?
The father of murdered schoolgirl Becky Watts said in a Newsnight interview that if the death penalty was available in the UK he’d pull the lever himself to kill his stepson, so that nobody else would feel the guilt of killing.
He explained how his family had been completely destroyed and justice still hadn’t been done. “I don’t think I’ve had justice. If they were going to hang him I would pull the lever so nobody else would have that guilt,” said Mr Galsworthy.
In a recent PSHE presentation at school, Year 9 students listened to an ex-prisoner describe the boredom he experienced whilst enduring a custodial sentence (in prison) for murder. At some stage the presenter described the law of joint enterprise, and explained to the students how dangerous this law was for people especially if they were parts of gangs.
So what is joint enterprise?
Under the doctrine of joint enterprise, a person who assists or encourages the committing of a crime can be held as legally responsible as the person who actually carries it out.
In cases of murder, an individual can be convicted of murder if they foresaw that the person they were with would “possibly” kill or inflict serious harm.
In RS GCSE when we look at Section 4 Crime and Punishment in Unit 8, and in the History GCSE, we learn the case of Derek Bentley who was hanged for murder in 1953 even though he’d not fired the shot which killed Pc Miles. Bentley had been sentenced to death on 11 December for killing Pc Miles during a bungled break-in at a warehouse in Croydon, Surrey. The court was told his co-defendant, Christopher Craig, fired the fatal shot but because he was still a juvenile in the eyes of the law he escaped the death sentence and was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
Well today the Supreme Court has stated that it was not right that someone could be convicted of murder if they merely foresaw that the person they were with might commit a crime. They have emphasised that they had to intend to help carry out, or encourage, the crime that actually resulted. This huge judgement by the Supreme Court basically means that in the coming weeks and months numerous people who are currently serving sentences in prison may try to launch appeals against their convictions. Keep your eyes out for more mention of Joint Enterprise in the news.
Remember who Antony Walker was? We learn about him in Year 11 in a Forgiveness lesson: an innocent black teenager who was attacked on the street simply because of his skin colour. Well now one of his killers, Joey Barton’s brother, has had one year taken off his prison sentence for community service in prison.
The Daily Mail reports how Michael Barton had been given an eighteen year sentence in 2005 after being found guilty of the racist murder but that he’s going to be let out one year early. Antony’s mum Gee Walker says: ‘We put our trust in the judges, in the law, and then they go and do this. It’s just wrong. I will have to live with it, but what about the people who have not got a faith like me? Where does it leave them?”
You will remember Gee and her daughter Dominique from the video we watch in class where they say they forgive Anthony’s killers as they don’t want to carry the baggage of hatred around them and that in the Bible it says 77 times we must forgive.
About the reduction in the killer’s sentence thought Gee continues, “This sends completely the wrong message to criminals. It tells them that if the pretend to be good they will win. I don’t believe what he has done in prison is anything more than pretence.” Dr Walker, a college lecturer who tragically saw the murder weapon sticking out of her son’s head as she sat beside him on his deathbed, added: “I believe [Barton] is playing a game and he sees that he is winning by doing that.”
To remind yourself of Anthony’s story and how a mother forgives the murderers of her son you can read about it or watch the short video we watch in class.
The BBC are reporting today that the Crown Court system in England and Wales is “chaotic and archaic”. The article says that the wigs that judges and barristers wear make people feel uncomfortable.
Some videos about the criminal justice system in England to help Year 11 GCSE RS students on their final section about crime and punishment.
ITV documentary about Aylesbury prison:
BBC Anatomy of a Crime: the programme follows from crime, arrest and conviction:
Even though it is about the USA this short video is still useful for learning about crime and punishment: