A panel on the death penalty organized by the School of Law sparked conversation among students about the controversial law.
The death penalty is the execution of someone who has committed a capital crime, according to the Legal Information Institute created by the Cornell University Law School.
“I think the death penalty is inhumane and inherently flawed within the United States,” said sophomore Ryann Alonso, president of Young Democrats.
The Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies at the UofA organized the panel on the death penalty Thursday. The panel featured Georgetown professor William Otis, who is a supporter of the death penalty, and Ben Jones, who has worked to reverse the death penalty with Equal Justice USA.
Otis graduated from Stanford Law School and was a special counsel for George H. W. Bush, according to the UA website.
Jones graduated from Ohio State University and got his master’s degree from Yale. Jones joined Equal Justice USA after leading a campaign to end the death penalty in Connecticut, according to the website.
In Northwest Arkansas, there have been two people sentenced to die since 2000, said Matt Durrett, a Washington County prosecutor. Both people were from Washington County, and both were convicted and sentenced in 2008, Durrett said. However, both people are still alive and on death row.
Arkansas has gone a decade without any executions, but that will change soon. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has set execution dates for eight inmates.
“I think it is ironic how Gov. Hutchinson is of the pro-life party, but ultimately, the blood of these eight people will be on his hands,” Alonso said. “It’s safe to say that our governor isn't as pro life as he may seem to be.”
It is immoral and economically irresponsible for the state to punish people with death, Alonso said.
More than 1 in 9 people on death row are exonerated by DNA evidence, Alonso said.
“If we had 1 in 9 planes falling out of the sky, would we consider air a viable way to travel?” Alonso said. “I certainly don't think so.”
From an economic standpoint, it’s also more expensive to execute people than sentencing them to life without parole, Alonso said.
“It’s a tricky subject, but I do support it,” said junior Brock Hyland, president of the College Republicans.
Other students said they were unsure about the law.
“I believe the death penalty should be used sparingly, if at all,” senior Kori Hudson said.
Many convicts who were destined to die at the hands of the state have been exonerated because of advancements in technology, Hudson said.
“Many overturned convictions, thanks to The Innocence Project and other organizations, lead me to wonder how many convicted men and women have had their lives taken from them by an overzealous justice system,” Hudson said.
The Innocence Project is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to acquitting wrongly convicted criminals through the use of DNA testing, according to the organization’s website.
The death penalty should be avoided except in extreme cases in which the crime is especially heinous and guilt can be unequivocally determined through DNA evidence, Hudson said.
“Even one innocent life taken unjustly undoes all the justice the death penalty aims to hand out,” Hudson said.
When people are sentenced to death, the jury members who convicted them are guilty of killing them, sophomore Monica Briselden said.
“Whether or not you’re killed for your actions is not up to us,” Briselden said. “That is something between them and God.”
Other cultures view the subject differently, junior Abdulrahman Alkhaldi said.
From an Islamic perspective, death is justified only if that person has already killed someone. However, if the criminal pays money to the affected family, the death penalty will be waived, Alkhaldi said.
“For the United States to be a just society, we cannot have the death penalty,” Alonso said. “It is reprehensible.”
Others said they disagreed.
“It’s OK that the death penalty is being discussed, but I think there are other important issues at hand,” Hyland said.