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The Need to Replace Death Penalty with Life Imprisonment

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Bennett Miller’s take of Capote illustrates the intricate presentation of the death penalty in America’s media, legislation, and pop culture. Following the complex account of Perry Smith’s conviction, Miller conveys an excellent example of how the appellate process can extend over numerous years as murder trials works their way through state and federal courts. Furthermore, it reveals how inmates are dehumanized while on death row. How they spend their years confined to small cells, a punishment in itself, contemplating how one can grow up from a small child to a man whose fate lies at the hands of a hangman’s noose. In order to rehumanize Perry, Miller explores the affectionate bond that forms between Capote and Perry. Miller’s depiction of Perry’s upbringing, the final death scene, and the underlying brutality surrounding the capital punishment reinforces my belief in abandoning the death penalty.

In the final scene of Capote, the film strives for complete accuracy. A braised harness is placed around Perry’s pulsating neck, a hood set over his head (arguably for witnesses’ benefit), and the crashing sound of an unhinging latch signifies downward thrust of the body as it sways through the air. A truly memorable scene that solidifies the horrifying image of a hanging and the idea of the death penalty. The silence surrounding Perry’s death signifies the irreversibleness of capital punishment which leaves the crowd with an eerie feeling. Furthermore, the priest present at the hanging symbolizes Perry and every prisoner’s spiritual dilemma: one of redemptive repentance. Fans of Capote become emotionally invested in Perry’s livelihood. Through Capote’s affectionate affiliation with Perry, it is revealed that Perry had to survive his early childhood in an orphanage due to his mother’s alcoholic driven death. Perry is able to express his vulnerability and reveal how he was raised by music and literature. By being sentenced to death, Perry’s individuality is misplaced and overshadowed. Societies who respect life should not voluntarily murder human beings in capital punishment. An execution becomes a public display of mandated homicide, a proposed killing that supposedly solves various social problems. Such an event poorly influences the citizens, and in some cases children, who may be present. While many governments justify their lethal fury by expressing corresponding societal benefits, often the benefits of capital punishment are deceptive. As seen in Capote, Perry’s death brought about no visible benefits to the town of Holcomb, only destruction of community and loss of life.

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Miller’s attempt to shine light on the death penalty, punctuates the controversy that surrounds this punishment in today’s era. Those in favor of capital punishment often argue that the threat of execution proves more effective in deterring criminals than imprisonment. While on the surface this claim seems logical, capital punishment is actually an ineffective deterrent. Punishments are considered effective when it can be promptly and consistently implemented. Those who watch Capote now know that similar to the cases of Perry and Dick, prisoners can sit in death row for years, illustrating that capital punishment cannot be administered under effective conditions.

Additionally, keeping prisoners in limbo while on death row can create harmful effects for their mental health. Ironically, states with the highest murder rates are those where capital punishment is legal. Across all fifty states, approximately 1500 executions have taken place since 1976. However, more than 150 people have been exonerated from death row after evidence proved of their innocence. The average number of exonerations per year rose from three to five persons at the break of the 21st century (DPIC). In a nationwide survey, police chiefs ranked capital punishment as the weakest way to deter violent crime (ACLU). Increasing the number of police officers on patrol, strengthening the economy, and reducing drug abuse appear to be the most effective alternates to the death penalty for means of reducing violence (ACLU). In terms of economic cost, a study by FindLaw shows that California has spent roughly $4 billion on cases of capital punishment (FindLaw). Such expenses can be significantly decreased by replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment. Miller’s movie, Capote, reinforces my opinion that the practice of capital punishment should be abandoned. Capital punishment carries no economic benefit, is not an effective deterrent, and infringes on individual’s natural rights.


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