The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Students question death penalty in the classroom

“I’m not here to convince you. I’m here to get you to think,” Gary Taylor said.

Taylor spoke to a crowded classroom of SMU students Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. about his job representing death row inmates. “I want to give you an idea of what I have to work with,” Taylor said.

Although Taylor is against the death penalty, he said he wanted only to educate the audience on the facts regarding capital punishment.

“On a spiritual level, I feel that when we kill, we are no better than the people who do the killing,” Taylor said. “Most of my clients are guilty. It’s a reality. Do they deserve to die? No.”

Taylor began the discussion by asking the audience what they already knew about the death penalty and what they wanted to know.

“I can talk for two weeks about the death penalty without taking a breath, and I still won’t say what you want to hear,” he said.

He began by defining capital punishment.

“Capital murder means someone is subject to being executed,” Taylor said. Murder plus an aggravating circumstance automatically means the offender is subject to the death penalty. The specifics vary according to each state. According to Taylor, premeditation is not a requirement.

When asked how the jury decides whether or not to award the death penalty, Taylor said two questions are asked. First, will this person commit more crimes? In other words, is the person a future danger to society? Secondly, is there anything about this person that is mitigating to the extent that it outweighs the bad?

Many students wanted to know about possible corruption within the legal system, especially in Texas.

Although everyone is entitled to a fair trial in the United States, Taylor said this isn’t always the case.

“Three Texas inmates on death row had lawyers who fell asleep while on trial,” Taylor said. “Nobody that has money ends up on death row. Just look at O.J. Simpson.”

Taylor described the lifestyle of a typical inmate on death rows in bleak terms. Inmates sit in a small cell for 23 hours a day, and they may get one hour of recreation, which consists of walking around outside by themselves.

“You wait to hear from your family, your lawyer; essentially, you wait to die,” Taylor said.

Sophomore business major Danielle Hartle, a Texas native, seemed to represent the common opinion in the class.

“I feel that the death penalty is necessary,” she said. “For example, I think that Scott Peterson should definitely die for murdering his wife and unborn child.”

One student asked Taylor what the most disturbing thing he ever experienced on the job was. “The execution of a client I believed to be innocent, as well as my friend, was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen,” he said.

When asked if he would want someone to be killed if he brutally murdered a member of Taylor’s family, he said no.

“If killing is wrong to me, it’s wrong in every instance,” he said. He also pointed out that enabling the families of victims to decide a criminal’s fate is a mistake because they are the most hurt and troubled by the murder of a loved one.

Students also discussed the different theories applied to favoring capital punishment. Most students cite revenge, rehabilitation and deterrence as the most notable pros of the death penalty. “There is no doubt that the death penalty is a specific deterrent,” Taylor said. “That person will never commit another crime.”

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