COLUMN FAILS LOGIC LESSON
Grant Woods’ Last Word column on the death penalty in the
September issue of ARIZONA ATTORNEY could be a useful subject of analysis by college students in a “Logic 101” course.
First, he says that he “continues to struggle” with the death
penalty, despite the fact that he is the very person who resuscitated it (so to speak) in Arizona. Second, he admits that it is not
a general deterrent, only a specific deterrent—ignoring the fact
that specific deterrence can virtually always be accomplished via
imprisonment. Third, he asserts that the death penalty is not
immoral on its face, but without providing any support whatsoever for this monumental conclusion, and that—regardless—it is
up to each person to decide whether it is, thus clearly suggesting
that the moral component has no place in determining whether it
should be utilized. Finally, he closes with the pithy quip that the
main justification for the death penalty is that it can remove a
“black cloud” hanging over the heads of victims’ relatives.
On the positive side, however, the column was well written,
and with appropriate punctuation.
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Arizona was in the national news yet again
recently for the wrong reason. This time it was the controversial execution of Joseph Wood that took two hours and seemed to some to be
cruel in the way it was carried out. Clearly Arizona has to learn how to
do this right before doing it again. The only good thing about this was
that it brought the issue of the death penalty to the forefront again in
our state. And if the government is going to deliberately take someone’s life, we should be sure we want to do it.
I continue to struggle with this issue. I campaigned for Attorney
General in 1990 promising to bring back the death penalty after an
almost three decade absence. People were skeptical, but we did it, primarily by hiring, promoting and supporting really smart attorneys who
basically outlawyered the other side.
I went to the first execution in the
dark of night and was famously flipped
off as the last act of the loser being
punished. Many there that night
thought the gas chamber procedure
was gruesome and advocated switch-
ing to lethal injection. To me dead is
dead, so we should do it as humanely
as possible. I went to the first lethal
injection execution; it went smoothly
as have all the others until recently.
But that alone doesn’t make it right.
The death penalty is a specific
deterrent, and that sometimes makes a
difference. Don Harding, the man
who flipped me off, had killed before.
But it certainly isn’t a general deter-
rent. We save the death
penalty for the worst of the
worst, and those individu-
als may be the least likely
to consider the conse-
quences of their actions. And they certainly don’t worry
about a penalty that might take place 20 years later. If exe-
cutions were at the town square, as they used to be, or on
television, as they could be, they might deter some people.
But nobody wants that, and so nobody is really deterred.
Is it moral for the State to take a life? We do it when we
go to war. We excuse it in self-defense. Obviously it is for
each person to decide, but I don’t believe it is immoral on
Is it arbitrary? This is more difficult, and I worry that it
is possible there could be prosecutors and judges who don’t
act in good faith or who don’t appreciate the magnitude of
their decisions. The dramatic change in the number of death
penalties sought in Maricopa County under the past county
THE LAST WORD by Grant Woods
Grant Woods is a trial lawyer in
Phoenix emphasizing complex litigation,
plaintiff’s personal injury, and
government relations. He was Arizona
Attorney General from 1991 to 1999.
For more by the author, go to
attorneys should give us pause.
Are innocent people executed? We certainly give every possible appeal safeguard
we can imagine in this system of ours, and
eventually the truth comes out. This is
what we hope, but we are seeing more and
more cases of innocent people convicted
of serious crimes. We have to question
whether institutions comprised of fallible
human beings have the capacity for perfection to which our system aspires. And if
perfection is unattainable, is the death
penalty too much?
A week after the
the wife and
daughter of one of
the victims came to
visit me. They
thanked me for my
efforts, and I asked
them whether it
had made any difference. Did it matter now that the
man who killed her
father and her husband was no longer
alive? They were
emphatic that it
was different now.
It had only been a
week, but they said
they felt a peace
that had eluded
them for 20 years. They no longer felt this
black cloud hanging over them. Justice
had been done, and they could move on
with their lives. I heard the same sentiments from the victims’ relatives after the
So for me, the death penalty is a tougher
and tougher call. It may be wrong. We may
need to change it. But I’m not convinced
of that yet. What I hear from victims carries
the argument for me. Still today, I think
giving peace to these good and decent people justifies taking this enormous step. I
save my tears for them.
Opinions in the magazine are those of the authors and
not necessarily those of the State Bar of Arizona, its Board of Governors,
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The Two-Hour Execution
Do institutions comprised
of fallible human beings
have the capacity for
perfection to which our
www.azbar.org/AZAttorney 68 ARIZONAATTORNEY SEP TEMBER 2014
Turn he said/she said
into he did/she did.
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