Execution: it’s not as popular as you might think
The Lars von Trier film Dancer in the Dark was one of Bjork’s only forays into film. The final scenes are a haunting depiction of capital punishment.
Bjork plays a Czech immigrant who moves to rural America with her young son in 1964. She works in a factory and suffers from a degenerative eye disease and after suffering an extraordinary betrayal at the hands of her neighbour she is accused of murder and hanged in the state gallows.
The final scene where she lies singing, a capella, in the death chamber is hard to forget. Bjork herself was reported to have been so disturbed by the role she regularly ran away from the set.
Having never lived in a country where capital punishment is an actively accepted part of the legal system it’s my reaction to the film that I remembered when I read about Sharon Keller.
As the presiding judge of the Texan criminal court, Keller faces five counts of judicial misconduct as a result of her decision to reject an appeal, delivered 20 minutes after 5pm, the official closing time of the court.
Despite the appeal, the man, a murderer found guilty of his crime in 1987, faced lethal injection just four hours later. Judge Keller has since said that she has no regrets and when called for she would do the same thing again.
In another interview she told a journalist: ‘We can’t give new trials to everyone who establishes, after conviction, that they might be innocent. We would have no finality in the criminal justice system and finality is important.”
The event has caused a stir.
Keller’s harshest critics have nicknamed her ‘Sharon Killer’ and are calling for her impeachment. They’ve even built a website to help them campaign their cause.
Christopher Brauchli of the Huffington Post says the Texan reaction to Keller has come as something as a surprise to many Americans who believe “no US state loves a death penalty more.”
But Newsweek journalist Dahlia Lithwick says their reaction is actually more indicative of a significant change in America’s stand on capital punishment. She reports that in the past year alone support rates for capital punishment have dropped from 89 to 79 per cent
Texas Monthly has also revealed a dramatic reduction in executions there with [only] 14 people executed in 2006 when compared to a total of 40 a decade earlier.
Overall this is a significant change especially when you consider that a total of 1077 people have been executed in the United States since the reintroduction of the capital punishment laws in 1977.
Interesting then to consider our own take on capital punishment.
The last person to be executed in Australia was Victorian Ronald Ryan who was hung for murdering a prison warden in 1967.
According to surveys conducted by Quantum Australia SCAN following the Bali bombings in 2003 and Online Opinion in 2004 at least half of us were in favour of bringing it back. A more recent survey by the Australian Institute of Criminology found support at 43.5 per cent.
Following the surveys The Age ran a piece detailing a collection of opinions from Australians on the topic that you can read here.
So what’s your take? Does capital punishment deter would-be murderers? And if so, would you like to see capital punishment brought back to Australia?
Or does the reported shift in US opinion show it’s an archaic and dangerous law that has no place in modern criminal justice?
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