Capital Punishment and the Power of Persuasion
The fact that there are two current movies dealing with the subject of capital punishment seems to indicate a revival of interest, and controversy, about the subject. This is probably a response to the resumption of executions in several states during the past few years. For awhile, capital punishment was in a holding pattern, tied up in court appeals and uncertainty at the popular level. Its resumption was met with horror by some groups, and with approval by others. The intent in this paper is to look at the way in which individuals who are either in favor of, or against, capital punishment use language and rhetoric to persuade other people to their position.
The View of the Victims and Their Friends
Actually, this could more accurately be labelled as the viewpoint of the friends and families of some of the victims, since the victims themselves in capital cases are generally dead. This view was ably portrayed in both the book, and the movie, Dead Man Walking (Prejean, 1994). In general, the mode of expression, or tone, is that of outrage. The question that friends and family ask is: How can you forget about the victims? Why do you care so much about the rights and feelings of perpetrators? Why is your compassion only directed at them?
In both book and movie, Sister Prejean was challenged by members of the murder victim's family to pay attention to their needs, not simply the needs of the victims. They challenged her for neglecting them and focusing all her attention on the spiritual needs, and transformation, of the perpetrator. It is this absence of the victim in the trial, in the courtroom, in the jails, and in the response to the crime that most of these individuals focus on.
For example, there was the Oklahoma legislator recently interviewed in USA Today (1996) whose parents had been killed and his sister raped before him. He survived, but was totally trauma...