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Panel at University of Chicago Law School discuss ending capital punishment, part 3

BROADCAST: Feb. 19, 1965 | DURATION: 00:38:36


Dick Gregory satirizes capital punishment in the United States, calls for the churches to take action, and talks about potential actions from "demonstrators." Other panel members answer audience questions (Father James Jones, Norval Morris, Hans W. Mattick, and Arthur Wineberg). Hosted by the University of Chicago. (Part 3 of 3)


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Dick Gregory You ever a thought what a tremendous waste of food that is? You know like put a care package man and ship it overseas with my name on it or send it to the president. Okay, alright convict. We sending the president a bottle of [Dristan?] in Your name. Have you ever wanted to about why--This is probably why capital punishment have been able to go on for so long. Because they cover it up you know, you all you hear about as the Last Supper. And the poor folks is mad, He's eating well! The last haircut. They're not trying to groom that cat, they trying to fix it so the cap'll fit, you know. What would your reaction be? [He say?], Well we have to give you something. Society demands we bring you something. Well tell society to send me a bottle of champagne. What year? 1992 and tell them I'll wait for it. And what really, what the wildest, wildest, you heard about this last mile. You know that's nothing. You know, you see we so damn quick to take somebody's word for it. How do you know it's a mile? It sounds like the cat got a long ways to walk you know. You say a mile, damn, by the time you get there be so tired you be ready to sit down. You know and anything, Just let me sit down man. But it's not true. It's four short steps. That's all [unintelligible]. He couldn't repent if he wanted to. No, no. So. That's the thing that bugs me is probably the one thing that would bug me if I had the electric chair coming, more than the juice itself is who leads you. [That called? They call?t The minister or the priest. Isn't that wicked? All their life they teach thy shall not kill and now he's going to lead me to the killer. I'd jump on him and beat the hell out of him [I'm saying?]. Well it couldn't do no more to you, that's for sure. Or maybe they could. For hitting that priest 30 days in the electric chair! With wet drawers on! I bet that would hurt, wouldn't it? Can you believe this guy of all people to lead you under some false phony pretense that he's going to comfort--How you going to comfort a cat when he's getting the electric chair? You know if anyone should lead him it should be his attorney who lost the appeal. Alright tell me what happened, really what happened. Did you really try or? Do you really work as hard on this freebie as you do on the rest of them? That's who should, that's who should lead him. But instead they use this meek and humble cat. You can't even be mad at him [either way?] he got the collar [he said there?] [unintelligible]. Unless unless the real real cat is really all the way out of it and he really believes it is there's hope. That's the minister. He's saying have faith son. He said, Look baby, we fixing to go. You have faith! Take my place since you've got so much faith. You think this cat you talking about's gonna come out and do something. You [step over?]. They not watching man. You step over here and let me put that collar on and you put this uniform on you go and you sit in there. Faith. I imagine they bug him with a lot of things. And then the, and then the other thing really tears you apart, did you know they have five switch-pullers that pull the switch? Did you, are you aware of that? Not one, one. One cat couldn't live with himself knowing he'd committed such a horrible act. So they have five switches and the way they do it see, they have four dummy switches and one lives switch. And all these monsters stand there assuming they have the dummy switch, ain't that clever? And they pull it [makes a sound like an explosion] and you land in there dead as hell man. And they outside talking, I didn't do it Ed, I didn't do it Pete, I didn't do it. Somebody did it, I'm dead! So you know the job I wish I had. I wish I had the job of preparing all the live switches for the electric chair. After each execution was over, I'd go out and tell him. Hey Charlie you had to live one tonight. Damn right. Number three [I'll fix that?]. Number seven for you this year, yes. Oh that would bug him, wouldn't it. So you know I say if we're going to be a country or nation of people that is going to along with capital punishment then we should do it right. We should have one switch-puller, and let it be any of us, [I mean that?] all of us are guilty anyway. Way you do it, we pass a law that say whenever you getting ready to execute someone that you can just run a wire from the electric chair to anybody's house. And old great-grandma, when she gets her warm milk and cookies at night and pops on her night l ight, she might get it [explosion sound]. The only reason, the only way you know it happens is the state will be obligated to send you a check within four days after it happened you know. It's the only reason you know you did it, you know they send you a $25 check, [to my?] citizen, you did your work, and in case there was any damage to the fuse box. And now I'm reimbursing you for $25. And also we should have, we shouldn't execute people all through the year. No I mean has it ever dawned on you what the minister or the priest say to the condemned man when they walk them to the room with a steel chair and jump back out the door? Anything I can do for you son? Yes Father would you come in here and hold my hand? I can just see my minister now every time he opens up his mouth he puts his foot in it. I can just see him walk me into the door. He says, That's far as I can go [with you so?] Well you know I'm just lost for words. More power to you. Thank you very much Reverend. The state is going to take care of that [unintelligible]. Yes there is something you can do for me Reverend, now that you ask, hahahaha. Every Decoration Day put a wreath around your fuse box. So I feel that if we're going to, we're going to continue capital punishment, we should do one thing at least. [That's?] we shouldn't execute people out of the year. We should have one big mass day of executions. Christmas Eve. [You know why?]. Damn your holiday when you fixing to kill [a cat?]. So that's what we'll do. We'll execute all of them on Christmas Eve. One switch-puller, but only on Christmas Eve we'll really have fun. We'll like, take each electric chair all the way across the country. Take one master switch and run it all the way across the country to the east coast and hook it on that big Christmas tree. And we're not going to tell anyone about this you know. So when LBJ comes out and pull that lever to light the tree, he'll get them. Merry Christmas y'all [explosion noise]. And if you can't do it that way then we ought to work hard as hell to abolish capital punishment. It's simple, you know. It's, [I don't know?] very frightening when you stop and think of 1965 and here we all sitting around talking about how we want to abolish capital punishment. Something that should have happened when they started it. But it is your job and it's not going to be very easy to do it. So you have a lot of hard work to do between now and they haven't even given us a for sure date on this one. March? It is for sure March 19?

Audience member 1 Feast of St. Joseph. Patron saint of [the dead?].

Dick Gregory Good. I thought t hey just said around March 19. That could really mess up his whole week, couldn't it? You see religion can stop it. All they have to do is, when they march that guy down there--Can you see a priest marching in and the priest push him over on the floor and run jump on the chair himself? Take me Lord! That would be wild, wouldn't it? They going to send a long report into his superior. And say, look we don't want to cause any trouble, but we'd appreciate it if tomorrow you'd send us another guy. And if the next priest showed up did the same thing? Can you imagine in like seven days in a row, seven priest jump on the chair. On the seventh day, a priest and a Baptist minister--That would really be wild. You get a Baptist to jump on that chair man. You can forget it man. On a Sunday too! Oh no. Well then, and then the report would have to go out that we tried to kill this fellow legitimately for seven days and the church wouldn't permit it. So we're saying that no more Catholics can participate in executions. That would bust it because the Catholics would have an uprising: If we can't participate in executions, there won't be any more! [applause] [unintelligible] I've, I've talked to many people in the last week all over the country about what's going to go on here on the 19th. And the church could stop it, you know that don't you? The churches in this town could stop it. But they won't. They could they could just absolutely point blank stop it and I don't know why, because this really bugs me about the church. You want to tell me on Sunday that thy shall not kill but they haven't told the state. It kind of makes me think they picking on me. You know. No really,I mean this. Why are you going to tell me I can't kill a cat. You , 24 hours a day you tell me I'm not supposed to kill anyone and you haven't told a state that they can kill. It's the hangup about you know, going to church really. [Unintelligible] and thy shall not kill, and they don't protect you with this because the minute a war break out man, forget it. Knock that Bible out of your hand and the minister's hand and send both of you. Call you a soldier and calling him a chaplain. So the church could stop what's going to happen not only in Chicago but all over America. But again this is an example of the church falling behind so it's left up to you to stop it, and you decide which way you can can stop it. Maybe we can get enough petitions to stop it. Maybe we can't. But we have decided, and I say we, some friends of mine, demonstrators they're called [chuckles], that we all sit back and see what you all going to do on this. And we're gonna watch as long as we can. And then we're going to send a telegram to the governor, telegram to the mayor of Chicago and the governor of Illinois and inform him that if this man dies then the following Monday we gonna stall this whole town in. That means the L tracks, the expressways. Then the church ' ll speak out. They're wrong for laying out there in the middle of that expressway. But we'll get them talking about it. And who knows maybe--But this is what we have decided. We hope like hell you all can stop it because if you don't they'll blame the whole thing on us. We were going to stop it, we don't like threats. That's what's gonna happen. But it's the only thing left. If you can do it, the church refused to do it. And if you block all these highways in this town--Not you, 'cause we'll take care of that ourselves. That would cost them about a hundred million dollars. And when they know that every time they kill a cat in this city or this state it's gonna cost them a hundred million dollars. Which it should because everybody is guilty for permitting it go on. This is the only way. We've tried for two weeks to see how we can stop this one coming up. We decided that the only way is to let them know that if it happens that it's going to cost the city more than just that little 25 cents worth the juice they're going to shoot through which they probably stealing from somebody else's wires anyway. Anybody would kill a cat can't be honest about how he get the mechanism to do it you know. So we hope you all do a good job and hope the church wakes up between now and then and stop it. If we have to hit the streets on this one we will. And if we hit it on this one we'll hit it on each and every one, so all I can say is I just hope you work hard and we can impress the right people the easy way. Thank you, God bless you [applause].

John Callaway I'm in a difficult position here. I'm a newsman and a moderator and I'd like to run a telephone. That's a heck of a story, Dick. [So I'll see you?] We have about 15 minutes left and we'd like to take some questions now for members of our panel and any of you that have questions this is the time to speak up and let them be known. Yes sir? Why don't you stand up at least and--

Audience member 2 I'm in favor of abolishing capital punishment very much, except for one instance. Now I've studied it quite a bit and I feel that there is some good reason for the action of a particular state, and I can't remember what the state is, I think it may have been Maine, but I'm not certain, that has abolished capital punishment except in one situation, and that's in the killing of a prison official. Now I seriously believe after really thinking this over a lot over many years, that this is a situation where it might be a valid reason for having capital punishment. And the reasoning that I have--I don't know the reasoning that in [unintelligible] the reasoning that I have come across myself in my own thoughts is that it, for a person who would be in prison under the current prison system, where there is [where say?] life imprisonment there would be no, there would be nothing to deter him except for a stay in solitary confinement from killing a guard if [the situation?] arose where he felt like doing it. Now I'm wondering, especially Mr. Mattick--

Hans W. Mattick Yes?

Audience member 2 You have any feelings about this?

John Callaway Hans?

Hans W. Mattick On the one hand it sounds like an argument from George Orwell that some of us are more equal than others. But I think really to answer the question is that there are organizations in this country, notably the FBI, one of the greatest proponents of capital punishment is J Edgar Hoover. And in addition to that you have also the American Correctional Association which is an association of people who are in prison work. Could any evidence be assembled that people who work in prisons or prison wardens or guards were exposed in a disproportionate degree or manner to the offense of murder that evidence would have been marshaled long ago. And I would then be in favor of that exception. But the evidence simply does not exist. Do you really believe the argument, there are several people who would like to exempt themselves from the death penalty, from the--That is put themselves in a special class. They say policeman in the line of duty that it's all right to abolish capital punishment, but for someone who kills a policeman the line of duty, why that person ought to be have the death penalty. Similarly the question of the lifer who again commits murder in prison is another one. And then there is the person who is already in prison for murder and commits a murder and so forth. You have in this country you have 52 jurisdictions that could inflict the death penalty. I have not talked about the Army and the Navy for instance which are two who can. It's very interesting that the Army and the Air Force have killed 160 men since 1930 but the Navy hasn't killed anybody since 1849. But I don't think that the murder rate is greater in the Navy than it is in the Army. But to get back to this question, if a case could be made in those states where the death penalty has been abolished that policemen were killed in disproportionate numbers or that prison warders were killed in disproportionate numbers and that homicide resided in people's breasts or in their bodies, something that you have to keep a lid on, which you call the death penalty, and if you take that lid off it rushes out and does its will, that evidence would have been compiled by all of the technology and all of the investigators of the FBI and they would be right there to present it to you in systematic order. But it doesn't exist. And so I would say the burden of proof is on those who believe that. It's an appealing kind of an argument I dare say, and if it could be established I'd be on your side. But there is no evidence to that effect. And that's the answer to that question. It's the only one that I can give.

John Callaway Thank you Hans. More questions? Yes sir?

Audience member 3 I would like, I've studied the same question as [unintelligible] and it seem that if the situation that he mentioned there would be a tendency for the lifers, I mean, more willing to kill a warden [unintelligible] situation [unintelligible] those individuals who are [present?] the death penalty [unintelligible] frequent than those who commit crimes against [unintelligible].

Panel member

Norval Morris [Unintelligible] Let me comment briefly. I face this problem in Ceylon. At one stage I thought it might be rational to recommend abolition but to retain it for the killing of a police officer and the killing of a prison officer. First of all the best thing you can say in favor of that argument when you look at all the evidence is, this is the best thing you can say, if they really believe they're better protected even though they're not that might be a value worth considering. Because the evidence shows no greater protection you see. Indeed it rather tends to show a heightening of violence in these two situations. And if anything higher homicide rates for those two categories too when capital punishment applies. [And I?], the police for example in Ceylon told me that five police officers in the previous year been killed in the course and the execution of their duty. And I was very worried by this because it did seem disproportionate in this last abolition year and late one night I thought well I've got to find out the facts of these five cases. And I did. And one police officer had been killed by a burglar. Two had been killed in a train wreck. One had been killed by another police officer's gun on a jungle patrol and the fifth had been bitten by a mad dog. Now [I've built?] nothing on this except that when you really get to the realities here and look for the facts they just don't support the case.

John Callaway More questions? Yes?

Audience member 4 In connection to the Witherspoon case, I read that someone considers that perhaps it's unconstitutional to execute people because of the constitutional clause forbidding cruel and unusual punishment and I'd like to know [if that ever comes up] in court.

Norval Morris I have the great advantage of knowing no American constitutional law, and on that basis yes it's come up and it's been rejected and I suspect properly.

Audience member 5 Mr. Mattick, at the beginning of his talk listed the arguments [that are?] for capital punishment. And one of those arguments was [unintelligible]. Now I don't quite remember whether he also mentioned one other argument, which is the alternative, the validity of the alternative to capital punishment, particularly life in prison. I would like to point out these two arguments, both of which Mr. Mattick did not speak [about?] [unintelligible] [about?] at all. First ofall, all these speakers tonight have been concerned about the welfare of the individual who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to death in the electric chair or gas chamber. [Now?] I think that the terror, the horror of being condemned to death, waiting on the electric chair, the gas chamber, is a very very bad thing indeed, but what of the alternatives? What of life imprisonment? Is that indeed a more moderate condemnation [than life imprisonment?]? Or should one [possibly] consider that a prisoner condemned to life in prison should have the option of choosing capital punishment if he [should?] wish to do so? I have two questions then. One of them [unintelligible], does Mr. Mattick think that the economic argument holds no weight, and the second is does anyone have, does anyone on this panel have anything to say about he alternatives to life, the alternatives [unintelligible] to capital punishment which is life imprisonment? And I think that is an alternative which is every bit as terrible as a death sentence.

John Callaway Those are excellent questions. Let me, before Hans answers the first one on economics of which he has really done a great study on, say that on a radio program we had recently that Jack Johnson was asked that question along with Nelson Algren and Mike Royko and a panel. And Jack Johnson the warden of the jail, the executioner of Witherspoon if he is executed, ironically enough said, Gentlemen I know the misery of this jail. I'd rather die in the electric chair than spend the rest of my life here as a prisoner. Algren and Royko said give me 189 years and I'll love it. Hans?

Hans W. Mattick I cited a number of pro-capital punishment articles arguments, the eugenic one the economic. I said I'd return to those time permitting. However I will say this. I undertook the notion to answer that argument which says that it is cheaper to kill a man than to maintain him in prison for the rest of his life. And I thought that argument had a certain amount of appeal and so I put it in the form of a hypothesis and I undertook a study. And that study is a kind of study that no one will ever publish because what it consists of is the paragraph stating the hypothesis and 40 pages of documentation and you'll see what that is if I'll get together here just my notes here on the economic argument at least I'll share with you the methodology of that study. Yes here we go. This will give me an opportunity to quote Thorsten Sellin, the greatest authority on the capital punishment question in the world today. His little book called "The Death Penalty" which is published by the American Law Institute and sells from two-fifty and 100 pages makes all the argument that it's necessary to make and far better than I could make it. But let me go out to that. [unclear if/where he is reading] What about the cynical argument that it is cheaper to kill a capital offender than to maintain him in prison for the rest of his life. Persons who make this argument are really saying that capital offenders should be executed not on the basis of their crimes but because poor penal administration makes it likely that they will not be self-supporting while in prison. A society's poor management of its prisons however is a bizarre rationalization for executing people. Even so the argument that it is cheaper to legally execute a man than to maintain him in prison for life in complete idleness and as a pure consumer is simply not true and rests upon public ignorance of the pertinent facts. The way to deal with the economic argument in favor the death penalty is to make estimates and count dollars. The cost to be compared would be the price of maintaining prisoners of normal life expectancy after their age of conviction in prison for the balance of their lives as compared to the differences. The difference in price of capital and non-capital legal processes leading to an execution or a life sentence. In order to make such a comparison it would be necessary to detail the procedural steps, the personnel involved, the time intervals involved, and the cost of facilities in capital and non-capital cases. It would also be necessary to have knowledge about the nature of the offense, the offender, and the victim. The reaction of law enforcement, prosecution, judicial and jail personnel, and the attitude of the mass media and the public to the case for all of these enter in one way or another into the ultimate money costs related to dealing with capital and non-capital cases. Over against all this would be the cost of maintaining an offender in prison at a cost of about $1500 per year for his normal life expectancy which on the average would be for about 30 years after conviction. Apparently the general public knows very little about the differences in cost between the handling of a capital case and the non-capital case. Almost every phase of a capital case is more complex, more time consuming, and more costly. We need only advert to such things as the selection of a death penalty jury. I remember reading a letter of Judge [English's?]; they had to go through 231 [unintelligible] t $5 a day and they stood idle for six weeks and were being paid all this while. Something about eight thousand dollars involved in that [in order?] before they got a jury. Alright so you have to advert to the selection of a death penalty jury and the differential in time and cost of that. "The length of capital trials; they tend to be extended. The costs of both the prosecution and the defense both of which more frequently than not are borne by the state. After all, most capital offenders they may have a few thousand dollars, they may start by defending themselves with a private attorney that very soon runs out. Then it goes to the public defender and during the appeal process it goes to a court appointed attorney which means that the state is paying for both sides of this game. The printing costs incident to motions and multiple appeals. I went through George Leighton's file, George Leighton is one of the best appeal lawyers in this state before he became a judge, and he threw open his files to me. The printing costs incident to a case which I can't name because it's still at issue ran close to fourteen thousand dollars just on the appeal printing alone. There are all kinds of hidden costs trips to Springfield trips to Washington D.C. All of which are reimbursable by presentation to court and so forth. So we have the printing costs incidents to motions and appeals. The special detention and handling costs of guarding and transporting capital offenders. In the county jail the ratio of guards to inmates, ordinarily the run of the mill inmate is about I'd say maybe one to forty, but you put a man in the death cells, takes five men to guard him, three shifts, 24 hours a day, two men to relieve on days off because prison guards work five days a week. That's a disproportionate cost and it has to be counted in. When you get ready to rehearse for an execution you call all the officers in from the other two shifts and you call in so extra man and you pay them, and you call in the Coroner and you call in two physicians and you calls in the state police to put a squad car on either side of the jail and so forth and so on. All those things have to be counted. Have to be special bailiffs and special lockup procedures when you take a capital offender to court. And then the cost of rehearsing and ultimately carrying out an execution. Why the printing alone of briefs for both prosecution and defense, remember we're paying for both sides of this, in the appeal process frequently runs into tens of thousands of dollars. I don't want to belabor the issue but in an unpublished study I made to this question I found that 30 years of imprisonment cost the state about forty-five thousand dollars assuming no off-- no cost offsetting activity on the part of the prisoner, and some do work to offset some of their costs, and by way of comparison the cost of a capital trial and appeals, special security handling in court and jail, and the rehearsals and carrying out of an execution were in excess of $60000. Now I'll simply add this before I finish. At that point I quit making the study. The motive went out of me. I had proved the argument to myself, and I realized it would be impossible to simply try to publish an article that simply listed the 350 and some people who play some role no matter how small, whether this is a clerk who stamps the document as it goes through or whether it is a court, a judge presiding over a court for six weeks and tying up all facility and his bailiffs and so forth, when if the capital, the death penalty were not involved that case could probably be disposed of in four or five days. So I just quit counting at that time. But I repeatedly get letters and this most recently Professor Albert Morris from Boston University [after I sent him the data?]. I said come to Chicago I'll show it to you. I'll never part with it because I want to be able to establish that argument, but anybody who wants to do it, it's an excellent master's thesis. [laughter and applause]

John Callaway You ever think what a horrible experience it would be to meet Hans Mattick an intellectual dark alley? We want to have just a brief answer now on the alternatives from Professor Morris, the alternative [questions?].

Norval Morris Course on Hans's economic argument, if the plans were outlined previously were continued there won't be any real doubt about it will there? It could be made economically clearly impossible. Now on the substitute arguments. I want to read to you briefly an agreed statement on January '63 by the representatives, the heads of the prison system of the following countries: Malaya, the United States. That was Jim Bennett. Sweden, Argentina, Liberia, United Kingdom, United Arab Republic, and Russia. This was an agreed statement by all eight about alternative punishment. Your exact question. I do that because you'd think I'd become stupidly sentimental if I offered it as my own ideas. They happened to be supported by the leading person the administrators now of the world speaking. [reading] "It was recognized that extended imprisonment constitutes a generally accepted legal alternative to capital punishment and that the period of such imprisonment should not be so long that the offender would lose hope of ultimately rejoining the outside community. Senior prison administrators of the world repudiate the suggestion of imprisonment for the term of his natural life as an alternative. The committee was firmly of the opinion that the conditions of such imprisonment should not be different from or more arduous than those which obtained for other types of prisoners in each country so that the full facilities of the prison system can be made available for their treatment and that such prisoners can be classified and treated by the prison authorities in accordance with their custodial and training needs. It was further agreed that there should be periodic review of the cases of all such prisoners after they have served whatever is regarded in each country as a necessary minimum penalty for their particular crime." And I think you should note the minimum penalties throughout the prison system in this country are very much higher than in other countries.

John Callaway Our time for questions is up. We would be out of 10 o'clock. I think you will agree that this evening has been informative. I think inspiring. You've had before you some of the top minds of criminology, law, Americana [laughter] of this of this community. It was a great thrill for me to be able to listen to this tonight. Mr. Hans Mattick, Father James Jones, Sir Arthur Weinberg, Professor Morris, Dick Gregory, let's give them a big hand [applause].

Host I'd like to announce that there will be a reception for all the panelists and everyone in the audience is invited immediately in the Judson Lounge. And for those of you who don't go to school here that is the building, Gothic, immediately in that direction of this building. If you ask at the desk I'm sure they'll be able to tell you where it is.