Volunteering to Die

Art by Meghan Hoffman

The death penalty is a contentious topic in today’s politics. Supporters have hailed the punishment as a deterrent to committing capital crimes. Many advocates of the death penalty believe that it is a punishment reserved for only the worst criminals, the ones that commit unspeakable crimes.  However, support for the death penalty has dropped drastically, following other trends in the nation as the population grows more progressive.

According to a series of Gallup polls conducted between 2001 and 2020, the number of Americans who thought that capital punishment was morally acceptable was at it’s lowest in 2020 with a 9% reduction from 2001, and the percentage of Americans who believe capital punishment is morally wrong jumped to 13% when compared against polls in 2001. Furthermore, 60% of people surveyed in 2019 by Gallup thought that life imprisonment was a better alternative to capital punishment, with only 36% responding that they thought capital punishment was a better choice. Why have views on capital punishment shifted so drastically in the past 20 years? Have the individual stories of death row inmates shaped people’s opinions?

The story of Scott Dozier is especially interesting. Scott Raymond Dozier was born in Boulder City, Nevada on November 20, 1970. When Scott was growing up his family moved frequently across the midwest. During his childhood, Scott was an avid painter, exceptionally talented with oil paints. His ex-wife, Angela Drake described him as, “the smartest [person that I knew]. [Scott] was the artist… the soccer player… he was always in honors classes.” However, Angela remembers that when Scott was in fourth grade “[he] was… the leader of all of the rambunctious kids… [and] he got accused of breaking and entering into a police officer’s home. And his friends… lied and said he did it. And Scott went to his mom… and said, ‘Mom… I’ve been blamed for something that I didn’t do.’ And his mom did not believe him… And so she took Scott[, and] turned him in. And Scott said to [Angela] after that, after that, he did not trust his mom, and that he made bad decisions after that… And so she didn’t believe her son and it broke his heart and he just said that from that point on he became a criminal.” Scott’s crimes quickly became more serious in high school, when he began selling drugs. A friend of his in high school remembers that he was a ”goofy stoner kid – always sold shitty Mexican brick weed full of seeds – but [Scott] was a good guy…” After high school, he briefly cleaned himself up, but went back to dealing drugs after a short stint in the military, and working odd jobs. After a short period of dealing drugs, Scott killed Jasen Green in 2001 and buried him in the desert north of Phoenix. Later, in 2002 he killed Jeremiah Miller, hiding his body in a dumpster where it was eventually discovered by the police. Scott was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona, and charged with the murder of Jeremiah Miller. Following the arrest, his accomplice in the 2001 murder of Jasen Green confessed, and in return for testifying against Scott, he was given a reduced sentence. For the murder of Jasen Green, Scott was sentenced to 22 years in prison, and for the murder of Jeremiah Miller, he was sentenced to death.

In prison, Scott painted several intricate murals and enjoyed cutting his own hair and testing out unique hairstyles. However, after only 10 years on death row, Scott resigned to his fate, giving up his appeals, and calling upon the judge to expedite his execution, reportedly telling an interviewer from the Marshall Project that, “I don’t want to die. I just would rather be dead [be on death row].” For this reason, he is known as a death row “volunteer”. At the end of 2018, after receiving several stays of execution, and a two-week-long stay in solitary confinement, without any of his personal belongings, Scott’s mental health began to deteriorate, and he was later found hanging from an air vent in his cell on January 5th, 2019.

People who knew Scott remarked that he was a complicated man and should not be defined solely by his mistakes. Scott was a troublemaker who was responsible for the brutal murders of two people but he was also remembered as “a goofy stoner kid who liked to play [M]ortal Kombat and drink Slurpees at the 7-11…” If Scott had not been on death row he could have had the chance to redeem himself. Death row inmates aren’t able to give back to their communities as they have limited contact with the outside world. However, inmates in prison, even serving life sentences are able to connect with organizations and their communities, allowing them to dissuade others from choosing their path through organizations that work with high-risk youth. Prisoners serving life sentences can also get an education and can eventually contribute productively to society, even in prison.

Over 21 states have already abolished the death penalty, and 4 more have imposed moratoriums on the use of capital punishment; states have cited the high cost of death penalty trials, lack of evidence that the death penalty deters criminals, and the high rate of inmates proven innocent. Life imprisonment with or without parole is a viable alternative to capital punishment. Life sentences are far cheaper than carrying out the death penalty. According to a Duke University study in 1993, which is considered the most comprehensive study in the country on death penalty finances, found that the death penalty cost North Carolina $2.16 million (roughly $3,6300,000 in 2021) more per execution than sentencing a convict to life imprisonment. In addition, most criminology experts agree that the death penalty does not deter criminals. A recent report by the National Research Council stated that studies that claimed the death penalty could deter crime are “fundamentally flawed” and that they should not be used in policy decisions. In 2014 the FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the south had the highest murder rate while accounting for over 80% of executions. The FBI report also showed that the northeast had the lowest murder rate even though it was responsible for less than 1% of executions. In addition, A Radelet & Lacock survey in 2009 of presidents of America’s top academic criminology societies revealed that 88% of those surveyed believed that the death penalty did not deter murders. More importantly, many death row prisoners have been exonerated. According to a report compiled by the Supreme Court, “since 1973 more than 150 people [were] released from death row with evidence of their innocence.” Furthermore, several studies have shown that black defendants are given the death penalty at far greater rates than their white counterparts. In fact, according to the same report, “in 96% of states where there have been reviews of race and the death penalty, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination, or both.” In summary, many states have decided that the death penalty is fundamentally flawed as it is extremely expensive to pursue, does not deter criminals, and is subjectively and racistly applied.

Scott Dozier did not get a chance to redeem himself and spent much of his life locked up in solitary confinement, which greatly impacted his mental health. However, the abandonment of capital punishment in America would likely change the lives of many other prisoners by allowing them to contribute to society and interact with other prisoners.

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