the execution | frontline online
clifford being visited by alan austin
Discussion: Has America become comfortable with capital punishment? Did it make sense to kill Clifford Boggess?
death gurney, huntsville,tx


Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched your story for the first time last night. Yes, I agree with the man being put to death. The reporter wanted to search for a reason to keep him alive. I never saw one.

All i could see was a lonely man who lost his brother to a thief's whimsy. A man who will live with these horrendous rememberances of what happened to his brother. I saw a granddaughter who will forever be tortured with "what ifs".

Whether or not he was a psychopath isn't the issue. He took not one life, but two, and God has instilled us with the authority to punish "An Eye for an Eye". I don't think putting him to death is supposed to make anyone "feel better". It is an accepted punishment for the crimes he CHOSE to commit. He admitted that he knew before he got into Mr. Collier's store that he was going to kill the man. He had plenty of time to think about what the consequences of that action would be.

Just imagine what chaos would ensue if all these people who are threatened with "punishment for death is death" realize that it is just that--a THREAT, and that they can literally get away with murder, only having to give up one comfortable society for another.

cheryl mc
tulsa, ok


Dear FRONTLINE,

People do not understand that no one should be put to death as punishment for their crimes, to reduce crime, or to deter crime. The only reason for someone to be put to death is to protect society from predators. These are predators of the worst kind.

You have no natural defenses against them because you cannot recognize them as predators. You are unsuspecting and unaware of the danger, unaware that you are being stalked. You are as defenseless as a lamb about to be slaughtered. There is a need to protect people from these predators because they are "invisible" due to the fact that there are no signs to alert you to the danger.

Life imprisonment may be an alternative to the death penalty but it is not acceptable as long as there exists any possibility, no matter how remote or improbable, that these predators could get loose. The death penalty is used for reasons other than to protect us from predators so its use must be condemned.

fred speaker
west palm beach, fl


Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for the extensive material you've supplied on the profile of this narcissistic personality.

As far as the subject of capital punishment goes, it is not Christian, if "Christian" means "Christ-like". It amazes me that people undermine their loved ones by thinking the death of their loved one's murderer exacts justice: are they saying their loved one's life is equal to the murderer's?

It would be nice if there was such a thing as "justice" in this life, but there is not. ...

palmalonia mccrary
bremerton, wa


Dear FRONTLINE,

Even if one supports the idea that the state has the right or duty to execute some murderers, this does not in itself answer the question of whether we should keep the death penalty in the United States. The issue remains: do we have a system that fairly and equitably selects those to be executed?

Three kinds of mistakes can occur in death penalty cases: (1) you can execute an innocent person, (2) you can execute someone who committed the crime but the circumstances are not really the ones for which the death penalty is appropriate, and (3) you can fail to execute somone who committed a crime for which the death penalty is appropriate. How good a job does our criminal justice system do in distinguishing among these cases?

How great an "error" rate must there be for someone to say this is too much error for life and death decisions? Could we even reform our criminal justice system to do a much better job of administering the death penalty?

In short, whether or not you think Clifford Bogges should have been executed is not the litmus test as to the wisdom and advisibility of the death penalty in the USA.

Robert Nordvall
gettysburg, pa


Dear FRONTLINE,

It absolutely made sense to kill that monster. What good could it have done to have kept him alive in prison. Tax payers would have to pay for his food, clothes, and space to live, etc. He didn't deserve to live. If someone could take life so effortlessly as he did, with no regards to who that person is or how their family would grieve deserves to die. I watched him on tv, talk so callously about how he killed those two unsuspected gentlemen. He showed no remorse whatsoever. All his talk, about all of a sudden becoming regligious, seemed like utter lies. If he found religion as he said he had, then why did he not show remorse when he was telling about their senseless murders?

conover, nc


Dear FRONTLINE,

This "man", while in prison, had the opportunity to sew up all of his loose ends, achieve closure with his God (who probably ain't that happy with him), etc.

If only his victims were afforded the same chance to speak final words of love to their family members. I shudder to imagine the fear and sorrow that his victims must have experienced in their final moments.

Mike Rohloff
san diego, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

The "open-ended" discussion by Guilford made me laugh a little--of course he was a fricking psychopath! I'll have to look at the Psychopathy Checklist, but I believe having an egotistical grin on your face while describing the brutal death of 2 elderly gentlemen, as well as your own impending death, constitutes that! I also agree that psychopaths are sane and responsible(legally) for their actions.

However, I do not support the death penalty, on ANY account for the simple reason that it helps no one and hurts some.No, he should never walk the street within society again. But I honestly believe that our entire country being so uncivilized, as a whole, only promotes the type of individual/personality we saw here---individualism or die---isn't that what "patriot Americans" say? Well, there you have it--Clifford Boggess.

Kyle Christensen
daytonn , ohio


Dear FRONTLINE,

If it were my family. I do not know if I would respond the same way as I would tonight. But to take a persons life from them. That is a bigger decision than I think any society should make. Why do we kill to show that killing is wrong. More death. More pain. More sorrow. Are all that is achieved in the long run when it comes to Capitol Punihment. Even with the threat of death. People still murder everyday here in Texas. Like I mentioned before. The taking of another's life in any way is wrong.

William Townsend
austin, texas


Dear FRONTLINE,

This is the second time I have watched your Clifford Boggess story. I volunteer in the county jail to visit inmates in matters of faith. A number of years ago I read a book titled "Children without a Conscience."

A question begs to be asked: Why is the person who grew up to become the "Monster" put to death? It's as if one believes the person one day deceided to be a monster. Is there nothing to be said of what or who created the monster. Are we putting to death the monster because we are unable or unwilling to discover their source, or do we just not care because we are affraid and angry? I hope some day we figure it out. They are coming at us at a alarming rate.

Michael Walters
spokane, washington


Dear FRONTLINE,

I cried while I watched the last few hours of this man's life, and mourned for the people who wrote the letters that you read at the end.

I am neither a bleeding heart liberal nor a fundamentalist conservative. Life and death are not so easily defined as politics.

I do not think that we are poorer that Clifford Boggess was executed. I think we are poorer for the fact that at the ripe young age of four his potential for contributing successfully to the human race was forever extinguished. Perhaps even before that. The fact that the world was never able to know what might have been for this loving and caring little boy is what we are truely poorer for.

C.J. Robinson
mission hills, ca


Dear FRONTLINE,

The omissions and speculations within Frontline's article "Why Is Texas #1?" are simply astounding. It fails to mention that the state which leads the nation, by far, in executions per murder is Delaware. Virginia and Missouri may also exceed Texas in this regard. Certainly, Texas leads the nation in number of executions, but not in the probability of executing murderers.

On "why do capital murder cases proceed through the Texas state court system with a speed unimaginable in other parts of the country?"-- you ask Brent Newton, hardly an objective source. Mr. Newton fails to mention that we don't execute faster, we simply execute more. The national average for time from sentencing to execution is about 9 years. Doesn't Texas takes a bit longer? . . . Texas doesn't.

Incredibly, Frontline prints, "Newton notes that incompetent defenses in capital murder cases are legion in Texas, and that, even in a death penalty appeal, bad lawyering is hard to prove." What an interesting statement. Legal procedures often require proof. . .

Let's be boring and look at facts. Nationally, 34% of all death penalty cases are overturned on appeal. In Houston (Harris County) Texas, it is 11%. Harris County is the #1 death penalty jurisdiction in the US. I wonder what fraction of that 11% are overturned because of ineffective assistance of counsel? Oh, why bother, Newton and Frontline appear happy to back up their allegations with the standard that no proof is necessary.

And I love this quote by Newton: "Most defendants still do not receive counsel for their appeals." I ask, since 1973, how many inmates have been executed in Texas without benefit of appellate counsel? . . .The answer is none. . .

Regarding clemency, Stephen E. Silverman argues that: "[t]he assertion by three Justices of the United States Supreme Court that state clemency procedures adequately protect against executing those later able to make convincing claims of innocence may not be accurate. Even though only twelve states that provide for the death penalty require some sort of panel decision to grant clemency, these tend to be states with the most aggressively enforced capital murder laws. The dilution of responsibility that operates as a consequence of giving no single person the power to commute a death sentence could tend to reduce the chances for the condemned to have an opportunity to have his clemency appeal receive meaningful consideration." Only an opponent of capital punishment would argue that fewer people making such decisions would provide more of a safeguard than more. . .

Ned Walpin continues: "Moreover, Jordan Steiker, of the University of Texas Law School, notes that execution dates in Texas are set by the trial judge, not by the governor, thus removing an informal power of clemency. The governor is unable simply to not assign an execution date. Many governors in other states have that power."

Streiker fails to mention that judges are much better at assessing the legal issues in a case and how they should proceed. Furthermore, the relevant issue is, "Is there any evidence that Texas is more likely to miss a clemency prospect because of our system, than in any other? In fact, the evidence is quite to the contrary. But, hey, why would Frontline look at the alleged subject of these false allegations? Why provide proof, when blind speculation is more important?

Steiker continues and points out that Texas executes a higher percentage because many other states' procedures have not been fully tested and affirmed. And Steiker is a law professor! Law class 101 - A state's procedures are tested and affirmed prior to each execution. Yet Steiker implies that we execute more because our statutes lack such testing and affirmation. Amazing. . .

Another beauty: "Some have speculated that the Texas execution rate also reflects a heritage of frontier justice coupled with modern urban crime. . .the South has a cultural tradition of dehumanizing certain groups of people, which has made it easier for Southerners to separate themselves from those who do not adhere to the normal social (and in this case, legal) code. The authors argue that this cultural tendency accounts for the fact that, in 1992, "the states in the former Confederacy accounted for approximately 90 percent of the total executions in the first two decades following Furman [v. Georgia]." The authors argue that Texas provides the clearest case study to help explain this larger Southern phenomenon. Walpin misses reality. No more tradition exists in the South than in other regions of the nation. How quickly we forget our history.

Walpin progresses: "Executions simply replaced lynchings as the accepted way to sate the popular (white) need to "dehumanize" or "exclude" certain groups from normal society. If lynchings reminded white folk and black folk alike who was an "insider" and who was an "outsider"--who was "us" and who was "them"--then executions were implemented to serve the exact same purpose. "

Well done, Mr. Walpin. I suspect this may explain why white murderers are twice as likely to be executed as are black murderers and are executed 17 months more quickly, as well. . .

There's more cow manure in Walpin's article than on the Texas range.

For more information, see the "Justice For All" web site at http://www.jfa.net.

Dudley Sharp
houston, texas

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
[Note: FRONTLINE asked Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center to respond to Dudley Sharp's concerns about our report.]

Thank you for affording us the opportunity to respond to some of the
comments made by Dudley Sharp of the Texas-based group "Justice for All"
regarding Frontline's piece, "Why is Texas #1 in Executions?" by Ned
Walpin.

Mr. Sharp makes much of the fact that there exist certain ways of
measuring the death penalty which would put states like Delaware ahead
of Texas. While true, I do not believe that authors are required to
include every possible permutation of statistics. The title and opening
paragraph of Frontline's piece reveal that it is addressing the high
number of executions in Texas and the "pace" of executions. Clearly,
Texas is the leader in both of these categories: since the death
penalty was reinstated, and in 1999, Texas has executed more than twice
as many inmates as the next leading state, Virginia, and is responsible
for about a third of all executions in the U.S. The pace in
Texas is one execution about every 11 days, and they have been averaging
over 20 executions per year for the last 5 years, both numbers are far ahead
of any other state in the country.

Mr. Sharp is correct in pointing out that capital cases in Texas proceed
to execution in about the same time as the national average, i.e., nine
years. But he is off the mark in his criticisms of Brent Newton's
article and answer to Frontline's question. Nowhere does Mr. Newton
assert that Texas executions occur faster. Newton's article is a
comparison between the judicial systems of Texas and Florida, which do
have sharply different reversal rates in capital cases. Texas is executing
inmates "faster" than other states with comparable death rows such as
Florida, California, and Pennsylvania, and the reasons given are very
relevant to this discussion.

I believe Mr. Sharp missed Mr. Newton's point when he states that, in
Texas, "bad lawyering is hard to prove." I think the point becomes
clearer when Mr. Newton's entire article is read. Poor lawyering is easy to prove when lawyers repeatedly sleep during the trial, neglect to interview witnesses, and put in disgraceful
amounts of time in preparing to defend their client's life. What is
hard in Texas is to get the judges to admit that such behavior was
critical to the outcome, which is much more of a judgment call, and more
subject to the politics of the death penalty.

Mr. Sharp reinforces Mr. Newton's point by indicating that relatively
few cases out of Houston are overturned on appeal. It is wrong to
assume, as Mr. Sharp does, that just because few cases are overturned,
they must have been free of error. One need only look to the fact that
the federal courts, where judges are not elected, overturn about 40% of
the cases where no error was found by state court judges.

Mr. Sharp disagrees with the following "quote by Newton:" "most
defendants still do not receive counsel for their appeals." First of
all, that was not a quote attributed to Newton in Frontline's piece.
Secondly, the sentence was inappropriately taken out of context. Mr.
Sharp leaves out the first part of the sentence which clearly refers to
post-conviction appeals and also indicates the change made in Texas
law. Mr. Newton's article was written shortly after this change in
Texas law and is accurate as written. Mr. Sharp tries to oversimplify
the issue by asking how many inmates in Texas were executed without
appellate counsel. The U.S. Supreme Court requires provision of counsel
for one's direct appeal, but not for post-conviction appeal. So, for
years Texas was meeting the bare minimum and not providing attorneys for
the crucial second (post-conviction) stage of the appeals. The fact
that many inmates were represented during that stage by volunteer
lawyers from other states does not excuse Texas's failure, which they
just recently attempted to remedy.

Mr. Sharp misses Jordan Steiker's
point about judges setting execution dates. The issue is not whether
judges are better at assessing legal issues and procedures. The issue
is clemency, which by definition is outside of the court's legal system.

I believe Mr. Sharp also misses Professor Steiker's second point:
Steiker is merely asserting that once a state's overall death penalty
law has been approved in earlier cases, it does not have to be
meticulously reviewed in subsequent cases, which can thus proceed more
quickly. It is not true, as Mr. Sharp states, that "[a] state's
procedures are tested and affirmed prior to each execution." Rather,
state and federal appellate courts rely heavily on precedents from prior
cases. Steiker is not attacking Texas, he is only pointing out what
stage it is in compared with states that haven't had an execution or
that haven't fully reviewed their statute.

Mr. Sharp would allay concerns about death penalty appeals because "all
such cases must go through the U.S. Supreme Court prior to execution."
There is no requirement that any cases go through the Supreme Court. In
fact, typically the Supreme Court reviews only about 4 or 5 death
penalty cases a year out of the hundreds that request such review.

As for theories about why Texas leads the country in executions, I think
the Frontline piece adequately referred to the authors of such theories,
and did not present them as facts. Everyone is entitled to their own
speculations, but it helps to support such hypotheses with relevant
facts, which Professor Marquart does. Mr. Sharp only offers the
unqualified statement that "white murderers are twice as likely to be
executed as are black murderers," which hardly helps us understand what
is happening in Texas where 64% of its death row is made up of racial
minorities.

I hope these comments are helpful.

Sincerely,
Richard C. Dieter
Executive Director, Death Penalty Information Center
http://www.essential.org/dpic/


Dear FRONTLINE,

I am sick and tired of you bleeding heart liberals trying to elicit sympathy for murderers! Why didn't you show the mutilated bodies of the victims? My daughter-in-law was murdered by a convicted rapist who was on parole, and has been on Texas death row for 14 years. I pray that they release him so that I can kill him myself. I am urging congress to eliminate all funding for PBS because of your extreme liberal views. Dr. Howard Beggs

Howard Beggs
lindale, tx


Dear FRONTLINE,

My name is Gabi and I'm living in Germany. I've been a close friend of Clifford Boggess in the last five months of his life. Writing and receiving letters, visiting Cliff several times and in the end being there for and with him by witnessing his execution have been the most important parts in this short time of our friendship. The man I got to know not even half of a year before his death was compassionate and tender, and it seemed hardly believable he did such brutal murders. Although of course I know what he did and I don't excuse it. But I am convinced he really did change and wasn't play-acting. I cannot confirm the impression Cliff hadn't any emotions, but I think some people show their deep emotions only in presence of their closest firends. I feel very sorry for the victims and their relatives, but I doubt if the members of the victim's families did really find the peace they were longing for through Cliff's execution. Cliff's death only caused more hurt and grief, because I've lost a friend who was able to understand me in the depth of my soul like no one did ever before in my life.

Gabriele Uhl
bad schwalbach, germany


Dear FRONTLINE,

One is shocked by the horrific murders Clifford Boggess committed. It makes one surely wonder what kind of monster he was, at least at the time of the murders. What strikes me about Mr. Austins comments and the debate in the wake of the program, however, is that nobody seems to acknowledge that this is a man who acknowledged what he had done and was truly sorry. He "repented" to use the Christian terminology. There are plenty of murderers on death row and elsewhere that have not made that same decision.

My heart goes out to the victims and the families of those he murdered. There is no doubt that Clifford Boggess was a monster when he committed those murders. He claimed to be a changed man after having received Christ into his life. Maybe. Or maybe not. We will never know. We do know however, that he chose to express remorse, to say that he was deeply sorry. We cannot discard this. We are not to judge him - only God. I find it difficult to understand why Mr. Austin (presumably an opponent of capital punishment) seems to be so negative to Boggess'attempt to show remorse and repentence. Maybe he tried "too hard" for instance in his letter to Lisa Hazelwood.

I have alway been a supporter of capital punishment. Clifford Boggess was rightly executed because he had committed a terrible crime. He knew when he was going to die. He could seek God or make any other decision that a person wants to make before he dies. His victims did not have that privilege and I can understand Lisa Hazelwood's somewhat bitter words.

new york, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

After watching the show, it re-affirmed my support for the death penalty. By taking his life, we validated the lives of those he so thoughtlessly took. I take no joy in his death however. But he knew the difference between right and wrong - and chose the wrong path.

Jerry Huffman
new orleans, louisiana


Dear FRONTLINE,

As an Eritrean-American, it was indeed refreshing for the U.S media to portray a white man, instead of the usual black man, as the condemned killer for its program. Now perhaps the US criminal justice system will follow your lead and apply the capital punishment on EQUAL basis.

... I must admit it did not change my view on the death penalty. I always have been an ardent proponent of the death penalty. I do, however, believe the States needs to improve on the way you carry out the death penalty. Executions should be carried out more expeditiously. This would convince those who claim it is not a deterrent to have a fresh look at it...

Tesfazghi John
badme, eritrea

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