Capital Punishment
An Indictment by a Death-Row Survivor
Billy Wayne Sinclair & Jodie Sinclair

Chelsea House Publishers
Trade Paperback/115 pages
ISBN: 0-79109796X
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". . . long on statistics and pulls deftly on the heartstrings, but lacking in viable alternatives . . ."

Capital Punishment: An Indictment by a Death-Row Survivor: Statistics, abuses and emotional plea to stop capital punishment.

Billy Wayne Sinclair spent forty years in prison for killing a man during a robbery, six years on death row. He knows what it’s like to sit in a cell and contemplate mortality.

Capital Punishment: An Indictment by a Death-Row Survivor is full of statistics and stories of executed men and women, as well as those who now wait on death row in the United States. The data is impressive and some of the stories stir the emotions and can make readers reconsider their pro-death penalty stance.

Sinclair seems right about some things. Capital punishment is about vengeance, and it has its roots in the oldest codes, from the Hammurabi to the Ten Commandments. No doubt the need for retribution is an innate part of the human psyche.

Billy Sinclair also makes a good case, although not a new one, that those who administer the prisons and death sentences are often corrupt and sadistic. Sinclair has seen it first-hand. After forty years in prison, he knows the ins and outs of the system.

Sinclair’s emotional plea, though backed by impressive statistics, breaks down on two fronts. When detailing the murders of women, even he breaks his anti-death penalty stance: “Killings in domestic violence cases are murder, plain and simple. If there is to be a death penalty, it should be applied equally to all who kill in cold blood.” It may be his wife and co-author Jodie Sinclair who breaks down and admits there is a need vengeance even in her soul.

The other breakdown comes in the statistics. Although statistics for the whole United States are listed for the total number of men and women who have died at the hands of the state, the rest of the statistics relate only to a few states, mostly southern states like Alabama, Texas and Louisiana. The one statistic that remains at zero is the number of innocent men put to death in the wake of the use and acceptance of DNA evidence. A good percentage of those convicted have been exonerated by DNA evidence, and none have been executed.

There is also the lack of statistics and data about how much an attorney’s lack of experience, caseload or incompetence played in convictions or the ratio of blacks and Hispanics to whites in the areas where murders were committed. Too much data is left out, slanting the Sinclairs’ argument in their favor. It is not to say that inequities do not exist, but there is nothing on statistics in the rest of the states with the death penalty and how those statistics fare in a larger context.

The Sinclairs are right about one thing: We have to find another method of dealing with criminals. Warehousing them for decades, as much as fifty to sixty years in the case of juveniles convicted as adults, is not an option, especially not at the taxpayers’ expense.

In the end, the Sinclairs offer no suggestions for change. They detail the various forms of execution and the ways in which the punishment is often cruel and unusual, a concise, well-written and emotional argument that has been used before. Billy Wayne Sinclair’s experience notwithstanding, Capital Punishment is long on statistics and pulls deftly on the heartstrings, but it lacks viable alternatives of any kind.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell