The fading penalty of death



NoteI wrote this on spec for a Georgia magazine. They passed. 

As the numbers of death sentences and executions continue their free fall in the United States, Georgia led the country in executions last year with nine, setting a state record for the most executions in one year. Texas, which has killed 542 people since 1973 and has executed more people since 1973 than the next six states combined, killed only seven people last year.

The surge occurred because Georgia had put executions on hold several times in the past four years as it changed the drugs administered, fought a challenge to a law that keeps the source of drugs secret, and replaced a stock of drugs that had solidified, according to the Chicago Tribune. In the meantime, several people on death row had exhausted all of their appeals and their sentences could be carried out.

The spike in Georgia is unusual, given the sharp decline in executions. Nationwide, the modern peak was 98 executions in 1999. Since then, the number has tumbled to only 20 in 2016, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

There are several factors that might slow the execution rate even further.

Drug makers balk at lethal use

One is practical. It’s getting harder and harder to find the needed drugs because pharmaceutical companies are under intense public pressure to stop allowing their drugs to be used to kill people. Since 1975, lethal injection has accounted for 1,274 executions, followed distantly by electrocution at 158.

Last month, Arkansas wanted to execute eight people in 10 days because its supply of midazolam, a chemical in its lethal injection , was about to expire and the state wasn’t sure it could get more.  Midazolam, a sedative, is a substitute for more effective drugs that are now in short supply.

Many debate whether midazlam is effective enough.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent in a recent Alabama death row inmate’s appeal  that, “like a hangman’s poorly tied noose or a malfunctioning electric chair, midazolam might render our latest method of execution too much for our conscience — and the Constitution — to bear.”

While Arkansas juggled last-minute appeals and court injunctions, it also was sued by McKesson Corp., one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical distributors, to stop the state from using one of the drugs it sells.

McKesson alleges that the Arkansas Department of Corrections illegally obtained anesthesia drug Vecuronium in July 2016 by not disclosing it was buying the drug with the intent to execute prisoners, according to KFSM-TV in Little Rock. McKesson, which sells drugs for other companies, cannot sell the drug to federal and state correctional facilities that engage in capital punishment.

The same shortage of effective lethal drugs is plaguing other states, too. Thus, Oklahoma is bringing back the gas chamber; Utah is reviving the firing squad; and Tennessee is reconnecting the electric chair.

But in Georgia, the electric chair is off limits.

In a 4-3 decision in 2001, the Georgia Supreme Court said that death by electrocution “inflicts purposeless physical violence and needless mutilation that makes no measurable contribution to accepted goals of punishment. … Electrocution, with its specter of excruciating pain and its certainty of cooked brains and blistered bodies, violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

Innocence on death row

Another reason for the penalty’s decline, according to a recent article in The New York Times, is that judges are willing to give defendants every benefit of the doubt in their appeals because of the system’s spotty track record.  Since 1976, more than 155 people on death row were proved to be innocent, including six in Georgia and two in South Carolina. In Florida, 26 people were found to be innocent.

Norman Fletcher was Georgia’s chief justice in 2001 when the court ruled that the electric chair was unconstitutional. Since his retirement in 2011, Fletcher has become a vocal opponent of the death penalty in general and Georgia’s appeals process in particular.

In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Fletcher wrote that Georgia stands nearly alone as a state that does not require legal representation throughout the appeals process.

“Perhaps the biggest problem with Georgia’s system, and one of the reasons the state carries out so many executions, is that it often fails to provide people with lawyers,” Fletcher wrote.

While Fletcher was presiding justice in 1999, the court considered an appeal of a post-conviction hearing for Exzavious Gibson, who was 17 when he committed his crime.

Gibson had an opportunity to argue that he did not receive adequate representation during his trial, but, ironically, no volunteer attorney was available to file that appeal.

“Mr. Gibson, who was poor and apparently, from the records, intellectually disabled and afflicted by acute mental health problems, was forced to represent himself. That sham of a proceeding is one of the most deplorable vignettes in Georgia’s legal history,” Fletcher wrote.

The Georgia court decided, 4-3, that people with death-penalty convictions have no right to counsel at the post-conviction stage — a ruling still in force today.

“There can be no doubt that actually innocent persons have been executed in this country,” Fletcher said.

Too often, Fletcher contends, budgetary issues, race and politics factor into the decision-making of whether to seek the death penalty.

Shifting public opinion

The third possible death knell for capital punishment is waning public support. The New York Times reports that support for the death penalty is at its lowest level since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.

A Gallup poll released last fall said 60 percent of respondents said they support capital punishment, down 9 points since 2007 and 20 points since its peak in 1994. Half of respondents believe the death penalty is applied fairly, the lowest level in the question’s 17-year history. Forty-four percent believe it is applied unfairly, the highest level in 17 years.

A Pew Poll this year found that support for the death penalty had dropped to 49 percent, marking the first time support had dropped below 50 percent since 1971.

Gallup’s report said, “This is reflected in, or perhaps the force behind, changes in death penalty laws in recent years, with a total of 12 states abolishing the death penalty or imposing a moratorium in the last decade alone.”

American courts imposed 30 death sentences last year, down from the peak of 315 in 1996, the New York Times reported. Georgia has imposed only one death sentence in the past four years.

A recent poll by NBC News showed that if injection is no longer available,42 percent of Americans polled said the death penalty should be discontinued. Twenty percent favored switching to the gas chamber, 18 percent the electric chair, 12 percent a firing squad and 8 percent hanging.

More reasons for the declining support for the death penalty is the expense and the lack of effect on crime rates.

Proponents of the death penalty argue that the ultimate punishment deters others from committing crimes. That isn’t true, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. A 2009 poll it commissioned found police chiefs ranked the death penalty last among ways to reduce violent crime. The police chiefs also considered the death penalty the least efficient use of taxpayers’ money.

For these reasons, we might just be hearing the last gasps for the death penalty in several more states.

Georgia’s execution history

Georgia has employed capital punishment since colonial times, with executions recorded as early as 1735. Crimes punishable by capital punishment in Georgia have included murder, robbery, rape, horse stealing, and aiding a runaway slave.

The first Georgia execution by electric chair was carried out in 1924 and the method quickly replaced hanging. The last hanging was in 1931. Before 1976, Georgia carried out 950 executions, the fourth-highest number of any state. Since the death penalty, Georgia has executed 69 people, the sixth most in the country.

Georgia’s two chairs:

  • ‘Old Sparky’ was used from 1924 until 1980. Painted white, it is on display at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville.
  • Chair two, a squat, varnished version, was used from 1980 until 2001, when the state ruled it unconstitutional. That chair is stored in a closet near the death chamber at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson. There are 67 men on death row in Georgia.

The story of Lena Baker

Lena Baker was an African-American maid in Cuthbert, Ga., who was convicted of killing her white employer, Ernest Knight, and sentenced to death in 1944 after a four-hour trial in which no defense was presented on Baker’s behalf, according to NPR.  She was executed  in 1945, the only woman in Georgia to be electrocuted.

At the time of the trial, a local newspaper reported that Baker was held as a “slave woman” by Knight, and that she shot him in self defense during a struggle. In 2005, 60 years after her execution, the state of Georgia granted Baker a full and unconditional pardon. A biography was published about Baker in 2001, and it was adapted for the feature film, “The Lena Baker Story,” in 2008, which was shown at Cannes Film Festival.

Executed for a crime she didn’t commit

Kelly Gissendaner, 47, is the only woman Georgia has executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1983. She died Sept. 30, 2015, by lethal injection after exhausting appeals in her conviction for contracting her boyfriend to kill her husband, Douglas Gissendaner in 1997. Her boyfriend agreed to a plea bargain in exchange for testifying against Gissendaner. She is the only person Georgia has executed since 1976 for a murder she didn’t actually commit.

Georgia cases halt, and restart, executions in U.S.

It was cases originating in Georgia that caused the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the death penalty in 1972 because of unequal application and to restore the death penalty four years later.

Furman v. Georgia and two cases from Texas where two rapists were condemned to death, halted the death penalty in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, in 1972 that the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and Fourteenth Amendment prohibitions against discrimination because it had been imposed in a seemingly random and inconsistent manner, according to

In that case, William Furman had broken into a home when the resident discovered him. He tried to escape, but tripped and fell. The gun that he was carrying went off and killed the resident of the home. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, according to

The court found that the death sentences in the three cases were inconsistently applied and ruled the penalty unconstitutional.

Four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court in Gregg vs. Georgia ruled, 7-2, that the death penalty in and of itself is not cruel and unusual punishment. It said that careful and judicious use of the death penalty may be appropriate. Today, 31 states have death penalties on their books.


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Finding the right combination

1101151209a_HDRI’ve encountered two online applications this week that stood out from the crowd. I’m not sure if the questions they asked helped tease out whether someone would be a good employee or not, but they certainly identify people with whom you’d like to dine.

One asked about where one gets their news and what were the last three books one read. I think that question is more revealing than what one’s favorite book is. I wouldn’t trust any answer provided because people have carefully researched the right response. But the last three books one read? If answered truthfully, that would really provide great insight of a person.

The other application felt very intrusive and personal. “What is your goal in life? How do you describe a life well lived? How do you determine if someone is successful? How would this position move you closer to your life goals?” I don’t think “it would allow me to eat, which is a basic life goal” is the answer they’re looking for.

At the very least, I would have preferred to have waited until the second interview (date?) to have revealed things I haven’t told anyone but my closest confidante. I bared my soul and I doubt I’ll ever hear back. I wonder where THAT application will end up in cyberspace.

I also received my first rejection that I’m certain was from a computer. I had completed my application only the day before when I received an email that said that due to the large number of applicants, they would be pursuing other applicants with blah, blah, blah. I am pretty confident that a person didn’t read my application.

It seems as though I have to push the right buttons in the right order to get into drive. Can anyone help me with the code?



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Business Badger awakens after 5-year nap

I find myself in a spot somewhat similar to where I was five years ago, when I started this blog. I’m back in the job market and blowing the dust off my blog so I can share my job search experiences and some observations I’ve picked up since.

The blog began five years ago as I noticed that applying for jobs is a demoralizing, time-sucking pain in the neck. Nope, nothing has changed on that front, but I certainly knew what to expect. The primary difference is trying to outsmart SEO. Haven’t quite perfected that yet either, because you know, I’m a person, not a word cloud.

So the new, improved Business Badger is going to tell you about what I’ve learned in the five years since I last published this blog. I’m going to write about:

Win-loss analysis

I’ve spent the past five years as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies in regard to win-loss analysis and customer experience. I have interviewed thousands (really, thousands) of buyers and customers. As I’ve said many times, it’s amazing what strangers will tell me on the phone.

They told me 1. what a specific sales process was like, 2. how competing products compared and 3. what their perception was of my client’s company, as well as my client’s competitors.

Then they told me the most important thing. They told me what was the primary reason they chose that $100,000 widget over the competing $100,000 widget. Seriously. I asked them as an objective third party and they TOLD me! In great detail! Even though I told them I was recording the conversation. Even though I told them I would provide their feedback to my client, whom I named. They told me anyway.

Where information goes to die

Here’s another lesson I learned about win-loss that absolutely blew my mind. I told my clients what their buyers told me, even quantified it across several buyers. I put it in a PowerPoint. I drew arrows, added bright colors and repeated several times the two or three key reasons they were losing deals. And you know what? More often than not, they went “hmmm.” “Interesting.” “Yes, that’s what we thought.”

Then you know what? THEY DIDN’T DO A DAMNED THING ABOUT IT! Time and time again, client after client. Nada.

Embed from Getty Images

To be fair, some did take action and they saw their win rates increase. But it was a small percentage.

For those who did little to nothing, I’m astounded. Yeah, change is hard, I get that. But, really? Your buyers told you, verbatim, why you lost that deal. Then another buyer told you the same thing. And another. And another. I think they were trying to tell you something.

So, here is what learned what happens to most win-loss analysis results. “Great data. We’ll just put it over here. In the corner. Behind the fake plant.”

I think what happens is corporate leaders think they have to come up with a big, fat PLAN to address all of these recurring issues. Here is a secret. No, they don’t. They have to fix the first issue that keeps coming up. Then test to see buyers mention that again. If not, the problem was fixed. What’s next on the list?

For those who didn’t want to change or thought they couldn’t, eventually they got tired of hearing from me, telling them the same thing, buyer after buyer, quarter after quarter. They liked the idea of win-loss, but not the work. It’s hard work to change a process, or a product, or a sales leader. But sometimes the data is right there telling you exactly what to change and why. It’s telling you. From behind the fake plant. In the corner.






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The first step is admitting you have a habit

For some reason, I was given a review copy of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg. He’s a NYT reporter, so of course I readily accepted his emailed offer to send me a copy of his book.

Still mystified as to why I received a copy of the book, I began reading. The prologue begins, “She was the scientists’ favorite

participant. Lisa Allen, according to her file,…..” I’ve seen my name in print hundreds of times, even on the cover of a couple of books I edited, but wow, there it is in a book written by a New York Times reporter. I don’t know if that’s how I appeared on his radar, but if so, it was a brilliant

marketing move.

Most of the book is right on, but it reaches a little too far when it comes to the civil rights movement.

However that book landed at my doorstep, I’m glad it did.

It’s an intriguing romp through Mr. Duhigg’s research and the many twists and turns his growing database took. That’s what I love about journalsim. One starts in one spot and you never know there the information will take you. Unfortunately, he follow

ed one path in the book he shouldn’t have. One large tangent doesn’t belong and undermines some of the overall value of the book. He pushed too hard to argue that the civil rights movement occurred because long-standing habits finally snapped. He also argues that fundamental sociological responses derived over generations and founded on the necessity of human interactions stem from habits. I don’t buy it. I cannot categorize the culmination of 100 years of American history, social pressures and basic human needs into something as a simple as subconsciou

s reactions to cues, routines and rewards.

The civil rights movement was too complex, too political and too orchestrated  to stem from subconscious behavior. That’s my caveat to recommending this book. I loved everything about it, but. That segway doesn’t ruin the book, but it doesn’t fit within it. It was too much of a stretch.

With that exception, the book is definitely worth reading. You’ll talk about it, think about it and keep picking it up to reread sections.

My favorite parts were reading about the success of Alcoa under the safety-obsessed Paul O’Neill, marketing Pepsodent, unwinding to the source of infant mortality and recognition of William James’ brilliance.

I loved the business applications of habits and their use for good (Alcoa) and evil (Target).

The price of admission is worth Mr. Duhigg’s notes alone. I enjoyed knowing immediately what reaction his reporting evoked from his sources, including the terse replies from Target, and the shut down from the compulsive gambler. From his notes and sources, I have another large reading list to explore the porttions that interested me, including the civil rights movement but along other premises.

Thanks to Mr. Duhigg’s book and the treasure trove of resoures, he has made learning, about habits and other topics, well, a habit.

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Three business lessons learned in a Santee bar

Three bar stools  032

Image by tomylees via Flickr

I recently spent three days in Santee, S.C., a town of 800 on Interstate 95 smack dab between New York City and Miami although it couldn’t be farther from either. I was there to write about the town for AAA’s Go Magazine that covers the Carolinas. (Interesting find: when one Googles “Go Magazine,” a lesbian magazine is the first result. Bet that would surprise a lot of people in AAA marketing department.)

I started to write this blog about three lessons I learned in Santee, but I realized three great lessons come from one place, The Oasis Bar and Grill on S.C. 6 in Santee.

Good business practice lesson one: Warmly, sincerely greet your customers. (Note: Yelling ‘welcome to Moe’s!’ loud enough to startle the interloper might have an opposite effect, but that’s another blog for another time.)

Details: My traveling partner and I spent WAY more time and money at the Oasis Bar and Grill than we planned simply because we were warmly welcomed by Sharon, a waitress there for five years. She truly seemed happy to see us. I’m always glad when someone is happy to see me. Makes me all warm inside. She introduced us to a few of the regulars around us and we felt like regulars in a matter of hours. (I said we spent too much time there, but I’d go back in a flash.)

Good business practice lesson two: Promote yourself and your products, even after your customers are in the door

Details: I noticed a well-written flyer on the bathroom door announcing upcoming events at The Oasis and it included some boilerplate touting the Oasis, like best bar in Santee, favorite destination from tourists, etc. It reinforced the feeling that I was smart for being so wise to detect a successful business from the highway. In short, it made me puff out my chest with pride for choosing well. Another flyer inside the bathroom reminded patrons of watching college football at the bar. One also got half off your first drink if you wore your team’s colors. Score in the marketing column! Another good idea: the screen saver for the cash register is a rolling list of cocktails and their ingredients. Customers seated at the bar might bend to the power of suggestion and break away from a draft beer.

Good business practice lesson three:  Be bold, be clever, take a few small risks.

Details: Santee is home to a huge lake, so boating is a recurring theme throughout town. The Oasis beached a broken-down boat in the parking lot and guarded it with railroad ties. Was it meant just as a conversation piece, I asked owner Dennis Krauer? Nope. It’s protecting the septic tank beneath it. Good idea. The Oasis also built a half-acre outdoor bar area shieled by an 8-foot privacy fence for outdoor concerts or karoake. (Can there be too much karoake? Please, someone cry uncle!) It’s taking a while for the area to catch on, but Krauer’s sticking with it. A small risk that might pay off.


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You Get What You Give, Part 2

I said in  the last blog that I would give examples of companies who do a great job of recruiting talented, professional employees.

The first step, in my mind, is to be talented and professional yourself and that should begin with your website. It might not be true, but it’s nice to read how a company cares about its employees, nurtures them and prepares them to move up in the company.

It helps to see what benefits are offered, no matter how meager. It shows that the company shares information.

The next step is to be responsive to all who apply for a posted position, or send off an unsolicited resume in the hopes of landing a job with your company. Of course, the adage of you get what you give applies there, too. Applicant, if you click off a generic cover letter and a bland resume, you really don’t deserve the respect of a reply.

I even appreciate an automated response that indicates the company received my application and they will be in touch if I clear a few minimum hurdles. (See paragraph above.)

For example, I applied for a post on Monday this week and received a personalized email on Wednesday saying they had selected their core candidates and I wasn’t one of them. That’s OK. They respected my effort and replied. Kudos, Ms. Manager, kudos.

Should communication continue, make sure your email has a default signature so the recipient knows where you fall in the food chain and how to reach you by phone. Yes, you have to make yourself minimally accessible. That’s your job — communicating on occasion with living, breathing people. I have received cryptic emails signed by people like “Debbie” or “Mike.” No offensive attended, I’m sure you’re important and well known by cubicle dwellers twice or thrice removed but I have no idea who you are. My reply is going to be guarded at best, absent at worst.

In short, to recruit talented people who will elevate and advance your company, give it your best effort. Share information, present a professional website and respond early and often.  You really don’t know either who is on the other end of that email. It could be your next boss.

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Case studies in You Get What You Give

Cover of "Stuck in Neutral"

Cover of Stuck in Neutral

As I said, I’ve cast a few lines in the water seeking full-time work. What I’ve pulled out of the water has been a little frightening.

I understand our economy has been stuck in neutral at best for several years now. Yeah, economists say the recession ended in 2009 because the growth needle stuck a toe out of negative numbers, but I don’t think most people believe it. The ole USA ain’t what she used to be and people detect the scent of decay in the wind.

In those rare instances that a professional job opens up, dozens will pounce on it. Sometimes I’m one of them.

In most cases, what I’ve gotten in response to my professionalism and well-crafted, individually written cover letters is appalling.

The lackadaisical, unprofessional responses are astonishing. Do those responsible for hiring expect to get the ax any time now so they figure why put forth any effort? Are they trying to warn away others from joining their godforsaken company? Or are they just that sure that they can treat people like dirt and they’ll take it?

I can’t hazard a guess. It makes no sense to me.

Thus far, I can recount three case studies of how not to conduct recruitment of a mid-level manager.

I’m going to call this series You Get What You Give.

I’m not naming any names, nor will I. I figure the parties in question are beyond help so I hope these tales will prompt those on the brink of moribund to look a little livelier.

Case No. 1 — A wall of silence

I was contacted to arrange a phone interview for a department head position. The call arrived at the appointed time and the person who would be my boss and I talked for at least an hour. I thought we hit it off and he said he would be in touch.

Days pass. Then weeks. I send an email to check the progress of the selection. Nothing.

I finally called him and caught him. I figured leaving a message would be a waste of time. At this point, I wouldn’t work for someone so rude, but I wanted an answer. I wanted to know whether I didn’t measure up or whether they thought I was qualified but the position was put on hold. Big difference.

“So, Joe or Sam or Billy, how is your search coming along?”

“Oh. We’re still considering candidates but should decide next week. I‘ll let you know.”

That was the last contact I had with the company.

Really? I spent an hour with you and you can’t give me the courtesy of a reply?

I was someone they were trying to lure to their company. I can only imagine how they treat staff once employees are beholden to them. Yikes.

Next week: An example of how to recruit excellent candidates. I don’t have a personal example, but certainly there is one out there.

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