Friday, April 4, 2008

Women that Faced the Death Penalty

The death penalty, or capital punishment, is opposed by many people in our country. Many people have been killed over the years by electrocution, lethal injection, a gas chamber, or, in much earlier years, hanging. We hear about many men facing the death penalty because it is not as common for women. However, there are cases of women facing the death penalty. In our country, there have been fifty women executed since 1900. Out of those fifty women, I decided to write about three: Aileen Wuornos, Wanda Jean Allen, and Frances Newton.

Aileen Wuornos of Florida was sentenced to the death penalty for killing seven men. These murders were not her first crimes though; she had a record including grand theft auto, armed robbery, and assaults. Wuornos confessed to her murders, pleading self-defense in the case of her first victim. Wuornos spent a lot of time in jail and went through many interviews. In one of her last interviews Wuornos was asked if any of her other victims, besides Richard Mallory, were murdered in self-defense. When she thought the cameras were off she told him that some of them were but that she could never tell anyone and would just have to go for her execution. Aileen went to her execution willingly. She declined her last meal and her last words were: "I'd just like to say I'm sailing with the rock, and I'll be back like Independence Day, with Jesus June 6. Like the movie, big mother ship and all, I'll be back." Aileen Wuornos was executed on October 9, 2002 by lethal injection, after 10 years in prison and on death row.

Wanda Jean Allen of Oklahoma was sentenced to the death penalty for murder. Wanda Jean Allen killed her girlfriend Gloria Jean Leathers, who she met in prison. Although this is the crime she was recognized for, she also plead guilty to the manslaughter of Dedra Pettus in 1981 and sentenced to four years in prison. Dedra Pettus was Wanda’s roommate and when Wanda was serving time for Dedra’s murder she met Gloria. The two were said to have had a turbulent relationship and question of self-defense was brought into play at trial. Wanda did not want to confess and tried her best to make it seem like self-defense. However, the self-defense was ruled out and Wanda was sentenced to the death penalty. Unlike Aileen, Wanda was not ready to die. She plead not to be killed, but her pleads were denied. Evidence was later found that Wanda had minor brain damage, but this did not affect anything. Wanda had to stay on death row and she remained there for twelve years. On January 11, 2001, Wanda Jean Allen was executed by means of lethal injection.

Frances Newton of Texas was sentenced to the death penalty for murder. Frances Newton killed her husband, her son, and her 21 month old daughter. Frances took out $50,000 dollar life policies on her two children and the day after she filed insurance claims she was arrested for capital murder. Her record prior to the murders consisted of a probated forgery conviction. Frances was scheduled to be executed on December 1, 2004, but was given a reprieve of 120 days to look over forensic evidence. After the reprieve, two appeals were turned down and Frances stayed put on death row. Newton had very few words while she was in prison. Although Newton did not do much protesting herself, many other people contacted the governor to ask that the execution be stopped. Despite all the attempts for a cease to Newton’s execution, it remained scheduled to take place. Newton had no lasts words and she denied a final meal. On September 14, 2005, Frances Newton was executed by lethal injection.

All these women committed murder. Some committed worse crimes than others, but they all took the life of others and were forced to pay for it. I found that murder appeared to be the worst crime committed and therefore the crime resulting in the death penalty. Aileen had a history of crime and Wanda had been jailed for killing once before, but Newton did not have a violent history. Newton’s murders were found to be cold-blooded and extremely harsh by the public, but the public still fought for her execution to be stopped. Newton was the last women to be executed in the United States. Both Wanda and Frances killed a partner or child. Aileen killed random men while practicing prostitution. Research shows that almost half of the women on death row either killed their partner, their children, or both. Research also shows that women are significantly less likely to receive the death penalty than men. Victor Streib said in his research, “Women [are charged with] roughly 10 to 12 percent of the murders in the country. They get about 2 percent of the death sentences and get less than 1 percent of the actual executions.” The reason why I wanted to research this subject is because of the fact that women are much less likely to face the death penalty. I wanted to see what kinds of crimes were committed and how these women went through their death sentencing. This topic is very interesting to study and I enjoyed writing my research paper on it.

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