Friday, May 2, 2014

The Doan Gang and the Death Penalty

The news from Oklahoma highlights some valid concerns about the execution policy of the United States. A botched execution and the difficulty in procuring the correct drugs to kill a person while inflicting no pain should cause us to revaluate the necessity for executions in the U.S.

But, as I was reading the comprehensive history of executions in the U.S. since 1608, I looked for, and found, the names of two of my relatives executed for guerrilla warfare in Pennsylvania. Hanged during 1788 in Pennsylvania; family history records that Benjamin Franklin himself signed the order for the execution of Levi and Abraham Doan. The document I found did not specifically state that Franklin signed the order, but suggested that he was the President of the court during the period. He had pardoned another of my relatives during 1787 after his 1784 conviction. Legend also has it that an order was signed in Bucks County, PA to shoot any Doan on sight as they were a gang of outlaws.

Interestingly, Levi and Abraham were the only two men to be executed during the Revolutionary period without a trial as reported in Embattled Bench. That, of course, raises a whole new set of questions about due process but as the Constitution did not go into effect until 1789, the protections that it and the Bill of Rights provide were not yet fully implemented.

As reported by the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1608, 15,732 men and women have been executed in the United States.  That seems like a lot of people to me. The state with the least number of executions in Wisconsin with 1 and the state with the most is surprisingly Virginia with 1,277.

Considering that the US and its predecessor states have been executing people since 1608, one would think that as a society we would have the process down and not be subject to the kind of failures reported in the lead story about the Oklahoma botched execution. 

Maybe we should reevaluate the need to execute people, especially if we can't get it right. 

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

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