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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Fall 2006

T C 301 • Why Kill? Capital Punishment in Search of a Rationale -W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
44455 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
CRD 007B

Course Description

Current critiques of the death penalty tend to focus on systemic practical flaws in the American legal system and their tendency to produce unreliable verdicts (e.g., the conviction of the innocent). This seminar will begin by introducing students to the structure of the contemporary legal regime of capital punishment in the U.S. That survey, however, will provide a context for subsequent in-depth examination of the urgent moral questions underlying the practice of killing human beings as criminal punishment, and the echoes of that practice in our culture's art, music, literature, etc. Students will articulate, sharpen, and defend their own views about right and wrong, justice and mercy, vengeance and forgiveness. We will explore all these questions through depictions of the death penalty in books (both fiction and non-fiction), essays, films, and primary source materials (documents from actual capital cases).

Grading Policy

This course contains a Substantial Writing Component.

From time to time during the semester, students will be required to compose brief informal writing assignments that collectively will count toward the 15% of the course grade attributed to "class participation." Formal writing assignments will include three papers (two of 3-5 pages and one of 8-10 pages), variously constituting 15%, 20% and 25% of the course grade. There will be at least one formal written examination covering the course readings.


U.S. Supreme Court opinions in capital cases (in edited form); original source materials from actual capital cases (transcripts, exhibits, etc.); newspaper and magazine articles about current capital cases in the news.

Books and essays
Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States; David Grossman, On Killing; Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying; Albert Camus, "Reflections on the Guillotine," in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death; Austin Sarat, The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture; Randy Loney, A Dream of a Tattered Man: Stories From Georgia's Death Row; William McFeely, Proximity to Death; Mikal Gilmore, Shot in the Heart; Michael Mello, The Wrong Man: A True Story of Innocence on Death Row; Richard Wright, Native Son; John D. Bessler, Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America; Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Who Owns Death? Capital Punishment, the American Conscience, and the End of Executions.

Dead Man Walking The Widow of St.-Pierre A Short Film About Killing Let Him Have It The Thin Blue Line Mr. Death: The Fred Leuchter Story Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South


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