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

Fall 2007

T C 301 • Why Kill? Capital Punishment - W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
44660 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
CRD 007B

Course Description

Recent critiques of capital punishment have focused on systemic practical flaws with the legal system and their tendency to produce unreliable verdicts (i.e., the conviction of the innocent). This seminar, by contrast, will examine from varying perspectives the profound moral question underlying the practice of capital punishment: whether and when it is appropriate to kill a human being as punishment for a crime. We will begin by examining the four conventional justifications for criminal punishment in the Western political/philosophical tradition (retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation) and thereafter consider in detail how they relate to the death penalty as it has been employed in America. We will explore 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). At the same time, we will interrogate the existing legal regime of capital punishment to assess whether it meaningfully reflects these purposes.

About the Professor

Rob Owen is a criminal defense attorney in Austin and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Texas School of Law, where he teaches a course on the law of capital punishment and serves as co-director of the Capital Punishment Clinic. He has represented prisoners in death penalty cases at all levels of the court system from state trial courts to the U.S. Supreme Court. He has an A.B. in Comparative Literature and an M.A. in Speech Communication from the University of Georgia, and received his J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a history and film buff who enjoys live music and riding his bike.

Grading Policy

Each student will write two short papers (3-5 pages), each of which will constitute 20% of the course grade, and one longer paper (8-10 pages) that will constitute 30% of the course grade. The longer paper will be completed in two phases (i.e., the student will submit a draft, then revise and improve it to produce the final version). Each student will also make an in-class presentation on the subject of their longer paper while the paper is in the draft stage.

The remaining 30% of the course grade will be based on a combination of class participation, both formal (with students being directed from time to time to be prepared to address specific questions at the next class meeting, or to lead in-class discussion on a topic announced in advance) and informal (in wide-ranging discussion of readings), and occasional (announced) quizzes on the course readings.


U.S. Supreme Court opinions in capital cases (in edited form); original source materials from actual capital cases; 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, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South, The Widow of St.-Pierre, Mr. Death: The Fred Leuchter Story, The Green Mile, Boys Don't Cry, The Chamber, Let Him Have It, The Thin Blue Line


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