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

Fall 2009

T C 302 • Why Kill? Capital Punishment in Search of a Rationale - W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
43740 TTh
11:00 AM-12:30 PM
CRD 007B

Course Description

This course explores some of the issues, themes, debates, etc., surrounding the theory and practice of capital punishment. 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). Although this seminar covers the structure of the contemporary legal regime of capital punishment in the U.S., that survey primarily provides context for a 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 art, music, literature, etc. Students must articulate, sharpen, and defend their views about right and wrong, justice and mercy, vengeance and forgiveness. The seminar examines 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).


The basic "law" text is Linda E. Carter and Ellen Kreitzberg, Understanding Capital Punishment Law (Lexis 2004). Students read a variety of books and novellas including Camus, The Stranger; Capote, In Cold Blood; Thompson, The Killer Inside Me; Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident; Melville, Billy Budd; Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying; Prejean, Dead Man Walking; Kafka, In the Penal Colony; Hugo, Last Day of a Condemned Man. There are numerous other readings (primarily case opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court (e.g., McCleskey v. Kemp, Roper v. Simmons) and newspaper and magazine articles). Students also view numerous films, including “A Short Film About Killing,” “I Want to Live!,” “The Widow of Saint-Pierre,” “Dead Man Walking,” “The Thin Blue Line,” “The Exonerated,” and “Two Towns of Jasper.”

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 enjoys live music, cold beer, mountain biking, and playing guitar.


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