Capital Punishment resources

Posted on September 08, 2008 by Amy Tolmie


Capital punishment often gets discussed as a moral choice in Year 10 or 11 RE. Nick Yarris' story is a brilliant way into the debate, highlighting how easily an innocent person can be caught up in the system. His excellent website gives this introduction to his story:

"On Dec. 20th,1981 I was stopped in the city of Chester, PA. for a traffic citation by patrolman Benjamin Wright. The unfortunate events that unfolded in a matter of seconds were began by this officer placing his restraining hand on my shoulder as I attempted to stand up out of the car I was in. It precipitated his grabbing me by the arm and a scuffle then ensued as he attempted to overpower a terrified 20 year old man that I was at the time. Enraged and heated from the accidental discharge of his revolver into the ground, this offer reacted by over blowing the incident way out of proportion. Just a few days before Christmas 1981 and I wind up being charged with attempted murder and kidnapping of a police officer."

So begins an amazing tale that was to take many years to play out, with Nick waiting to be killed on Death Row. Eventually, Nick was freed, but only after a huge amount of effort by his lawyers. His website has much more on the story and, helpfully for lessons, some audio files from interviews in the media. The one from Radio 4 is especially good. These would help his story come to life in a lesson.

Interestingly, Nick now lives in Herfordshire in the UK and travels around speaking to schools. He has also released a book 'Seven Days to Live' earlier this year. The story brings home some of the issues involved in capital punishment and is a helpful way to get students engaged with the questions and issues involved.