Protip: If you're using The Bible to justify your opposition to same sex marriage, don't forget to stone to death any woman engaging in premarital sex. And not just your garden-variety stoning, either. You must gather all the people of the town at the doorstep of the woman's father and kill her there. 

God is very specific about this (Deuteronomy 22:20).

Side note:

If you are a man engaging in premarital sex, fear not. God does not condemn you to death. However, if you were engaged in premarital sex, it must logically be with either with a woman who was also engaging in premarital sex (meaning you must now stone her to death, which strikes me as awkward given the intimacy of your relationship) or with a married woman, at which point you and the married woman must both be killed.

So caution is advised.

Roman creativity when it came to punishing those who murdered their fathers astounds me.

If found guilty of parricide (killing your father) in ancient Rome, you'd be sewn into a leather sack with a viper, a dog, a monkey, and a rooster then flung into a body of water to drown. 

This form of punishment was known as poena cullei (from the Latin 'punishment of the sack').

Poena cullei was used for more than 400 years until the 3rd century, when it fell out of use.

I can't imagine why.

Constantine revived poena cullei during his reign, with only serpents to be added in the sack. Well over 200 years later, Emperor Justinian reinstitute the punishment with all four animals, and poena cullei remained the statutory penalty for parricides for the next 400 years, when it was finally replaced for good with death by fire.

So many thoughts about this:

  • How did they ever decide upon these four particular animals?
  • What was it like to be in the sack with a monkey, dog, viper, and rooster during the actual sewing of the sack? None of these animals strike me as calm and cool under pressure. "Tempest in a teapot" is the descriptor that comes to mind.
  • How big (or small) was the sack?  
  • How did the seamstress ever get the sack sewn shut?
  • Though I oppose the death penalty - and think this form of the death penalty sounds especially horrific - I actually feel worse for the dog than the convicted murderer in this circumstance. The monkey and rooster and viper, too (to a lesser extent), but why throw in an animal as loyal and friendly as a dog?
  • What was it like in that sack for each of the participants? What the violence primarily animal-on-man, or was there animal-on-animal violence taking place as well? Was the primary cause of death for all involved drowning, or were one or more of the creatures inside the bag dead before they even hit the water?
  • What was the worst of the animals in terms of the man? Oddly, I think it might have been the rooster. The viper might bite, but in comparison to the dog and monkey, its bite would be nothing, and its poison wouldn't have time to impact the man in any way. The monkey and the dog would be panicked, of course, and probably prone to biting and scratching, but the rooster strikes me as the kind of animal that would be especially dangerous in a confined space like a sack. 
  • Was this a punishment witnessed by spectators (as many Roman punishments were), and if so, why? Once the sack is shut, what was there to see? A roiling mass of leather with the occasional scream or bark or cock-a-doodle-doo? Perhaps if the sack had instead been made from a strong mesh, it would be worth watching, but even then, once they hit the water, I have to imagine the sack sank fast. 
  • Despite the oddity and horror of this peculiar form of the death penalty, it may have been preferable to its eventual replacement. Being burned alive does not sound fun and is supposedly one of the most painful ways to die. Being bitten and scratched and incessantly pecked by a rooster before drowning alongside all of those animals sounds awful, but convicted murderers may have actually yearned for the animal-filled sack as the flames blossomed around them and began roasting their flesh. 

There are many reasons why the death penalty should be abolished. But one reason should be reason enough.

Will Saletan lists six reasons why support for capital punishment is evaporating in the United States. All six are perfectly valid, and I actually agree with all of them, but really, there’s only one that matters:


Since 1973, 144 death row inmates have been exonerated of their crimes.

It’s impossible to think that the our government has not executed innocent people.


As a person who was arrested and tried for a crime he did not commit, I understand the how easily an innocent person can be accused of a crime and how easy it is to be wrongfully convicted.

In my case, the judge said, “I think you’re probably guilty, but there isn’t enough evidence to convict you. I hope you realize how close you came to going to prison.”

The arrest and trial, which took almost two years from beginning to end, changed my life forever. Had I gone to prison, I can’t imagine where I would be today.

I will never understand how supporters of the death penalty are able to ignore the dangers of executing an innocent man or woman. In the past 41 years, more than three people per year on average have been released from death row after proving their innocence.

These are statistics that cannot be ignored. And yet they are. Even with capital punishment rapidly losing support in this country and executions on the decline, more than 50% of respondents to a recent Gallup poll expressed support for the death penalty.

I suspect that their opinions on the matter would change if they were arrested for a crime they did not commit.

Faced with the evidence that this is happening, these people are unmoved. I have to assume it is the result of one of two things:

  1. An inability to empathize with people in positions different than their own
  2. A failure of imagination. They are simply unable to envision themselves or a loved one in a situation that they know is routinely taking place in this country.

Either way, it’s ridiculous. We need to end capital punishment (as most Western nations already have) because we cannot be a nation that accidentally, unintentionally execute innocent people.

Idaho acknowledges that the death penalty kills innocent people.

I am opposed to the death penalty for many reasons, but chief among them is the possibility that innocent people are mistakenly put to death.

As a person who was arrested and tried for a crime he did not commit, I understand the possibility of the criminal justice system making an error all too well.


To date, 143 people in America have been sentenced to death, only to be released later on when new evidence exonerated them of their crimes. These men and women spent an average of 10 years on death row before being granted their freedom.

Death penalty proponents don’t seem to care about these statistics. Perhaps they think that the chances of being mistakenly convicted of a crime are so low that they don’t need to worry about it.

Sure, it happened to 143 people so far (that we know if), but not me.

They also argue that the system is working. Though innocent men and women have been sentenced to death, no innocent person has been executed.

This is probably not true.

The Death Penalty Information Center has published a list of 10 inmates "executed but possibly innocent". At least 39 executions are claimed to have been carried out in the U.S. in the face of evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt.

The idea that no innocent person has been executed in this country, based upon the exonerations that have taken place so far, is naïve at best.

All this leads me to a recent discovery:

Under Idaho law, three crimes are punishable by death:

  • First degree murder with aggravating factors
  • Aggravated kidnapping
  • Perjury causing execution of an innocent person

Doesn’t that third crime all but acknowledge that the possibility of executing an innocent person exists?

How can the death penalty continue to exist in a place where the state admits to the possibility of killing an innocent citizen?