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Wretched Sisters

Examining Gender and Capital Punishmend


Mary Welek Atwell

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, fourteen women have been put to death in the United States. The criminal justice system defines crimes committed by women in a particularly gendered context. Wretched Sisters is unique in its analysis of the legal and cultural circumstances that determine why a small number of women are sentenced to death and provides a detailed account of how these fourteen women came to be subjected to the ultimate punishment.
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Chapter 7. Aggravating Circumstances: Killing Children and Cops


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Christina Riggs and Lynda Lyon

Christina Riggs and Lynda Lyon were sentenced to death for crimes that are often considered the worst of the worst. Riggs murdered her two preschool-age children. Lyon was involved in an incident in which a police officer was shot. Public opinion tends to support the position that those offenses merit the most severe punishment. But to determine whether Riggs and Lyon deserved to die, there is more to consider than the general description of the murders. One might examine the factors that brought these two women to the scene of their crimes. In both cases the killings occurred at the end of a string of events that could have ended differently. Riggs might have had help in dealing with her depression. Lyon might have stopped to use a telephone at some other location. It is quite possible that higher courts would have found error in their trials. One could argue that both women showed evidence of mental illness. However, for different reasons, both women refused to appeal their death sentences. Riggs, who had tried to commit suicide when she killed her children, clearly wanted the state of Arkansas to end her life. Lyon, an anti-government activist, claimed Alabama had no jurisdiction to try her and sentence her. Therefore, she did not recognize the state’s authority to execute her and, on that ground, chose not to fight it. ← 165 | 166...

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