What was it about the statute that bothered Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Your question refers to Atticus's mixed emotions about the Alabama death penalty in Chapter 23 of TKAM. After Jem complains about Tom's rape conviction, a capital offense in Alabama, Atticus "dropped his newspaper beside his chair" and had a man-to-man conversation with his son. Atticus "didn't have any quarrel with the rape statute, none whatsoever": Instead, it is the idea of a man facing the electric chair due to a conviction based entirely upon circumstantial evidence that bothers Atticus.

"--I mean, before a man is sentenced to death for murder, say, there should be one or two eye-witnesses. Someone should be able to say, ' Yes, I was there and saw him pull the trigger.' "  (Chapter 23)

Atticus knows that without an eyewitness there will always be "reasonable doubt," but he believes that the accused deserves more than that: He calls for a "shadow of a doubt" when a man's life is at stake. Atticus also believes that a judge, not a jury, should hand down the death sentence.


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