Which Sentence Would You Choose: Prison Or Castration?

By Nolan Moore on Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Justitia, a monument in Frankfurt, Germany
“By punishing the criminal the moral man hopes to dissuade the evil imprisoned in his own breast from escaping.” —John Carroll

In A Nutshell

In 1985, three South Carolina men raped and tortured a 23-year-old woman for six hours. When they were finally hauled into court, it seemed like this would be a pretty simple case. But then the judge handed down an incredibly bizarre sentence. The men could serve 30 years behind bars . . . or they could undergo surgical castration.

The Whole Bushel

In 1985, 23-year-old Elizabeth Daniel went to a South Carolina motel to meet Roscoe James Brown. The two had a child together, and Daniel wanted Brown to start paying child support. Brown, on the other hand, didn’t want anything to do with Elizabeth. But when he arrived at the motel, things got wildly out of control. He’d brought along two friends (Mark Vaughn and Michael Braxton), and after getting drunk, the trio brutally raped and tortured Daniel over the course of six hours.

Daniel lost four pints of blood in the attack, but she managed to crawl out of the room and find help.

Her three attackers were quickly arrested and hauled into court. Really, it seemed like an open-and-shut case. But when it came time for sentencing, Judge C. Victor Pyle issued an unbelievably bizarre ruling. He offered the three crooks a choice. They could serve 30 years in prison or they could go undergo surgical castration. In other words, it was the majority of their life behind bars or a future without children and a severely diminished sex drive.

Naturally, this created something of a firestorm. Some people supported this old-timey justice, while others said the ruling reinforced the notion that rape is a crime of sex instead of a crime of violence. Some said castration was letting the rapists off too easy, but others argued that castration was completely unconstitutional. Either way, legal scholars commented that this sentence was “the first in modern history.”

Eventually, the case made its way to the South Carolina Supreme Court. The trio’s defense attorney argued castration was “physical mutilation.” However, the criminals weren’t so sure. After thinking about 30 years behind bars, the perps decided to drop their appeal and undergo surgery, but by this time, it was too late. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined that surgical castration was “cruel and unusual punishment.” (It’s worth nothing, however, that several states do practice chemical castration for sexual offenders.)

The three criminals were sent to prison, but because of South Carolina’s parole guidelines, they were all released incredibly early. According to the podcast “Criminal,” two of the men returned to normal lives. However, while on parole, Michael Braxton went on to rape again, this time in the state of Tennessee. When he was finally released in 2015, he was sent back to prison in South Carolina for violating his parole. He’s currently scheduled for release in 2021.

Show Me The Proof

Criminal: Either/Or
Chicago Tribune: Court Rejects Castration Choice For Rapists As ‘Cruel, Unusual’
NY Times: Rape Sentence: Castration or 30 Years
Independent Mail: Anderson’s infamous rapist, once set to be castrated, gets new prison term