[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- N.Y.
j_sommer at gmx.net
Mon Dec 20 09:30:40 CST 2004
death penalty news
December 20, 2004
The Death Penalty
To the Editor:
Re "New Debate Over Restoring Death Penalty" (news article, Dec. 16):
The Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, opposes capital
punishment because "states with the death penalty have homicide rates that
are 44 percent higher than those without it" and "rather than tamping down
the flames of violence, it fuels them."
But it can be reasonably argued that these states choose to impose the
death penalty precisely because they possess the factors and subpopulations
that disproportionately contribute to a high homicide rate. Moreover, to
claim that the death penalty fuels violence is to argue that it not only
doesn't decrease the murder rate, but also increases it more than it would
otherwise be increased. This claim is dubious in the extreme.
If the proponent of the death penalty is incorrect in his belief that the
penalty deters homicide, then he is responsible for the execution of
murderers who should not be executed. If the opponent of the death penalty
is incorrect in his belief that the death penalty doesn't deter, he is
responsible for the murder of innocent individuals who would not have been
murdered if the death penalty had been invoked.
[Steven Goldberg, New York, Dec. 16, 2004. The writer is chairman of the
sociology department at City College, CUNY.]
(source: Opinion, New York Times)
Temperature Seems to Cool on Death Law
Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, head of the legislative committee that held a
hearing last week on the death penalty, was saying afterward that he was
not sure where Eliot Spitzer stood on the issue.
That's Eliot Spitzer, New York's Democratic attorney general and a
candidate for governor in a state where the death penalty has made and
Ten years ago, George E. Pataki's pledge to reinstate the death penalty
helped him defeat Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, a committed foe of capital
punishment. Candidates would telegraph their fealty to the death penalty
before clearing their throats.
But Mr. Lentol does not know the position of the man who could lead the
state's Democratic ticket in 2006, because Mr. Spitzer hasn't done the
This, we submit, is no accident. The attorney general - who, by the way,
says he favors the death penalty for "premeditated crimes of terrorism" -
senses he does not have to trumpet his position, or fears that it could
even hurt him with some voters.
And that makes this a moment in New York. It suggests a change in the
climate surrounding the death penalty, in limbo since June, when the
state's highest court found a sentencing guideline in the law
unconstitutional. With crime down, doubts up, instances in which DNA
evidence has cleared people, and life without parole an option in New York
since 1995 - the issue may have lost its edge.
Mr. Spitzer says he does think public emotions have calmed down. "Improper
convictions in Texas and elsewhere have shaken some folks' confidence in
the application of the death penalty," he said in an interview. "You never
predict, but I would be surprised if it's an issue that is paramount in
But Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School and an outspoken
advocate of capital punishment, argues that death penalty supporters have
not mobilized more aggressively because they are sure the Legislature will
revise the law.
The Republican-led State Senate has already approved a new version, but the
Assembly, more divided on the issue, is taking its time. It can approve a
new law or leave the current one as is. Then the state would have
life-without-parole on the books - but not the death penalty.
"If we return to the status-quo-ante, we will see a firestorm," predicted
Professor Blecker. He is confident that proponents of capital punishment
are still strong and that many New Yorkers who favor life without parole
will change their minds if they learn that inmates live out their days in,
he testified, comfort.
So far, the intensity is on the other side. Opponents of the death penalty
are well organized and well financed. Only 2 of 15 who testified at last
week's hearing at the City Bar Association's headquarters supported the
death penalty. Advocates of capital punishment, anticipating abuse, stayed
away, Professor Blecker said.
BUT something else seems to be afoot. Consider Mr. Lentol, 61, a veteran
assemblyman from Brooklyn and longtime proponent of capital punishment. Now
he is not sure. In an interview on Friday, Mr. Lentol said that his father,
as a state senator, sponsored the 1965 law that abolished the death penalty
except in very limited circumstances.
Edward S. Lentol, who died in 1981, told his son that he had always favored
capital punishment until, as a young lawyer, he represented a client who
insisted he'd been framed for murder. His uncle did it, he said. Mr. Lentol
didn't believe him, and persuaded the client to accept a plea bargain that
sent him to prison.
About a year later, news broke that the uncle really had set up Mr.
Lentol's client. After that, the senior Mr. Lentol became an active
opponent of capital punishment. Now the younger Mr. Lentol, hearing others
make arguments his father did, is having second thoughts. "I'm wondering
whether or not I have been making a mistake all my life," he said. The
assemblyman will make a final decision after the hearings. Two more are
scheduled and others may be added.
There is no reliable assessment of sentiment in the Assembly or of how
Speaker Sheldon Silver, traditionally a death penalty supporter, intends to
proceed. But, pressured for legislative reform, he has allowed the hearings
(which Pataki aides called "obstructionist"). In 1995, the Legislature
overwhelmingly approved the death penalty without holding any hearings.
That probably could not happen today.
"It's a different time," Andrew M. Cuomo, the former housing secretary, a
son of the ex-governor and a death penalty opponent, mused at last week's
(source: New York Times)
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