[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- USA
j_sommer at gmx.net
Tue Dec 21 16:40:15 CST 2004
death penalty news
December 21, 2004
The Forgotten and the Abolition of the Death Penalty in the Heart of America
The issue of the Death Penalty isnt really directly important for most of
us in Europe, because we have no death penalty. And so a lot of my friends
or family members were surprised to hear of my interest in helping to
abolish the Death Penalty in other regions of the world, with a focus on
the United States. That was four years ago. Now, when I look back I see how
naive I was to believe that someone in Europe could change a broken system
in another country. But I am a part of this fight now and every day I learn
what that means.
I met a lot of people over these four years - people who lost family or
friends through a crime, people who are on Death Row and people who
dedicate their time and resources to fight against the Death Penalty. I
have heard many different stories. I heard arguments for the Death Penalty
and of course, against it. I have witnessed small, but important victories
toward the Abolition of the Death Penalty in the U.S. I have also very
close to people who have been executed by the State.
Let me share with you some details* and personal experiences so you can
better understand why I will never give up my fight against state executions.
There are 38 States in the USA who have the Death Penalty.
The total Death Row population is about 3.471 inmates.
The three Death Rows in the U.S. with the largest number of condemned are:
- California with 638 inmates
- Texas with 455 inmates
- Florida with 384 inmates
The three Death Rows with the least number (2 each) of condemned prisoners are:
- New Mexico
- New York
This year 59 inmates were executed ( last year 65 ) and 130 Death Sentences
were given (last year 144).
The percentage of executions by U.S. regions:
- South 85%
- Midwest 12%
- West 3 %
- Northwest 0%
There were 117 inmates who were exonerated and freed from Death Row since
the Death Penalty was reinstated! Last year we had 12 people who were freed
from Death Row, this year 5 people have been exonerated.
In Texas for example more and more concerns about the Death Penalty have
been expressed because of the questions raised by DNA labs:
"Do we honestly want to risk executing people who may be innocent? I had
enough questions about our administration of the death penalty to have my
name taken off the prison that houses death row inmates. This is one of the
reasons why I did so."
- Former TDCJ Chairman Charles Terrell
(in a letter to The Dallas Morning News, supporting calls for a moratorium
on Harris Co. executions in the wake of the Houston crime-lab fiasco.)
A few days ago the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the death penalty
unconstitutional. Earlier this year it was the New York Supreme Court that
halted its states practice of capital punishment. Under its new Governor,
New Jersey is shortly expected to enact a moratorium on executions while a
thorough study of that states death penalty system is being carried out.
I do not suggest that all Death Row inmates are innocent of the crimes with
which they have been charged. No, most of them are not, but if you read all
of this it shows that it is time to have a moratorium to take a closer look
at this system, as was done in Illinois 2000.
During the last 4 years I have corresponded with people condemned on
Americas Death Rows and have traveled from Germany to visit with some of
them. Through this correspondence and travels I have learned a great deal
about these folks and about myself. I have come to know some and have seen
some put to death. One of my first pen-pals was one of the 117 inmates who
had been released. In a letter, he offered that if I ever had any questions
about the death penalty I could ask, Esther Brown, Executive
Secretary/Treasurer of the Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty
Nearly four years ago, I wrote a short e-mail message to Esther which
resulted in a wonderful friendship. Esther Brown is a powerful, "free
world" voice of the Death Row inmates. She is the coordinator for meetings,
interviews with the media and much more. For the past year and a half she
has been traveling through Alabama to demand a moratorium on executions.
Thirty three (33) city councils/ county commissions in Alabama have so far
passed the resolution. In November I visited her for the second time and
she asked me if I would be interested in going with her to the city council
of a small town to urge another moratorium. I was pleased to do so. It
involved a two hour drive with a short stop at the highest point in
Alabama. The city, Ridgeville, has a population of 158 people and 124 are
When we arrived the meeting point, I understood what these trips mean to
Esther. Some of these small towns and cities have so many problems like bad
water, poor public education, poverty, unemployment and so on. We came into
the room where poverty could easily be seen but we were immediately met
with a warm reception, filled with kindness and cordiality. We had coffee
together and small talk with and about the folks of Ridgeville. The mayor
asked Esther to make her statement and in the audience I noticed a minister
who could be best described as a man with sad eyes. Please understand that
all the people in the room, with exception of Esther and I, were
African-American and that Esthers message struck a chord with them. At the
time, my thought was that perhaps one or more of them had a family member
or a friend in prison.
After Esther had finished her presentation, the members of the city council
voted unanimously for a moratorium on the Death Penalty. When we left the
room the minister shook Esthers hands and he was so happy that we had
come! At that moment I understood what it means to truly care for another
human being. The minister deeply cares for the people in his community and
I am sure he talked about that evening at his church on the following
Sunday. For me it was a moment which remains deep in my heart.
To feel the gratitude these people had for simply being considered
important for a few short moments - to see their thankfulness to two
sisters who had come to listen to their problems was one of the most solemn
and humbling experiences in my life. For these reasons and for our overall
objective, we will continue our fight against state executions. We are
committed to do everything we can to help the many within and outside the
United States who object to state-run killing and are fighting every day to
abolish the Death Penalty. I am fully confident that one day we will be
victorious. Every small victory is a step forward. We invite every Axis of
Logic reader to do what you can and to join us in our mission to end the
death penalty in the United States and around the world. The intrinsic
rewards of this work for justice are deeply gratifying and far outweigh the
Death Penalty Conveys Justice To Victim And Society
Two high profile criminal cases have focused the publics attention on the
death penalty. In California, after three days of deliberation, the jury
that found Scott Peterson guilty of murdering his pregnant wife and their
unborn son determined he should be executed for his crimes. In Connecticut,
Michael Ross is scheduled to be executed on January 26, 2005, for
kidnapping and murdering four young women in 1983 and 1984.
Even though the death penalty is a just and appropriate form of punishment
for certain crimes, there are individuals and organizations that lobby for
The European Union has sent a letter to Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell,
asking her to grant a reprieve to Ross.
In the December 10 letter, officers of the EU asked Rell to grant a
reprieve to Mr. Ross to allow for deliberation on this complex and emotive
The death penalty certainly stirs emotions, but the case of Michael Ross is
not complex. After a four-month trial in 1987, he was convicted of
murdering four women and he has confessed to killing four more. He was
given the death sentence for his crimes. Since sentencing, the Ross case
has voyaged through 17 years of deliberation and judicial maneuvering. It
has been a long road, not a rush, to justice.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty and says the policy cannot
disguise the fact that the state is involved in a premeditated killing, a
policy that is a symptom of a culture of violence rather than a solution to
The AI web site says the death penalty has not been shown to have a
deterrent effect, can have a brutalizing impact on society and undermines
respect for human rights.
Others have made similar claims. In Connecticut, public defender John
Holdridge opposes Rosss execution, claiming that it would make the death
penalty more socially and politically acceptable.
Both Holdridge and AI misconstrue the purpose of punishment and the
justification for the death penalty for certain crimes, such as murder.
The death penalty is not a solution to crime. That is why the debate over
whether or not capital punishment has a deterrent effect is irrelevant. The
execution of a criminal is not carried out to send a message to potential
criminals; the issue is not to prevent future acts of murder but to convey
justice to the victim and society.
Writing in the 1986 Harvard Law Review, Ernest van den Haag, pointed out
that punishment is not intended to be an act of vengeance or compensation
for a victims suffering but to vindicate the law and the social order
undermined by the crime. This is why a kidnappers penal confinement is not
limited to the period for which he imprisoned his victim
An execution, like any form of punishment, confirms essential moral values.
Individuals have free will and possess the ability to exercise self-control
when tempted to do wrong. The morality of the death penalty, as with any
punitive measure, depends upon it being deserved, justly imposed and in
proportion to the crime being considered.
In the book, Criminal Justice? The Legal System vs. Individual
Responsibility, John Dilulio and Charles Logan wrote, It is precisely
within the context of punishment that humanistic concepts are most
relevant. Principled and fair punishment for wrongdoing treats individuals
as persons and as human beings, rather than objects. Punishment is an
affirmation of the autonomy, responsibility and dignity of the individual.
Despite this common sense argument, there remain those who insist that the
execution of even the most contemptible murderer legitimizes killing and
brutalizes society. It does no such thing. Every form of punishment is
intentionally disagreeable, yet as unpleasant as incarceration is no one
makes the case that holding someone against his will in prison legitimizes
the act of kidnapping.
The difference between murder and execution, or between kidnapping and
imprisonment, van den Haag pointed out, is that the first is unlawful and
undeserved, the second a lawful and deserved punishment for an unlawful
act. The physical similarities of the punishment to the crime are
irrelevant. The relevant difference is not physical, but social.
Everyone has free will. By committing a crime an individual voluntarily
assumes the risk that he might be caught and, if he is, receive a
legitimate punishment that he would have avoided if he had chosen not to
engage in a criminal act. The sentences imposed on Ross and Peterson are
punishments they freely risked facing by committing murder. The death
penalty is not an injustice when imposed on an individual who has committed
One of the main purposes of the law is to make people aware that they will
be held responsible for their own behavior, yet there are those who
continue to draw water from the philosophical wells of the 1960s, when
criminal law was altered by those who insisted crime was caused by social
factors beyond a criminals control. It was determined that a variety of
extenuating circumstances - perhaps the criminal suffered an abusive
childhood should be considered during a trial. This process neglects the
fact that while an individual may not have had control over what happened
to him in the past, he does have control over how he responds to his,
perhaps tragic, circumstances. A criminals biography may well be a story
of misfortune and misery, but that offers no comfort to a victim and his or
her family and the narrative will not nullify the crime.
Those who oppose the death penalty suggest their moral superiority by
calling for consideration of the sanctity of life. Of course, they mean the
sanctity of the murderers life. (After all, the victim is dead.) However,
life in prison permits a murderer to enjoy a degree of life in confinement
that the victim will never experience. Even the simplest of pleasures
reading a book, enjoying a meal, taking a walk are forever denied the
victim. A victims family also suffers from the violent loss of a loved one.
More than three centuries ago English philosopher John Locke wrote, Two
Treatises on Civil Government. Declaring a number of truths that Americas
Founding Fathers would embrace, Locke said man was born with the right to
enjoy all the privileges of the law of nature.
All men, Locke said, had the right to preserve their life, liberty and
estate against the injuries that would be imposed by others and to judge
and punish the violations of that law even with death itself, in crimes
where the heinousness of the facts in his opinion require it.
Those who prey brutally and purposefully upon their fellow man invite, by
their own deeds, societys absolute punishment. It is the murderer who
violates the sanctity of innocent life and justice demands, once convicted,
the forfeiture of his own life. The degree to which a society respects the
sanctity of life is manifested in its readiness to justly take the life of
one who has unjustly taken life. Such a severe penalty is not invoked with
joy, but with justice.
[The author, Joseph Bell, has hosted a radio talk show and is a former
editorial writer/columnist for several Connecticut newspapers. A former
liberal Democrat, Bell has not been on the conservative side of the aisle
for very long. He voted for Clinton/Gore in 1992. Abandoning the
convictions that he had held and defended through adolescence and into
adulthood was not easy. Sincere soul-searching and a commitment to
distinguish fact from fiction compelled him to accept that liberal ideology
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