[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- USA
j_sommer at gmx.net
Fri Jul 30 10:56:04 CDT 2004
death penalty news
July 30, 2004
Death penalty documentary shows dilemma
Can we craft a system of capital punishment that puts to death only those
who deserve it?
I kept thinking of the Scottsboro Boys while watching Deadline, a new
documentary by Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson.
I sensed them looking on with approval as the film illuminated George
Ryans struggles with capital punishment while he was governor of Illinois.
In January 2000 Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty there. He
told CNN: We have now freed more people than we have put to death under
our system 13 people have been exonerated and 12 have been put to death.
There is a flaw in the system, without question, and it needs to be
studied. He appointed a panel to examine the issue.
Deadline will air tonight on NBCs Dateline program. It includes
interviews with several opponents of capital punishment who argue that
cases often involve race, poverty, bad lawyering and police misconduct. The
Scottsboro case had all of that. The nine poor, black defendants were
accused of raping two white women on a Tennessee train in 1931.
Representing them at their Chattanooga trial were an alcoholic real estate
attorney who arrived drunk the first day and a forgetful septuagenarian who
hadnt been in court for years.
Despite the absence of supporting evidence, all nine were tried and
convicted in two hours; eight sentenced to death. The youngest, Roy Wright,
12, received life in prison. They eventually got better lawyers, were
exonerated and freed.
For decades afterward, the Scottsboro Boys became synonymous with the kind
of gross miscarriage of justice that can place the wrong person on death
row. Their arduous experience was frequently cited by opponents of capital
punishment, who achieved a victory in 1972 when the Supreme Court called a
halt to government-sponsored executions. That triumph proved short-lived
when the court allowed the reinstatement of the death penalty in certain
states in 1976. The Death Penalty Information Center states 921 people have
been executed since then.
Deadline includes chilling interviews with men who came perilously close
to execution. Anthony Porter was two days from death when a group of
Northwestern University students found evidence clearing him. Among the
most compelling speakers is Gary Gauger, a farmer convicted of killing his
parents and sentenced to death in 1993. In 1996 a three-judge panel
overturned his conviction.
Interspersed with such segments is riveting testimony from the nine days of
clemency hearings held in Illinois in October 2002, during which a prisoner
review board evaluated the cases of 142 of the 160 inmates on the states
death row. Victims families comments are heart-rending and show why the
issue of capital punishment is so perplexing. One listens to a bereaved
person and joins his desire for vengeance. But how to balance that grief
against due process? What if our vengeance targets the wrong person? Will
executing even the right person bring our loved one back?
Attorney and author Scott Turow served on Ryans panel. In the film, he
expresses little concern with executing someone such as serial killer John
Wayne Gacy. But, he asks, Can we construct a capital system that only
executes John Wayne Gacy without also executing the innocent or undeserving?
Capital punishment is a hot potato for both liberal and conservative
elected officials, none of whom want to be seen as soft on crime. As
illustration of the death penaltys nonpartisan significance, Deadline
takes note of Bill Clintons refusal to stop the execution of a mentally
handicapped Arkansas man in 1992, and calls attention to George W. Bush,
who allowed 152 executions during his six years as governor of Texas. But
while other politicians dither, DNA tests and other evidence continue to
reveal innocent people on death row. The latest and 114th inmate to be
exonerated since 1973 is Gordon Steidl, released on May 28. His home state?
(source: Jabari Asim, Opinion, news-press.com)
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