May 19, 2001
TIME FOR MORATORIUM ON
time for America to declare a moratorium on the death penalty.
Timothy McVeigh was supposed to be executed this week. No execution has had
broader public support for no crime was as heinous as his Oklahoma City
bombing that killed 168 people and injured 700. McVeigh has acknowledged his
guilt, shown no remorse and waived his right to appeal.
when the FBI reported it had withheld over 3,000 pages of data on his case,
Attorney General John Ashcroft's postponement of the execution was widely
supported, to give McVeigh and his attorneys time to see if they contain
this can happen in a case where there was so much publicity, and good
defense attorneys, what happens in normal capital cases where no one is
looking?'' asks Jane Henderson, Director of Moratorium Now (301 699-0042), a
group mobilizing grassroots pressure for a halt in executions to give time
to study present the death penalty practice.
years many denominations: Catholics, United Methodists, American Baptists,
Quakers and others have opposed capital punishment, even in the case of
McVeigh. As Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony put it: ''This is a time for a
new ethic - justice without vengeance. Let us come together to hold people
accountable for their actions, to resist and condemn violence...But let us
also remember that we can not restore life by taking life, that vengeance
cannot heal and that all of us must find new ways to defend human life and
dignity in a far too violent society.''
Capital punishment advocates argue that state executions are a deterrent to
murder. The evidence, however, is the opposite. The South is where 80
percent of executions occur, yet it is the region with the highest murder
rate: 6.9 murders per 100,000 people. The Northeast, with just 1% of capital
punishments, has only 4.1 murders per 100,000.
evidence supports Reformed Judaism's position that ''When the government
responds to violence with violence even to an act as horrific as the one
which took the lives of 168 people in Oklahoma City - its action breeds more
However, this is a minority position in America. A Gallup Poll found 67
percent favor the death penalty. On the other hand, there is a remarkable 72
percent support for a moratorium, a temporary halt in executions.
Illinois Governor George Ryan declared a statewide moratorium last year
citing the exoneration of 13 death row inmates since Illinois re-adopted the
death penalty in 1977, saying he would permit no more executions until a
study of a system he described as ''fraught with error'' was completed. Five
of the 13 were found innocent through DNA testing. The state executed 12
people in those years - fewer than were exonerated.
testing is not provided by any state at public expense. Certainly, DNA
testing should be made available to the 3,726 death row inmates.
second needed change is to provide competent legal defense to those who
might be executed. Texas, the state with the most executions, doesn't even
have a public defender system. Judges appoint often incompetent
lawyers to be defense attorneys. A study by the Chicago Tribune of 131
executions found that 43 lawyers had been publicly sanctioned for
misconduct. Three fell asleep during the trial.
third flaw is racial. Of the 24 people on the federal death row, 21 are
people of color. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 83
percent of the capital punishment cases involved a white victim and minority
killer. If both are of the same race, a life sentence is typical.
related issue is financial. More affluent people hire good attorneys who can
usually obtain a lesser sentence than execution.
Finally, many cases involve malfeasance by authorities. Just last week,
Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating ordered a review of every one of thousands of
cases in which Joyce Gilchrist, forensic scientist in Oklahoma City,
provided often tainted evidence. One judge accused her of ''blatant
withholding of unquestionably exculpatory evidence.''
many of the 11 defendants executed with her evidence were innocent?
cities such as Philadelphia and Charlotte, have passed moratorium
resolutions, putting pressure on their state legislatures to act, 16 of
which have debated a moratorium on capital punishment. It failed by only one
vote in New Mexico.
moratorium might not lead to an abolition of capital punishment, but could
spark a fairer system, such as offering DNA testing and competent legal
ancient Biblical wisdom seems increasingly valid, ''Thou shalt not kill.''
Copyright 2001 Michael J.