Editorials

EDITORIALS: Mississippi Paper Calls Pending Execution "Gravely Inhumane"

A recent editorial in the Jackson Free Press in Mississippi called for a halt to the scheduled execution of Michelle Byrom, saying she is "clearly not guilty of the crime for which the state plans to execute her next week." The editorial noted that Byrom's son had confessed to the crime four times." He said the story he originally told sheriffs implicating his mother was made up because he was "scared, confused and high" when he was interrogated. The paper pointed to mitigating evidence about Byrom that could have been considered by a sentencing jury: "Byrom suffered a lifetime of abuse that had a jury heard about it could have been sufficiently mitigating for her to receive life imprisonment rather than death for the capital offense of murder-for-hire." The editors concluded: "It would be gravely inhumane to execute a woman as mentally and physically ill as Michelle Byrom—and a frightening contrast to all the brutal woman-killers that previous Gov. Haley Barbour pardoned....To execute Michelle Byrom for a crime that she did not commit would be one of the worst miscarriages of justices in modern Mississippi history. This execution must not happen." Read the full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: Washington Paper Backs Governor's Moratorium and Now Supports Repeal

In an editorial supporting Washington Governor Jay Inslee's recently-announced death penalty moratorium, the News Tribune (Tacoma) said its editorial board "has grown increasingly uncomfortable with capital punishment in recent years, and we now share Inslee's feeling that Washington should move beyond it." The paper said the governor's decision "forced a welcome new discussion" of capital punishment. While acknowledging the heinousness of many crimes, the editorial disagreed that killing is the answer: "Opponents of the death penalty, including us, must look the evil square in the face while saying that execution is not a moral prerogative of the state." It highlighted the inconsistencies of the death penalty and its high cost. The editors praised Washington for only using the death penalty rarely, but said, "We don’t think it’s a big leap to go from rare to never." Read the editorial below.

EDITORIAL: "Proposal to Speed Up Death Penalty Appeals Troubling"

A recent editorial in the Montgomery Advertiser criticized a proposal by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to speed up death penalty appeals. His proposed legislation would require two parts of the appeal process to essentially run concurrently. The editorial cautioned that lack of adequate representation for death penalty defendants would make the accelerated process more problematic. The paper concluded, “Anything that smacks of haste in capital punishment cases is inherently troubling. This is a difficult issue for the Legislature to tackle, especially in an election year, when emotion and political expediency can form a dangerous combination. If there was ever a time for sober, somber, serious debate of an issue, with an unblinking recognition of what is really at stake, surely this is it.”  Read the editorial below.

EDITORIALS: Expanding Conservative Concerns About the Death Penalty

A recent editorial in the Dallas Morning News highlighted the voices of prominent conservatives who now oppose capital punishment, including former Texas Congressman Ron Paul and conservative political leader Richard Viguerie. The paper noted the new partnership between the student-centered organization Young Americans for Liberty and Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. The editorial described why one Texas conservative, Pat Monks, a Republican precinct chairman in Harris County (Houston), changed his mind on the death penalty: "Ultimately .... [t]he impossibility of eradicating human error from the system hit home to him.... he came to see no deterrent value for a punishment that’s imposed unevenly at an intolerable expense to the public.” Read the full editorial below.

NEW VOICES: Deputy Editor Dissents from Toledo Blade's Support for Death Penalty

Jeff Gerritt is the Deputy Editor of the Toledo Blade, a paper which has supported Ohio's death penalty for years. Disagreeing with the paper's Editor, Gerritt called for repeal of the death penalty in the state, noting the risk of executing the innocent, "Wrongly convicting anyone constitutes a horrible injustice, but executing the wrong person eliminates any chance of reversing the error. Nationwide, more than 140 people awaiting execution have been exonerated. Mistakes are far more likely in cases involving poor defendants, who usually don’t have adequate legal counsel." He also pointed to the racial unfairness of the death penalty: "In Ohio, for example, more than half of the death-sentenced defendants since 1981 have been African-Americans, even though African-Americans make up less than 13 percent of the population. Eighteen African-Americans have been executed in Ohio under the 1981 law — 35 percent of the total." He concluded, "The evidence points to one verdict: Capital punishment should die in Ohio." Read the full op-ed below.

EDITORIALS: New Hampshire's Concord Monitor Calls for Death Penalty Repeal

The Concord Monitor of New Hampshire called for repeal of the state's death penalty in a recent editorial. The paper contrasted the case of Michael Addison, the state's only death row inmate, to that of John Brooks, who was convicted of hiring three hitmen to kill a handyman, whom Brooks believed had stolen from him. Brooks received a sentence of life without parole. The Monitor noted, "Brooks was rich and white; Addison was poor and black.... Addison’s victim had the full force of New Hampshire law enforcement watching every twist and turn of the case; Brooks’s victim was little known and quickly forgotten. Different lawyers, different juries, different cases. But it’s difficult not to step back and wonder about the fairness of it all." Addison's death sentence was recently upheld by the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The editorial concluded by calling for repeal legislation in 2014, saying, "New Hampshire hasn’t used its death penalty in more than 70 years. We will be a better, fairer, more humane state without it." Read the full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: Possible Innocence Case Deserves DNA Testing

A recent editorial in the Akron Beacon Journal (Ohio) called for DNA testing in the death penalty case of Tyrone Noling. Noling has been on death row for 17 years. His conviction was based largely on the testimony of three friends who have since recanted their stories, claiming they were coerced by the prosecution. No physical evidence linked Noling to the crime, and he has passed a polygraph test. Nolling is requesting the testing of additional evidence that could finally prove he was not involved in the crime. The editors wrote, "An opportunity exists to clear up the many uncertainties about whether Tyrone Noling murdered the Hartigs. More, the state must take necessary care to ensure that Ohio avoids the grievous mistake of executing an innocent man." Read full editorial below.

OP-ED: "Changes are long overdue for Texas' clemency process"

Michael Morton (pictured), who was released after 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, called for reforms in Texas's clemency process. In a recent op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, Morton and Scheck highlighted the case of Cameron Willingham, who was executed in 2004 despite serious doubts about his guilt.  According to the authors, it is now understood that investigators who believed that Willingham committed arson were mistaken.  They also noted that a recent investigation uncovered that a recantation made by a witness who initially claimed that Willingham confessed to the crime was never made available to Willingham's lawyers or placed in the court file. Morton and Scheck wrote, "The clemency process that failed to discover Willingham's innocence in 2004 remains essentially unchanged. A recent study by a committee of the American Bar Association found that the Board of Pardons and Paroles' consideration of capital cases is woefully inadequate - Texas does not meet any of the eleven minimum guidelines for an adequate process." They concluded, "No one can endorse a system that allows the execution of an innocent person. And we need to do everything in our power to make sure that the Board of Pardons and Paroles, the last stop in our criminal justice system, has the resources and the procedures necessary to do its job." Read full text of the op-ed below.

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