EDITORIAL: "Should the issue of life or death be trusted to a system that can get guilt or innocence wrong?"Posted: March 22, 2006
After members of the Wisconsin Senate passed a resolution calling for a referendum on reinstating the death penalt, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial criticized the vote and urged members of the state Assembly to reject the proposal. ThoughWisconsin has not had the death penalty since 1853, the state legislature has considered a reinstatement measure during each of the past 20 years. The Sentinel voiced concerns about innocence, race, deterrence, and a variety of other issues in its editorial:
South Dakota has scheduled the execution of 24-year-old Elijah Page on August 28 for a murder committed in 2000. Page has dropped his remaining appeals. He would be the first person executed in the state since it reinstated capital punishment in 1979. The last execution in the state was in 1947. South Dakota has only four people on its death row.
After spending 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Arthur Mumphrey received a full pardon from Texas Governor Rick Perry. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had unanimously recommended that Perry pardon Mumphrey based on DNA test results that showed he was not responsible for assaulting a 13-year-old girl in 1986, a crime for which Mumphrey was sentenced to serve 35 years in prison. "My action today cannot give back the time he spent in prison, but it does end this miscarriage of justice," Perry said. Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Marc Brumberger, who filed for the pardon request, added, "I'm glad to hear it (the pardon) was signed so quickly. It's a very nice thing to be involved in, despite the fact that our job is to try to keep people in jail. This is one of my most rewarding cases." Mumphrey said, "I feel great. . . . [I]t's a great relief to have it all behind me." Mumphrey was released on January 17 after the DNA results were revealed, but the pardon was granted on March 17. A co-defendant had testified against Mumphrey in exchange for a lesser sentence.
New Jersey Attorney General Zulima Farber (pictured) recently voiced her support for extending the state's moratorium on executions, noting that she does not believe the death penalty is a "necessary tool" for prosecutors and believes capital punishment does not deter crime. "I don't think it's a deterrent. And I understand revenge. I think some people deserve it. But I don't think it's a necessary tool. . . . I don't have a philosophical or religious opposition to the death penalty, I have a practical opposition to the death penalty," Farber stated.
There are 10 people on New Jersey's death row and the state hasn't carried out an execution since 1963, a fact that Farber argues does not make the state less safe. She notes that death penalty cases are very costly and there is no assurance that the results will be perfect. Costs, the needs of victim's family members, and questions about the fairness and accuracy of New Jersey's death penalty are among the chief concerns that will be addressed by a task force that New Jersey legislators established in January 2006. "I support the moratorium being extended. I would welcome the analysis of data and whatever the commission is going to look at and I would not oppose cessation," Farber concluded. (Associated Press, March 16, 2006).
Each year, DPIC collects relevant death penalty articles that have appeared in print and on media Web sites. Our collection certainly does not contain all such articles, nor do we claim that it represents the "best" articles. It is only a representative sample of the extensive coverage given to capital punishment in print in a particular year. For those interested in examining this coverage, we have prepared an index of the articles from 2005 in PDF format. Note that we are not posting the actual text of
A jury in Georgia elected to sentence James Sullivan to life without parole after finding him guilty of hiring a hitman to kill his wife in 1987. "We thought that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was enough. We didn't want to be the judge about somebody else's life. We wanted God to be the judge," said juror Debra Klayman after the sentence was handed down. The jury had the option of the death penalty, life without parole, or life with parole. Klayman said that the jury decided at the start of its five hour deliberation that Sullivan would not get death.
The President's DNA Initiative has released Principles of Forensic DNA for Officers of the Court, a CD-ROM that addresses the use of DNA in judicial proceedings. This resource is designed for prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, and provides a simple overview of DNA technologies and the issues that arise when DNA evidence is presented in court.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, housing an inmate in California's corrections system costs an average of $34,150 per year, though that figure is higher for those on death row or serving a sentence of life-without-parole. In capital cases, a more expensive investigation and prosecution process, as well as long and complicated appeals, raises the costs significantly. Only about 1% of homicides in the state are tried as capital cases, but those cases cost taxpayers two to three times more than non-capital cases.
The British Privy Council in London unanimously struck down the imposition of mandatory death sentences in the Bahamas. This landmark decision held that the law "should be construed as imposing a discretionary and not a mandatory sentence of death." The Privy Council ruling said that the mandatory death penalty should have been regarded as inhumane and degrading punishment as early as 1973.
Congress recently passed the re-authorization of the Patriot Act and this bill is likely to curtail the appeals of state death row inmates in federal courts. The legislation, which is due to be signed into law this week by President Bush, would allow states to obtain approval of their systems of representation in death penalty cases from the U.S.