As New York lawmakers conducted the first in a series of hearings on the state’s death penalty, Robert M. Morgenthau, Manhattan’s long-serving District Attorney, recommended that New York abandon the practice: “It’s the deed that teaches, not the name we give it,” Morgenthau said, quoting George Bernard Shaw. He went on to note, “The penalty exacts a terrible price in dollars, lives, and human decency. Rather than tamping down the flames of violence, it fuels them….I urge all of our lawmakers, in the strongest possible terms, not to reinstate the death penalty in New York.” Morgenthau presented information to support his position, including F.B.I. statistics showing that states with the death penalty have homicide rates that are 44% higher than those without it. Morgenthau joined legal scholars, victims family members, and other experts in urging New York lawmakers to end capital punishment. The hearing took place in New York City before an Assembly committee and hundreds of spectators. (New York Times, December 16, 2004).

Some lawmakers who had helped to pass the state’s death penalty law nearly a decade ago, such as Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, now oppose capital punishment. “I think circumstances do change. I think that views do change. We do have life without parole now (as a sentencing option). The use of DNA has advanced. So I don’t believe I would be supportive this time,” Galef said. A serious debate on the issue is sure to occur during the coming legislative term. A shift in public opinion could shape the course of the discussion. A recent Quinnipiac University poll of New Yorkers found that 53% of respondents preferred to impose the sentence of life without parole and only 38% supported the death penalty when given the option. (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, December 15, 2004).

See New Voices. See also DPIC’s Web page on the New York Court of Appeals Ruling.