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The DEATH PENALTY: aka "Capital Punishment"
The Legal Issue and the Moral Issue
"Perhaps the bleakest fact of all is that the death Penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent." William Brennan, Jr., late U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Without question, the issue of Capital Punishment remains a seriously controversial one. It is safe to accept that it will remain so, as long as there are such staunch opposing views amongst Americans throughout our great nation. Yet, in spite of this fact, for the past decade or more, both supporters and opponents of the death penalty are calling for a moratorium on executions. Both groups have been urging states to halt executions and examine the way that capital punishment is applied.
Not only is Capital Punishment a continually controversial issue, but far more importantly, the death penalty is fatally flawed. It is a disgrace to a nation that was founded on principles of justice, human rights and civil liberties. Further, it is even more appalling when death sentences are handed out to those who are INNOCENT. The American Criminal Justice System is failing miserably to fulfill it's highest duty, to protect innocent individuals from wrongful convictions and death sentences.
The Case for a Moratorium on Executions
As more and more attention has been focused on the unfairness and immorality of Capital Punishment in the United States, private citizens as well as public officials, continue to raise questions about this critical human rights issue.
A former death penalty supporter, Illinois Governor George Ryan, citing the release of 13 innocent prisoners from Illinois's death row, made the following statement: "I cannot support a system, which, in its administration, has proven so frought with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state's execution of an innocent life."
"It's difficult to describe what it is like to serve time on death row knowing you are innocent. All you know is that what seems like an awful nightmare is now reality, a reality beyond comprehension." --Ray Krone, released from prison April, 2002. (pictured (R) with 22 month old daughter)
Can there be anything more horrific than the execution of a human being for a crime he or she did not commit? For the hundreds of wrongfully convicted, death row inmates, who have been ultimately exonerated , we must recognize the unconscionable abuse of the human rights of these individuals.
What are the leading factors that cause innocent people to be convicted and sentenced to death? While there are numerous, the most common factor is mistaken eyewitness testimony. Current scientific research clearly shows that eyewitness testimony is far less reliable than once believed. This is especially significant when the testimony involves a witness and a defendant of different races. Other leading factors contributing to wrongful convictions include defective or fraudulent science, fabricated testimony or testimony from jailhouse informants, grossly incompetent lawyers, false confessions and surely not the least of all, police and prosecutorial misconduct. (to read an individual study of the most blatant and egregious case of the latter, search Marty Tankleff, New York State.
The real shame of Capital Punishment
The hundreds of death row inmates who have been exonerated over the years, despite the pain and suffereing of having large chunks of their lives wasted behind bars, have been, in a bizarre sense, the fortunate ones.
Over the past five years, some of the nation's leading newspapers have published groundbreaking exposes detailing the cases of at least four men who were executed despite the existence of evidence which clearly revealed their innocence.
Rubin Cantu, a 26-yr-old-Latino man from San Antonio, Texas, was executed in 1993 for a robbery-murder committed in 1985 when he was yet a boy of 17. Twelve years after his death, the Houston Chronicle published an investigative series which revealed that another defendant, who pled guilty to participating in the crime, signed an affidavit swearing that Ruben Cantu was not with him that night and had no part in the murder.
Carlos De Luna, a young Latino man from Corpus Christi, Texas, executed in 1989 for stabbing a convenience store clerk to death in 1983. Carlos was convicted on the basis of a quick-on-the-scene witness identification.
De Luna vehemently declared his innocence and claimed the real killer was Carlos Hernandez. In 2005, an investigative series by the Chicago Tribune revealed that Hernandez had a long history of attacks similar to the convenience store killing and reported to numerous friends and relatives that he committed the murder for which De Luna was executed.
Larry Griffin, a 40-year-old black man from St.Louis, was executed in Missouri in 1995 for the drive-by shooting of a drug dealer in 1980. The only evidence against him was a witness who claimed to have seen Griffin at the crime scene. The witness was a white career criminal with several felony charges pending. In 2005, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that the first police officer on the scene and the victim's sister both agreed that this supposed witness- who would have stood out in an all-black neighborhood-wasn't even there when the shooting occurred.
Cameron Todd Willingham, a 36-year-old white father of three from Corsicana, Texas, was executed in 2004 for murder by arson. Months after his execution, The Chicago Tribune reported that new scientific knowledge proved that testimony by arson "experts," at Willingham's trial was worthless, and that there was NO evidence that the fire was even caused by arson.
The Movement to End the Death Penalty
There are practical ways we can make a difference.
* Write to your legislators about the danger of innocent people being executed by State-sanctioned murder. Direct them to the need for a moratorium on the death penalty.
* Write letters to the editors of newspapers, and call radio and TV talk shows stating your opposition to the death penalty. Cite specific names of individuals, State & date of exonerations from Death row.
* Participate in anti-death penalty demonstrations and vigils
* Offer support to death row prisoners, their families and the families of murder victims.
* Become active with your state or local anti-death penalty organization.