New Voices

NEW VOICES: Former New Hampshire Justices Support Death Penalty Repeal

Two former justices of the New Hampshire Supreme Court recently voiced their support for repealing the death penalty. In an op-ed, Joseph Nadeau (l.) and John Broderick (r.) emphasized the death penalty's lack of deterrent effect, saying, "New Hampshire has not executed anyone for three quarters of a century. Yet, it registered the second lowest murder rate in the nation every year of this century." Murder rates were higher in heavy-use death penalty states, they noted. The former justices said the decision to seek the death penalty is often "random" and "easily influenced by public opinion, political pressure and media attention." They justices said the sentence of life without parole is an appropriate alternative, protecting society and punishing the offender. They concluded: "Abolishing the death penalty will not compromise public safety, but it may replace rage with reason, retribution with self-respect, and enrich the character of our people as a whole." Read the op-ed below.

NEW VOICES: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Criticizes Inadequate Representation in Capital Cases

In a lecture at the Widener University School of Law, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Thomas G. Saylor criticized the poor state of death penalty representation in Pennsylvania. He offered numerous cases in which death sentences were overturned because attorneys had failed to present mitigating evidence to the jury. Quoting from a special concurrence he wrote on a capital case involving ineffective assistance of counsel, he said, "Of greatest concern, these sorts of exceptionally costly failures, particularly as manifested across the wider body of cases, diminish the State’s credibility in terms of its ability to administer capital punishment and tarnish the justice system, which is an essential part of such administration." He cited a study of Philadelphia's death-penalty representation system, which found that the system for appointing lawyers was "woefully inadequate," "completely inconsistent with how competent trial lawyers work," "punish[ed] counsel for handling these cases correctly," and unacceptably "increase[d] the risk of ineffective assistance of counsel" in individual cases. Saylor said, "Every taxpayer should be seriously concerned about the systemic costs of inadequate defense for the poor. When the justice system fails to get it right the first time, we all pay, often for years, for new filings, retrials, and appeals. Poor systems of defense do not make economic sense."

Controversial Colorado Case Ends With a Plea and Life Sentence

Edward Montour, the defendant accused of killing correctional officer Eric Autobee (pictured) in a Colorado prison, agreed to plead guilty on March 6 to first degree murder in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. Autobee's family had opposed the prosecution's decision to seek the death penalty for Montour, standing in witness in front of the courthouse during jury selection, and asking the judge to allow them to testify at the trial. Montour pled guilty to the crime in 2003 and was sentenced to death by a judge, but his conviction was overturned when an appellate court ruled the jury needed to be involved in sentencing to death. At his second trial, Montour initially pled not guilty by reason of insanity, arguing that he was wrongfully convicted of the crime that first put him in prison, and that his mental illness had gotten worse in prison. Montour was serving a life sentence for killing his 11-week-old daughter, though evidence recently emerged indicating she might have died from an accident.

NEW VOICES: The Conservative Case for Death Penalty Repeal in Kentucky

David Floyd, a Republican state representative in Kentucky, recently introduced a bill to repeal the state's death penalty, arguing that the law was incompatible with conservative values. Writing in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Floyd said his religious views initially caused him to oppose the death penalty, but he made a broader pragmatic case for repeal from a conservative perspective. He pointed to values such as respect for life, limiting government power, and cutting wasteful spending, as reasons to support abolition. He said, "Capital punishment in Kentucky is a broken government program that risks killing the wrongly convicted, risks abuse of power, wastes resources, is arbitrary and unjust." He concluded, "Conservatives must work with people across the political spectrum to expose the many deficiencies of Kentucky’s system of capital punishment. And then we must repeal it." Read the op-ed below.

NEW VOICES: Former Washington Corrections Officials Support Halting Executions

In an op-ed in the Seattle Times, two former Washington state corrections officials voiced their support of Gov. Jay Inslee's decision to put executions on hold. Dick Morgan (pictured, L), a former Director of Prisons, and Eldon Vail (pictured, R), former Secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections, wrote about their participation in the state's 5 executions, saying, "We have witnessed visibly shaken staff carry out a questionable law that condones killing inmates who have been captured, locked behind bars and long since ceased being a threat to the public." They agreed with the governor that the death penalty is too costly and applied unfairly, and added, "Ultimately, the death penalty is not about whether a given person deserves to live or die — it's about whether government should be making that call." In an opposing op-ed, former Kitsap County deputy prosecutor Brian Moran highlighted the heinous crimes committed by death row inmates and Washington's use of proportionality review, which he said ensures that death sentences are proportional and fair.

NEW VOICES: Former Georgia Warden Discusses Effects of Performing Executions

Dr. Allen Ault, the former warden for Georgia's executions, recently spoke about the lingering psychological effects of carrying out the death penalty. Ault, who retired in 1995, said, "I still have nightmares. [Execution is] the most premeditated form of murder you can possibly imagine and it stays in your psyche forever." He said he felt guilt after the electrocution of a mentally disabled juvenile offender, who developed a deep sense of contrition during his 17 years on death row and whose last words to Ault were "please forgive me." "No one has the right to ask a public servant to take on a life-long sentence of nagging doubt, shame and guilt," Ault said. He also said the death penalty was plagued with racial disparities.

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.

NEW VOICES: Key New Hampshire Legislators Change Views, Voting for Death Penalty Repeal

As a key New Hampshire committee voted overwhelmingly (14-3) to repeal the death penalty, a number of legislators explained why they had changed their minds on this issue. Criminal Justice Committee Chair Laura Pantelakos (pictured) said racial inequities in the system led her to change her vote, citing different outcomes in recent cases for a black and a white defendant. Pantelakos, who has a grandson about to become a police officer, asked, “Why is a police officer’s life more valuable than an engineer’s?” Rep. Dennis Fields said he was swayed by the families of murder victims who testified they did not want another life taken in their names. He added, “I do not want to take another life; I’m not God.” House Majority Leader Stephen Shurtleff, a 30-year veteran in law enforcement, also changed his mind, saying, “I would like to think with age comes wisdom. So today I will be voting for repeal.” He added after the vote, “It really is a barbaric practice and the time is now to put it aside, and I think to give somebody life imprisonment so they can think every day about what they’ve done is more of a punishment than ending their life.” Republican Represenative Robbie Parsons, who voted to expand the death penalty in the past, ultimately found the inequities in the system unacceptable and also voted for repeal. Rep. Renny Cushing, the sponsor of the bill, said, “I view them now as the voice of experience, and how our thinking has changed in New Hampshire and the rest of the country.” The bill will move to the House, where it is given a good chance of passage.

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