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During a recent meeting of the European Union's full assembly, European Parliament president Josep Borrell called on the 76 countries around the world that continue to retain the death penalty to discontinue use of capital punishment. He noted that the United States is the only democratic state that makes "widespread use" of the death penalty and that the European Union has a duty to convince Americans to end the practice.
"Most unfortunately, in the U.S. the 1000th execution was carried out. The fact that it almost coincided with Human Rights Day makes this fact particularly poignant," Borrell told the assembly. "But there is a glimmer of hope. U.S. society is changing its views on the death penalty." Borrell then added, "For us in Europe, the right to life is an inalienable right. No one ever loses their right to life, no matter what they have done."
Former San Antonio District Attorney Sam Millsap, who once proclaimed himself a "lifelong supporter of the death penalty," now opposes capital punishment. Millsap says his decision to oppose the death penalty was recently affirmed as evidence surfaced that Texas may have killed an innocent man when it executed Ruben Cantu, a San Antonio man who was sentenced to die while Millsap was DA.
"It is troubling to me personally. No decision is more frightening than seeking the death penalty. We owe ourselves certainty on it," Millsap stated in an interview during which he used words like "painful," "horrible," and "haunting" to categorize Cantu's case. Millsap said that he used to have confidence in the death penalty "when I was in my 30s and knew everything." Now, he says the revelations about Cantu's case are painful to him because the case happened on his watch. He said that if Cantu was innocent, that means the person who committed the murder remains free and that "the misconduct by police officers could be addressed today."
"It's horrible when you find out you participated in what ended up being a bad result, especially when a death is involved," Millsap noted.
In a letter to acting New Jersey Govenor Richard J. Codey, Ocean County prosecutor Thomas F. Kelaher called for an end to the death penalty in New Jersey because he feels the system is ineffective and fails to meet the needs of victims' families. Kelaher, who has been a prosecutor for 23 years, said that life without parole would be a more appropriate sentencing option for those convicted of first-degree murder. "The history of nonapplication of the law has been a cruel hoax on families of the victims and the citizens of this state. . . .
A recent editorial in The Birmingham News criticized the costly and unfair nature of Alabama's capital punishment system. It also called on state legislators to, at a minimum, take steps that would limit the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty. The newspaper, which recently wrote a series of editorials changing its long-standing support for capital punishment and calling on the state to abandon the use of the death penalty, noted:
As evidence surfaces that Texas may have killed an innocent man when it executed Ruben Cantu in 1993, recent editorials by the Austin American-Statesman and the Dallas Morning News have criticized Texas' death penalty and called on the state to take a closer look at its "flawed" capital punishment system.
The Austin American-Stateman wrote:
We all should remember (Ruben) Cantu's case and the lessons it offers as the country carries out its 1000th execution since 1976 scheduled for today in North Carolina. It now appears that Cantu was right. That means that Texas executed an innocent person. He was 17 at the time of the crime.
Cantu's case should shock even hard-core death penalty opponents. Cantu was no saint. He tangled with the criminal justice system from a young age. But he apparently didn't rob and shoot Pedro Gomez to death in 1984. Yet in 1993, Cantu was strapped to a gurney and injected with lethal drugs for that crime.
Texas' system is barbarous. What else can be said of a system that fails to sort the innocent from the guilty? What else can be said of a system whose checks and balances focus almost exclusively on whether the process was followed and deadlines met rather than the more important — and moral — questions of innocence and fairness?
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in two death penalty cases on Wednesday, December 7, 2005, including a case to determine the constitutionality of Kansas' death penalty statute and a case that involves the issue of innocence.
Sixty-five percent of voters in North Carolina favor suspending the death penalty until questions about its accuracy and fairness can be studied according to a recent Hart Research poll sponsored by the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers.The poll found that even among voters who identify themselves as strong supporters of the death penalty, 43% still favor a moratorium on executions while an in-depth study of capital punishment is conducted.
Two new books by American University Criminology Professor Robert Johnson, including one book of satire and a second book of short stories co-authored with prisoner Victor Hassine and criminologist Ania Dobrzanska, address life in prison and on death row in the United States.
Cardinal William H. Keeler (pictured), archbishop of Baltimore and chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities, made an historic visit to Maryland's death row and met with Wesley Eugene Baker, who is scheduled to be executed in a few days. Cardinals Keeler, Theodore McCarrick of Washington, DC, and Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington, Delaware also sent a letter to Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich urging him to commute Baker's sentence to life in prison without parole.
Virginia Governor Mark Warner (pictured) commuted the death sentence of Robin Lovitt to life in prison without parole, a decision he made to "ensure that every time the ultimate sanction is carried out, it is done fairly." Warner noted his decision was based on concerns that Lovitt could not pursue new DNA testing on crucial evidence that could prove his innocence. The evidence, a pair of scissors that prosecutors say Lovitt used as the murder weapon, had been thrown out by a Virginia court clerk.