New York Assembly rejects death penalty

New York State legislative committee defeats death penalty
Vote comes as skepticism of the death penalty increases nationwide


Quixote Center
PO Box 5206 Hyattsville, MD 20782
301/699-0042 (phone)
301/864-2182 (fax)

For Immediate Release: April 12, 2005

Contact: Shari Silberstein
301.699.0042 x 119 office, 202-321-0653 cell, sharis@quixote.org

ALBANY, NY (April 12, 2005) – The New York State Assembly Codes
Committee today defeated a bill to reinstate New York’s death penalty.
The vote comes after five full days of public testimony that the death
penalty is riddled with flaws and wastes millions of dollars. The
Assembly’s report of the hearing was released last week, adding to a
growing wave of voices questioning the death penalty across the country.

“New York is not alone. There is a growing consensus in this country
that as a matter of policy, the death penalty is an expensive failure,”
said Shari Silberstein, Co-Director of the Quixote Center, a national
faith-based organization working for a moratorium on executions while
questions of fairness are studied and addressed.

“The system is so riddled with flaws that even those who philosophically
believe the death penalty is acceptable are expressing concerns and, in
some cases, deciding that it simply isn’t worth it,” Silberstein
continued. “This recognition explains why virtually all of the 170
citizens who offered testimony in New York wanted to leave the death
penalty off the books.”

New York has been without a death penalty since last summer, when the
state’s Court of Appeals declared the statute unconstitutional. Efforts
to reinstate the death penalty have so far been unsuccessful, in part
because some former supporters of capital punishment have changed their
positions as a result of new information.

“For the past five years, the conversation around the death penalty has
expanded to include questions of innocence, fairness, and alternatives,”
said Silberstein. “It is increasingly clear that the very real risk of
executing the innocent, not to mention the expense and effort required
to even try and improve the system, has led people to turn away from the
death penalty in recent years.”

Observers point to a growing skepticism about the death penalty among
local, state, and federal legislators and within the judiciary. The
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently reinvigorated
their call to abolish the death penalty citing new statistics that shows
less than 50% of Catholics now support the capital punishment. New
Jersey remains under court-ordered moratorium. Legislation to abolish
the practice passed the New Mexico House of Representatives in February,
and a similar bill received 60 votes in the Connecticut legislature last
month. The U.S. Supreme Court also barred the execution of juveniles
earlier this year. Nearly 4,000 groups, churches, business, and
professional associations have called for a moratorium on executions,
including 142 city, town, and county councils. Even President Bush
expressed open concern about the quality of death penalty trials during
his most recent State of the Union Address. Also recently, Republican
Senators Rick Santorum (PA) and Sam Brownback (KS) have expressed
reservations.
“Over the past five years we’ve learned a lot about the realities of
capital punishment. We know it costs far more than life in prison, that
it creates ongoing anguish for victims’ families, that it diverts scarce
resources from other critical programs, that it is used unevenly and
unfairly, and that it risks executing the innocent,” said Silberstein.
“New Yorkers have expressed today what the rest of us across the country
are continuing to learn – that our nation’s death penalty system is
broken.”

The Quixote Center is a national organization founded in 1976. The
Center's Equal Justice USA program pioneered the national grassroots
movement for a moratorium on executions in 1997. Nationwide, over 3,700
national and local groups, businesses, and faith communities have called
for a halt to executions, including 142 local governments. (For a
complete listing, call 301-699-0042 or see the National Tally at
http://www.ejusa.org).

To learn more about the Quixote Center's Equal Justice USA program,
visit http://www.ejusa.org.