|With the death penalty, the families of the victims do not receive justice
With the death
penalty a hot topic of discussion in Maryland these days, lawmakers in that
state have a golden opportunity to repeal an outdated, cruel and unjust
Death penalty repeal
is in the air. At the urging of the NAACP, Maryland CASE and others, Gov. Martin O’Malley and state
lawmakers are paving the way for a repeal vote in the legislature. When it
comes to government-sponsored executions, Annapolis
needs to let it go, and apparently is about to do so. And the reasons why they
should are clear.
In the U.S.,
the death penalty is on the decline, though it is very much alive and well. Although
33 states have a death penalty on the books, only nine states made use of it in 2012. According to the Death Penalty
Information Center, four states - Texas, Arizona, Mississippi and
Oklahoma - accounted for three-quarters of the
43 executions in the U.S.
in 2012. And Florida, California,
Texas and Alabama
accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 78 death sentences issued last year - a 20-year low for such sentences nationwide.
And four states with a long death penalty history - Indiana, North Carolina,
South Carolina and Virginia - executed no one last year. That is a good thing, as Americans
must divest themselves of a practice fraught with racial bias, corruption,
incompetence and error. Since 1973, 142 innocent men and women were freed from
death row, three of them this past year. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, the most common factors
associated with murder exonerations are perjury
and false accusations, followed by official misconduct, mistaken witness
identification, false confessions and false and misleading forensic evidence.
Joe D’Ambrosio, the 140th person exonerated from death
row in America and the sixth
spent over 20 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. The prosecutors
in his case withheld evidence that would have cleared his name, and
they called him a liar on the stand.
death row survivor, Damon Thibodeaux became the 141st person exonerated from
death row in 40 years. In addition, he was the 300th wrongfully convicted
through DNA evidence, and the 18th death row inmate freed through DNA. He had
falsely confessed after a nine-hour interrogation, and subsequently recanted on
the ground he was coerced.
“They look for vulnerable points where they can manipulate you,
and if you’re sleep deprived or panicked…it makes it that much easier to
accomplish what they want to accomplish,” Thibodeaux said. “I was willing to
tell them anything they wanted me to tell them if it would get me out of that
interrogation room,” he added.
Meanwhile, Seth Penalver was released on December 21 after
spending 18 years, nearly half his life, on Florida’s death row - all for a triple
murder someone else committed. Penalver had been
tried twice for the murders, and sentenced to death once. Now, he is the 142nd
death row exoneree, and the 24th from Florida.
With the death
penalty, the stakes are high and the innocent are killed. And the families of
the victims do not receive justice.
Four states - Texas, Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma - accounted for three-quarters of the 43 executions in the U.S. in 2012
In 1993 Kirk Bloodsworth, a former marine from Maryland, became the first death row inmate
released as a result of DNA evidence. He spent eight years in a Maryland penitentiary,
including two on death row, for the brutal rape and murder of a 9-year old
girl. The real killer was serving time for another crime in a cell block one
floor beneath Bloodsworth. Now Bloodsworth
is fighting against the death penalty in his native state and throughout the
country as the advocacy director of Witness to Innocence, the national organization of
exonerated death row survivors.
Maryland is not the only state considering
death penalty repeal. Five states - Connecticut,
Illinois, New Jersey,
New Mexico and New York - have abolished the practice in as
many years. California
came very close to ending executions in a 2012 ballot initiative. And efforts to repeal or reform the death penalty are being
considered in Alabama, Colorado,
Delaware, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Oregon
As we prepare to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, we must
remember that the civil rights leader and human rights giant spoke out against
the death penalty. “I do not think that God
approves the death penalty for any crime, rape and murder included,” King said.
“Capital punishment is against the better judgment of modern criminology, and,
above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”
Coretta Scott King agreed: “As one whose husband and
mother-in-law have died the victims of murder and assassination, I stand firmly
and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital
offenses,” she said. “An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of
retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality
is never upheld by a legalized murder.”
There is no better way for Maryland to celebrate King Day this month
than to repeal the death penalty now.
BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor and
Columnist, David A. Love, JD, is the Executive
Director of Witness to Innocence, a national nonprofit organization that
empowers exonerated death row prisoners and their family members to become
effective leaders in the movement to abolish the death penalty. He is, is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. and a contributor to The Huffington Post, the Grio, The Progressive Media
Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He also blogs at davidalove.com, NewsOne, Daily Kos, and Open Salon. Click here to contact Mr. Love.