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The death penalty

Developments from 2009 to 2012-APR

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2009 developments:

  • 2009-MAR-02: MT: State senate approves Senate Bill 236 to abolish death penalty: By a 27 to 23 vote, the Montana Senate voted to end the death penalty in favor of life in prison with no opportunity for parole. The bill was considered by the House Judiciary Committee and rejected.

    In celebration, the ancient Coliseum in Rome was lit up. Every time a death sentence is commuted somewhere in the world or a government takes a move towards abolition of capital punishment, the first century structure is bathed in light. 1

    Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia have no death penalty; 36 states have death penalty statutes in effect.

  • 2009-MAR-18: NM: Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in New Mexico. It will be replaced with life without parole. Richardson said:

    "The sad truth is the wrong person can still be convicted in this day and age, and in cases where that conviction carries with it the ultimate sanction, we must have ultimate confidence, I would say certitude, that the system is without flaw or prejudice. Unfortunately, this is demonstrably not the case. ... While today's focus will be on the repeal of the death penalty, I want to make clear that this bill I'm signing actually makes New Mexico safer. With my signature, we now have the option of sentencing the worst criminals to life in prison without the possibility of parole. They will never get out of prison. Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe."

    Lorry Post, Executive Director of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) said:

    " This is recognition of the false promise that the death penalty offered, and a realization of how murder victims’ family members’ needs can truly be served."

    Cathy Ansheles of Santa Fe and a member of MVFR said:

    "It’s a great relief to know that families will no longer be put through the turmoil of the death penalty. Finally, resources can be directed to where they will really do the most good."

    In 2008, a poll showed that 64% of New Mexicans favored replacing the death penalty with life without parole and restitution to victims' families.

  • 2009-OCT-08: TX: Governor dissolves Texas Forensic Science Commission: The Commission had been investigating the case of Todd Willingham who had been charged with arson in the deaths of his children in 1991. He was found guilty and executed. There are allegations that the investigation was botched, and that Willingham was innocent of arson -- in fact that no arson had ever happened. At the time, the prosecution suggested that Willingham was a Satanist. They based this conclusion on the heavy-metal rock posters. Some have suggested that the action by the governor was an effort to cover up "... a state-sanctioned murder." 2,3

  • 2009-NOV-14: OH: State develops new method of killing people: Ohio will adopt a new method of execution in December. It will use a single drug: a massive 5 gram overdose of thiopental sodium, (a.k.a. Sodium Pentothal, sodium thiopental, thiopental, thiopentone sodium, or trapanal), a rapid-onset, short-acting barbiturate. As a backup method when the technicians are unable to find a useable vein, it will be injected directly into a muscle. Ohio kills about 3 inmates a year.

  • 2009-DEC-29: China: British man executed: Akmal Shaikh, 53, was executed by lethal injection. He had been convicted of drug smuggling in China. His family expressed "outrage and shock" and said that officials in China had "made a mockery of appeals for clemency." Further, they were criticized ignored pleas for a mental health assessment. He had earlier been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and delusional psychosis.

    The family wrote:

    "We firmly believe Akmal should not have been killed by the Chinese - he was vulnerable and mentally unstable man, yet he received no mental health assessment by the Chinese authorities at any stage during the proceedings. ... Various other evidence documenting his mental health, obtained in the UK and Poland, was simply not taken into account." 5

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2011 developments:

  • 2011-JAN-21: IL: Governor Pat Quinn (D) has a bill on his desk that would end the decade-long moratorium on executions and abolish the death penalty in his state if he signs it. Amnesty International, a long-time opponent of executions, asks that people "Email the governor of Illinois and ask him to sign the bill for ending the death penalty in Illinois!

    If the bill is signed into law, it would make Illinois the 16th U.S. state to outlaw capital punishment. There is significant abolition effort currently underway in Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, and Montana.

  • 2011-FEB-21 to MAR-06: Amnesty International USA is mounting a major drive in opposition to the death penalty across the U.S. "Scores of groups and individuals from across the country will engage campuses, communities and towns near you – hosting speakers, screening films, tabling –- all in efforts to expose the senselessness of capital punishment." During the "action weeks" they are emphasizing coverage of four individuals scheduled to be executed:
    • Troy Davis on death row in Georgia, even though the case against him has completely unraveled.
    • Reggie Clemons on death row in Missouri, despite questions of police and prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias.
    • Scott Panetti on death row in Texas, who was allowed to represent himself in court and faces execution even though he was diagnosed with severe schizophrenia.
    • Romell Broom in Ohio, who survived a two-hour botched execution and now may face a second attempt!

  • 2011-MAR-18: MT: Earlier, a bill to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without parole had passed the state Senate with a 26 to 24 vote. It was considered by the House Judiciary Committee, and rejected. 11

  • 2011-MAY-09: Illinois became the 16th state to abolish capital punishment: Governor Pat Quinn (D) signed a bill into law that abandons the death penalty in the state. He was surrounded by death penalty abolition advocates during a private morning ceremony. He also commuting the sentences of 15 death row inmates to life without parole. 8

    Governor Quinn was originally a strong supporter of the death penalty. However, he talked extensively with families of murder victims, families of convicted murderers on death row, captial punishment advocates and abolitionists, etc. According to the Chicago Tribune, he turned to the Bible for wisdom and drew strength from the writings of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. He said that his signing of the bill passed by the Illinois legislature was his most difficult decision of his political career. He said:

    "It is impossible to create a perfect system, free of all mistakes. I think it's the right and just thing to abolish the death penalty and punish those who commit heinous crimes -- evil people -- with life in prison without parole or any chance of release."

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2012 developments:

  • 2012-APR: Connecticut: The Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty (CNADP) states that they have:

    "... been working to abolish the death peanlty in Connecticut since 1986. We stand strongly opposed to the death penalty as it is poor public policy. The death penalty does not deter crime, it is not cost efficient, it kills the mentally ill, it is economically and racially biased; it kills the innocent, and it does not provide closure to families -- it is simply revenge, not justice." 9

    Not mentioned by the Network is the fact that each execution causes grief and distress to the friends and family of the inmate.

Between 1639 and 2012, Connecticut executed 126 persons, first by hanging, then in the electric chair and most recently by lethal injection. The last execution was in 2005.

On APR-05, the state Senate passed Senate Bill 280 to repeal the death penalty, by a vote of 20 to 16. Two Democrats and all 14 Republican Senators opposed the bill. 10

On APR-11, supporters of the bill gathered at the State Capitol to urge the House representatives to pass the bill. Some of the former had been campaigning for two decades to end the death penalty. After a more than nine hours of debate on APR-11, the House of Representatives passed the bill that day by a vote of 86 to 62. 9

Governor Dannel P. Malloy (D) has promised to sign the bill into law. He said that the bill put the state in harmony with almost every other industrialized nation. It will make Connecticut the 17th state -- the fifth in five years -- to abolish capital punishment. That would leave New Hampshire and Pennsylvania as the only states in the Northeast that still sentence people to be executed.

There have been 1,289 executions in the U.S. since 1976 when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume the practice. Between then and 2012-APR, there have been 481 executions in Texas, 454 in the six other Southern and border states, and 354 in the rest of the country.

One curious feature of the bill is that the eleven inmates -- all men -- who are currently on death row will remain there and may be executed in the future. Some Republican critics of the bill said that it undercut the moral argument against the death penalty.

The topic is expected to be heavily debated later in 2012 as a campaign issue. 10

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Coliseum lit to mark Montana death-penalty bill," Associated Press, International Herald Tribune, 2009-MAR-03, at: http://www.iht.com/
  2. Michael R. Snedeker, "State-sanctioned murder," 2009-OCT-08, at: http://www.bobchatelle.net/
  3. David Grann, "Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?," New Yorker, 2009-SEP-07, at: http://www.newyorker.com/
  4. Jim Provance, "Ohio designs single-drug execution. Large barbiturate overdose to be injected intravenously," Toledo Blade, 2009-NOV-14, at: http://www.toledoblade.com/
  5. "Akmal Shaikh's family 'outraged' over China execution," BBC News, 2009-DEC-30, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
  6. "Abolition is in, death penalty is out," Amnesty International, USA, 2011-JAN-19
  7. "Death Penalty Abolished in New Mexico--Governor Says Repeal Will Make the State Safer," Death Penalty Information Center, 2009-MAR-19, at: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/
  8. "We did it - Illinois just abolished the death penalty!," Amnesty International, 2011-MAR-09, Email.
  9. Peter Applebome, "Death Penalty Repeal Goes to Connecticut Governor," The New York Tmes, 2012-APR-11, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  10. Connecticut Repeals the Death Penalty," Connecticut Network, 2012-APR-12, at: http://www.cnadp.org/
  11. Marnee Banks, "MT House kills bills addressing death penalty, homosexual acts" KXLH News, 2011-MAR-18, at: http://www.kxlh.com/

Copyright © 2009 & 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2009-MAR-06
Last updated: 2012-APR-28
Author: B.A. Robinson
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