Saturday, April 14, 2007

Death Penalty Faces Fresh Resistance

Article published Apr 14, 2007

Death penalty faces fresh resistanceBy Leo Sandon

On Easter Sunday the Chicago Tribune published an important story headlined "Resistance to the death penalty growing."

Written by national correspondent Tim Jones, the article marshaled an impressive list of facts that suggest capital punishment is somewhat under siege:

Questions are being asked about its equity as well as about the number of discovered wrongful convictions.

Executions are being temporarily halted or slowed down. In 1999, there were 98 executions nationwide; in 2006, only 53.

The Nebraska Legislature came within one vote of repealing its capital-punishment statute, and the governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, called for its repeal in his state.

The New Jersey Legislature is drafting a bill to repeal its law.

The governor of Virginia vetoed five bills that would have expanded the use of the death penalty.

And Georgia has a moratorium on most of its capital cases because its public-defender system has run out of money.

Opponents of the death penalty shouldn't hold their breath anticipating its demise, but there are indeed palpable signs of serious rethinking throughout the nation.

One area in which Florida does not have to take a back seat is in capital-punishment productivity. We may have dismal standings in educational expenditures, services and salaries for state employees, but we are right up there in execution statistics. Of the approximately 3,350 residents of death rows nationwide, more than one-third are institutionalized in California (660), Florida (397) and Texas (393). But we are clearly No. 1 when it comes to exonerations. Since 1973 we have exonerated 22 Death Row inmates.

Florida is not escaping questions about problems, what with the American Bar Association's sponsorship of a 2006 study of the state's administration of capital punishment. More recently, March 1, The Governor's Commission on Administration of Lethal Injection published its findings and recommendations. The commission, you will remember, was created as a result of complications in the December execution of Angel Diaz.

While most of the growing opposition to capital punishment is based on concern for fairness, due process and economic considerations, it's important to remember that some of the primary constituents in the movement are members of faith communities. They do not believe that the nation-state should kill in the name of retributive justice. Every major Christian denomination (except Southern Baptist) has taken a stand against the death penalty. All three major branches of Judaism also are on record opposing it. A number of Muslim leaders in the United States have spoken against it.

Tallahassee Citizens Against the Death Penalty, while a nonsectarian coalition that includes secularists and those of no particular religious persuasion, has a high percentage of active representatives from religious communities. Meetings typically occur in churches and synagogues, whose newsletters and bulletin boards form much of its communications network.

Opposing capital punishment seemed to be a hopeless cause not so long ago. The tide may be turning.

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