Monday, October 29, 2007

Lawyers renew push for execution moratorium


The American Bar Association on Monday will call again for a nationwide moratorium on executions, finding what it says are major flaws with the death penalty systems in eight states, including Florida.

The association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project found problems in the states it studied over the past three years, including major racial disparities, inadequate defense counsel for defendants and irregular review processes, which together make the death penalty systems operate unfairly.

''After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle executions, it has become crystal clear that the process is deeply flawed,'' said Stephen F. Hanlon, who chairs the project. ``The death penalty system is rife with irregularity -- supporting the need for a moratorium until states can ensure fairness and accuracy.''

The ABA takes no position on the death penalty itself, but it began calling for a moratorium on executions in 1997 so legal questions could be worked out.

The group's most recent review of death penalty systems in eight states -- including Florida -- was done by teams of local legal experts who used standards developed by the ABA as a means of measuring the fairness of each state's death penalty.

According to the report, which is being released at a press conference Monday, each state appeared to have ``significant racial disparities in imposing the death penalty, particularly associated with the race of the victim.''

The report also charges that states often do not have policies in place to ensure that lawyers representing people with mental retardation or mental illness 'fully appreciate the significance of their clients' mental disabilities.''

The states examined include Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. The team that studied the system in Florida, as well as those in Arizona and Pennsylvania, did not call for a moratorium in those states. But the group is calling for a nationwide ban for death penalty systems to be reviewed.

The report claims Florida falls short in several areas, including failing to ensure that the rights of mentally ill persons are protected during police interrogations.

Florida stopped executions last year after a condemned inmate, Angel Diaz, took 34 minutes to die -- twice the usual time -- when executioners missed a vein.

Gov. Charlie Crist lifted the ban last August after the state changed its execution procedures, including requiring additional training. Mark Dean Schwab, 38, is scheduled to die Nov. 15 for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old.

Schwab and convicted murderer Ian Deco Lightbourne, though, are appealing, arguing that the state's new procedures do not fix the problems revealed by Diaz's execution.

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