Why Showing Up For Death Penalty Repeal Matters

Amnesty members and others protest the death penalty in Maryland

Amnesty member Stanford Fraser rallies supporters of death penalty repeal in Annapolis with Jane Henderson of MD CASE.

As of this writing, 33 states in the U.S. still retain the death penalty (and two more still have inmates on death row). There is also a Federal death penalty and a death penalty in the U.S. military.  The kangaroo courts at Guantánamo can issue death sentences too.

Though we are definitely seeing a decline in support for the death penalty in the U.S., that’s still a lot of capital punishment. To truly and sustainably overcome this culture of casual killing we will need – and we are building – a powerful grass-roots movement.

That’s why a victory for abolition in a state like Maryland, if it happens, will be so important.  Change – lasting change – in the United States, where human rights are often ignored or dismissed, is going to come from the ground up … from the states, and even more locally from faith groups, campuses and communities. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks for death penalty repeal,  surrounded by supporters and the media.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley speaks to supporters and the media for death penalty repeal.

Montana and Maryland, what do they share
With big Colorado, and small Delaware?
Big Sky Montana’s a red state, it’s true,
While Maryland’s one of the bluest of blue.

There’s one thing they all share – now take a deep breath –
They all might abolish the punishment of death!
Yes, these red and these blue states, the large and the small
Might soon not conduct executions at all!

And you can take action if you live in these states,
Because human rights change can’t be left to the fates.
Just click on the links or pass on to a friend
And in these 4 states executions may end.

Colorado | Delaware | Maryland | Montana

Don’t live in these states?  Don’t worry, because
You can forward the actions to someone who does.

30 Years Later, Will A Changed Man Get Clemency?

As the month of May began, Montana’s Board of Pardons and Parole was set to hear the clemency petition of Ronald Smith, one of the two men on Montana’s death row.  Now, the decision on whether he lives or dies rests with the Governor.

Ronald Smith committed a terrible crime back in 1982, but the passage of 30 years has seen him evolve into an utterly different person.  This was not a legal development (he is still guilty), but is the kind of human transformation that clemency was designed to recognize.  Our courts can’t commute sentences based on changes in the hearts and minds of the convicted (that’s not their role), but our executive branch – our Governors and our pardon and parole boards – can.

At the May 2 clemency hearing, the Montana parole board heard all about Ronald Smith’s transformation:  from retired prison officials, a clinical psychologist, a Catholic priest and prison educator, a former probation officer and members of the Smith family.

The psychologist said that Ronald Smith: “has demonstrated significant change in attitude, thoughts and behavior. He is what would be considered a model prisoner in the modern setting.”


Will Montana Recognize Redemption?

Ronald Smith, a Canadian national, is facing a clemency hearing on May 2 in Montana. He was sentenced to die for a crime committed almost 30 years ago, a crime for which he has consistently expressed remorse. He has since rebuilt his life from inside the prison walls. Putting him to death now would serve no purpose, and Montana should not do it.

One of the problems with the death penalty is that it denies the possibility that people can reform.

At the time of his arrest for his part in the August 1982 killing of two Native Americans, Harvey Madman Jr. and Thomas Running Rabbit Jr., Smith wanted to take full responsibility for the crime and in fact asked for the death penalty. He got it.

His lawyer, who had never tried a death penalty case before, was no help. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that this lawyer “failed to investigate the facts of the crime, failed to investigate Smith’s mental state at the time of the crime, and failed to discuss possible defenses before Smith pled guilty.” (Bizarrely, and typically, this Court nonetheless ruled that the lawyer had not harmed his client enough to warrant any relief.)


Montana Senate Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

By a 26-24 vote, the Montana Senate yesterday voted to repeal the death penalty.   Twenty-two Democrats and 4 Republicans voted for the measure (SB 185), which now goes to the House.   This is the second straight legislative session in which the Montana Senate has endorsed repeal. 

This year, an abolition bill has already passed in Illinois, where it awaits action from the Governor.  And other repeal bills have been filed in states across the country, from Maryland to Connecticut to Kansas to Washington.

Abolition has become more appealing to state legislators in recent years as they have become more aware of capital punishment’s exorbitant financial cost, the dangers of executing the innocent, and the grueling toll the death penalty process takes on victim families.