Final Maryland Senate vote on the death penalty bill — 27-20. Photo by Mona Cadena
The Maryland Senate has passed death penalty repeal, by a 27-20 vote, and the bill now moves over to the House with increased momentum. Excitement at this development is tempered by the fact that desperately needed funding for family members of murder victims was stripped from the bill in committee.
Families of murder victims face many hardships, beyond the shock and grief of the loss itself. Often the lost loved one was the family breadwinner. The costs of travel or missed work time to attend court hearings, as well as expenses for grief counseling and funeral arrangements can add up quickly, particularly for lower income families. They need, and deserve, our support.
The Governor and others have promised to put this funding into the budget that will be considered in March, but the hammering out of budgets is notoriously chaotic, so we will have to be vigilant. There are also no guarantees for death penalty abolition itself, as the vote in the Maryland House is likely to be close. More action is still needed.
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The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
I have never been numb to the loss of human life in murder cases, though my work to end the death penalty has meant that I have spent most of my time trying to prevent the executions of those who are convicted of murder. The story of the 1991 “Chain of Rocks Murder Case,” as it is known in St. Louis, is especially poignant to me not just because I am working to stop the execution of Reggie Clemons—a man convicted as an accomplice to the murders and given the death penalty—but because I also have much in common with the two young women who perished.
I am not a family member of a murder victim, and I have no real connection to Julie and Robin Kerry, the women who died twenty-one years ago. So I am grateful to Jeanine Cummins, one of their cousins, for having written about Julie and Robin Kerry, and the terrible journey their family experienced. Her writing has helped me build a larger picture of the meaning of this case and the people it has impacted. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
(c) Scott Langley
A bill to repeal Connecticut’s death penalty was introduced on Wednesday. It has an excellent chance of passing, largely because an increasing number of murder victim family members have been calling for an end to capital punishment in their state. There’s a blog on which many of them discuss their reasons, and this piece in the New London Day and this piece in the West Hartford News both do a good job of outlining why so many murder victim family members have had it with Connecticut’s death penalty and believe they will be better off without it.
There are many reasons victim family members may oppose the death penalty. There is the endless process that turns the killer into a celebrity while forcing the family to constantly relive the worst moment of their lives. There is the waste of resources that could be spent on counseling and other real support for survivors of homicide. And there is the false promise of an execution which will most likely never happen (especially in Connecticut where there has been only one execution in the last 50 years) and may not provide the expected “closure” even if it does.
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In California, on average, 46% of murders and 56% of rapes go unsolved each year. For victims and their families, and for the cause of public safety, these numbers are profoundly disturbing.
A new ballot initiative (changing the law in California often requires a direct public referendum) aims to do something about this, by redirecting funds wasted on the death penalty ($184 million per year according to a recent study), to local police and prosecutors to ensure that more crimes actually get solved. Since 1978, there have been 13 executions in California, at a cost of $308 million per execution. In 2009 alone, the best year of the decade for solving murders, there were 722 unsolved homicides.
Bringing killers and rapists to justice is obviously very important for victims and their families, and is also clearly vital to public safety. And whatever deterrent value you might think the death penalty has (probably none), it is vastly overshadowed by the reality that, now, if you commit murder in California, you have an almost 50/50 chance of never getting caught at all.
The proposed initiative would also require those convicted of murder to work in prison and provide restitution to victims’ families. And, importantly, it would end California’s shameful association with the notorious human rights abuse of capital punishment.
If this initiative gets on the ballot and voters approve it in November 2012, California will finally escape from the financial (and human rights) black hole that is the death penalty, and will be free to focus its resources more effectively on public safety and on the real needs of victims.
Update: Despite the efforts of Rais and Amnesty activists to stay the execution of Mark Stroman, he was executed last night by the state of Texas. But there is more work to be done in the fight against the death penalty. Learn more and take action on our website.
Mark Stroman is set to be executed in Texas on July 20, despite the best of efforts of his one surviving victim to try to spare his life. As readers of this blog will know, Rais Bhuiyan, a Muslim from Bangladesh, was shot and left for dead during Stroman’s series of attacks on Middle Eastern looking men after September 11, 2001. Bhuiyan’s efforts to halt the execution now include a lawsuit against the Lone Star State alleging that his rights as a victim have been violated.
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Former President Jimmy Carter is the latest to weigh in on the death penalty repeal debate going on in New Mexico. The AP reported that he and his wife Rosalyn wrote a letter to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson encouraging him to back abolition of the death penalty. Referring to the package of legislation that pairs a death penalty repeal bill with two bills to support victims’ families, the letter encourages Governor Bill Richardson to endorse “this comprehensive and visionary approach.”
According to a press release issued by the Carter Center, the letter praises “New Mexico’s leadership regarding the death penalty and the rights of crime victims.” The bills that support victims’ families include HB 211, which provides funds for families to attend court proceedings, and HB 284, which provides reparations for the children of murder victims. Carter noted that enacting all three of these bills into law would “show states that struggle with these important issues a positive way to deal with them.”
Indeed it would, and everyone should encourage Governor Richardson to take the lead in turning New Mexico’s “visionary approach” into a reality.