10 Reasons Death Penalty Abolition is Coming

Today is the 10th World Day Against the Death Penalty, an annual October 10 event created by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty of which Amnesty International is a founding member. Since that first World Day on Oct. 10, 2003, executions are on the wane both here in the U.S. and around the world.

Here are 10 reasons to celebrate 10 years of progress this World Day:

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Three Supreme Court Justices Later Regretted Supporting the Death Penalty

Three out of the seven Supreme Court justices who voted to reinstate the death penalty in 1976 have since said they regretted those votes and, if given a do over, would have supported abolition of the death penalty.

That means there would have been 5 votes to retain the 1970s era ban on capital punishment, and the USA could have become one of the world leaders in the global movement towards abolition, rather than one of its primary obstacles.  And 1,229 men and women would not have been killed by US states.

“I would vote the other way in any capital case. … I have come to think that capital punishment should be abolished.” –Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, to his biographer in 1991.

“From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death … the basic question – does the system accurately and consistently determine which defendants ‘deserve’ to die? – cannot be answered in the affirmative.” – Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, in a dissent in Callins v. Collins (1994)

“I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes … such negligible returns to the State is patently excessive and cruel” – Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in a concurrence in Baze v. Rees (2008)

“I think there is one vote that I would change and that’s one – was upholding the capital punishment statute.  I think that we did not foresee how it would be interpreted. I think that was an incorrect decision.” – Justice Stevens to NPR this Monday

Sunday, October 10, is World Day Against the Death Penalty.  This year, the focus is on the USA, and Amnesty International has just released a short document surveying where the USA is on this issue, and what these Supreme Court Justices and the rest of us have learned.

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10 Reasons to Abolish the Death Penalty

This blog post is brought to you by the number 10.  It was after 10 pm last night when Georgia put Brandon Rhode to death, less than a week after rushing madly to save his life after his failed suicide attempt.

October 10th, 2010 (10-10-10) will be World Day Against the Death Penalty, and the focus this year is on the USA.  There has never been a more important or better time to get involved in ending capital punishment in the USA, and here are 10 reasons why:

1) The death penalty is absurd and cruel.  The ridiculous spectacle of putting a man to death just days after saving his life, is a perfect illustration of that.

2) The death penalty is degrading.  It turns states into prescription drug abusers, killing prisoners with drugs like sodium thiopental that manufacturers are on record as stating should only be used to healing purposes.

3) High profile cases, often with racial undertones, create political pressures that can lead to police and prosecutor misconduct.  Reggie Clemons was convicted as an accomplice in the murder of two white women in St. Louis.  Four federal judges have agreed that the prosecutor’s conduct was “abusive and boorish,” and Clemons alleges police brutality during his questioning. Witnesses attest to Clemons’ face being swollen after his interrogation.

4) It is not limited to the “worst of the worst”.  A recent example: the execution of Teresa Lewis in Virginia on September 23; she was put to death as the “mastermind” of a crime despite her 72 IQ, and despite the fact that the men who actually carried out the crime did not get the death penalty.

5) The death penalty is not limited to cases where there is no doubt about guilt.  Convicted by flimsy witness testimony, and unable to exonerate himself with those same witnesses, Troy Davis remains on death row despite serious doubts about his guilt.  His birthday is on October 9!

6) The times are changing.  In Ohio, Governor Ted Strickland granted clemency in the case of Kevin Keith, despite his belief that Keith was probably guilty, because some doubt remained.

7) In Texas, a hearing on whether Cameron Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed will take place October 6-7.  Skepticism about the application of the death penalty continues to build in the Lone Star State.

8) Death sentences continue to drop.  Last year barely over 100 were sentenced to death , compared to an average of close to 300 in the 1990s.

9) One-by-one, states are abandoning capital punishment, particularly in odd numbered years. (New Jersey in 2007, New Mexico in 2009).  In the coming year (2011), many more states will have serious debates and possibly votes on abolition

10) There is so much that can be done for World Day Against the Death Penalty, from taking action on specific cases, to joining your local state-based coalition’s efforts to abolish the death penalty.

The death penalty abolition movement is growing, and some progress is being made, but there is a lot of work yet to be done.  This World Day is the perfect time to get started.