Democrats and the Death Penalty

To my mind, John Kerry is worst sort of death penalty opponent. For years he’s solidly against capital punishment regardless of the crime, including terrorism. When it becomes politically expedient, however, he’s suddenly pro-capital punishment when it comes to terrorists.

When asked about his “evolving” position on terrorism, Kerry said,

I oppose the death penalty other than in cases of real international and domestic terrorism. We know we have put innocent people to death; 111 innocent people have already been released from death row. As president, I’ll enforce the law but I’ll also have a national moratorium on federal executions until we use DNA evidence to make sure those on death row are guilty.

Right, because of course it would be impossible to make a mistake and wrongly put to death someone convicted of a terrorist act. Not. It’s obvious, for example, that Tim McVeigh was guilty of the terrorist attack on the Oklahoma City Federal Building, but nonetheless his trial was marred by serious instances of FBI misconduct.

Apparently juries are faulty except when they’re considering terrorist cases, in which case this problem is just swept away.

And, of course, DNA evidence may exonerate some individuals but it cannot with certainty establish guilt as Kerry implies. Though, as I’ve pointed out before, this is one of the inevitable misunderstandings that will lead to DNA evidence being used as an argument in favor of the death penalty.

In writing the Democratic National Committee’s platform, the platform committee took the easy way out — they simply eliminated any mention of capital punishment at all. The previous three DNC platforms, by contrast, had strong pro-death penalty language. Dukakis was the last anti-death penalty presidential candidate and Carter the last anti-death penalty president.

This is not, by the way, the first time that Kerry has altered his death penalty views to bend with the political winds. Kerry has called for a moratorium on the federal death penalty and advocated for giving defendants access to more resources to prove their innocence.

But in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, Kerry voted for the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. That law placed a number of new obstacles in the path of death row inmates trying to appeal their sentence, including limiting such convicts to just a single habeas corpus appeal.

Lebanon Resumes Capital Punishment

According to the BBC, Lebanon recently resumed carrying out the death penalty for the first time since 1998.

In 1994 Lebanon expanded its capital punishment statutes to increase the number of executions. The executions stopped, however, after Salim Hoss became prime minister. Hoss is an opponent of capital punishment and refused to sign off on death sentences. Since the law required the prime minister’s signature on any death sentence order, executions came to a halt.

Hoss is no longer the prime minister, so the executions have once again started.

Source:

Death penalty resumes in Lebanon. The BBC, January 17, 2004.

The Death Penalty and Child Killers

Although I have always been staunchly anti-capital punishment, at the same time I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the likely fate of these sorts of people, who will have problems staying alive very long in a Texas prison even if they escape the death penalty (assuming, of course, that police have a solid case against the parents):

A woman and her common-law husband were charged with murder Wednesday after police found the bodies of a decapitated 1-year-old boy and two young siblings in the family’s small, run-down apartment.

The children’s 23-year-old mother, Angela Camacho, and John Allen Rubio, the 22-year-old father of the youngest child, were being held without bond, according to police Lt. Henry Etheridge.

The 1-year-old’s body was found Tuesday night on a bed, and the others were in garbage bags beside it, police in this border town said.

CNSNews.Com Corrects Death Penalty Story, But Claims Are Still Deceptive

After I sent CNSNews.Com an e-mail about the problem with their article on capital punishment, it corrected the story to explain that Larry Osborne had, indeed, been acquitted by a jury. But the effect of the way the story is told is still deceptive. Here’s how the story reads now (emphasis added),

Contrary to the impression left by the beginning of the group’s press release and Dieter’s comments, however, Osborne was not found by the Kentucky Supreme Court not to have committed the crime of which he was accused. The court reversed his conviction on procedural grounds. Osborne was later retried in a lower court and the jury – which was not allowed to view a now deceased eyewitness’ videotaped testimony against him – found Osborne not guilty of the murders.

Did Dieter leave the impression that the Kentucky Supreme Court found Osborne had not committed the crime he was accused? Here are the first three paragraphs from the Aug 1, 2002 press release in question,

Larry Osborne became the nation’s 102nd exonerated death row inmate since 1973, according to an announcement made today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). Osborne was sentenced to death in 1999 following his conviction for the murder of two elderly victims in Whitley County, Ky. He was 17 at the time of the crime and has spent over three years on Kentucky’s death row.

The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed Osborne’s conviction based on its finding that the trial court allowed inadmissible hearsay
testimony from a witness, Joe Reid. Reid passed away prior to the original trial and, therefore, could not face cross-examination during
Osborne’s first trial. At his re-trial completed today, Osborne was acquitted of all charges and set free.

As the number of death row exonerees continues to rise, the risk of fatal error within our system becomes increasingly clear,” said
Richard C. Dieter, DPIC Executive Director. “This is further evidence that our system of capital punishment is so seriously flawed that all executions should be stopped.”

Where in there does Dieter leave the impression that the Supreme Court did anything but reverse Osborne’s conviction and order a new trial? I just don’t see it.

Source:

KENTUCKY MAN IS NATION’S 102nd DEATH ROW EXONEREE. Death Penalty Information Center, Press Release, August 1, 2002.

Accuracy of Death Penalty Opponents vs. Supporters

Henry Hanks points to this CNSNews story that claims death penalty opponents are exaggerating. As an opponent of the death penalty, I agree that opponents tend to exaggerate individual cases, but in this side it seems to be the pro-death penalty folks who are exaggerating (or outright lying).

This account of Larry Osborne’s, is almost wholly false,

As one example, Richard Dieter, executive director of DPIC, pointed to the August 2002 release of Larry Osborne from Kentucky’s death row.

“Larry Osborne became the nation’s 102nd exonerated death row inmate since 1973,” Dieter wrote in an Aug. 1, 2002, press release.

“As the number of death row exonerees [sic] continues to rise, the risk of fatal error within our system becomes increasingly clear,” Dieter continued. “This is further evidence that our system of capital punishment is so seriously flawed that all executions should be stopped.”

Osborne was sentenced to death in 1999 following his conviction for the murder of two elderly victims in Whitley County, Ky. He was 17 when the crime was committed and spent more than three years on Kentucky’s death row.

Contrary to the impression left by the beginning of the group’s press release and Dieter’s comments, however, Osborne was not found by the court not to have committed the crime of which he was accused. The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed his conviction on procedural grounds. But Osborne’s release was promoted alongside those of two death row inmates who were actually found not guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted; one through DNA evidence, the other by a second jury trial.

First, calling what happened to Osborne a “procedural error” is quite a stretch. A 15-year old boy gave a statement to police that placed Osborne at the scene of a double homicide. Osborne denies that he was there.

Unfortunately, the 15-year old drowned before Osborne’s trial, but the boy’s statement was allowed to be introduced as evidence anyway. The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed with Osborne’s lawyers that the boy’s statement should not have been allowed at the trial.

Second, it is simply a lie to claim that “Osborne was not found by the court not to have committed the crime of which he was accused.” In fact, after the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed his conviction, they ordered a new trial (at which the dead boy’s statement was not used).

At his new trial, Osborne took the stand to testify in his own defense and was acquitted by a jury of his peers.

Sources:

Some in Whitley convinced man got away with murder. Joseph Gerth, The Courier Journal, August 3, 2002.

Researchers Challenge List Of Death Penalty ‘Innocents’. Jeff Johnson, CNSNews.Com, January 8, 2003.

Death Penalty Doomed in a Democratic Congress? Doubtful

Criminal lawyer Jeralyn Merritt fills in for Eric Alterman at Alterman’s MSNBC weblog and tries to pass off this bit of nonsense about the importance of voting for Democrats in the upcoming election,

I have a legislative wish-list that will be dead in the water if the Republicans get control. HereÂ’s the short version: A moratorium on the death penalty now, abolition in the future. Passage of the Innocence Protection Act

If a Democratic Congress meant a moratorium on the death penalty, I’d go in and vote striaght Democratic on November 5.

But, of course, Congress cannot impose a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty. A moratorium on the federal death penalty perhaps, but Congress does not (and should not) have the authority to create a moratorium on state death penalties (anymore than it could or should be able to force states like Michigan to adopt a death penalty).

More importantly, though, the Democratic Party showed how committed it was to death penalty reform in the early 1990s when for two years the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency. That was a period when Bill Clinton proposed all sorts of radical actions that backfired in the 1994 House elections, but death penalty reform/abolition was nowhere to be found as an issue.

And it won’t be if the Democrats end up with control of the House and Senate again this year. In fact, I doubt the Democratic Party as a whole wants such legislation to succeed. It is better served politically by having members of very liberal districts introduces such legislation and let it die in committee.

This way candidates in heavily liberal districts can say they’re trying to do something but keep running into obstacles from Republicans, while at the same time the Republicans can’t bash them over the head with the soft-on-crime label. If a Democrat-controlled Congress took up this issue, it would be a tailor-made issue for the Republican president going into the 2004 presidential elections. (I.e., it will never happen).

Source:

The Elections. Jeralyn Merritt, MSNBC.Com, October 18, 2002.