Even Conservatives Oppose the Death Penalty

By Matthew Rothschild


First Pat Robertson, then George Will, and now the cover of Buckley's National Review casting doubts about the propriety of the death penalty?

What's going on?

You won't hear these thunderous voices on the right at the next Mumia Abu Jamal rally.

No, they haven't completely jumped ship.

But the realization has dawned upon them, as it has dawned upon millions of other Americans, that the death penalty cannot be counted on to reliably administer justice.

Or, to be more blunt about it, we're bound to be killing innocent people.

Many prosecutions are so error-ridden and filled with misconduct, many defense attorneys are so woefully incompetent, that defendants in capital cases do not get a fair shake.

New studies by the Chicago Tribune and Columbia University show an amazingly high percentage of people facing execution who were later exonerated or had their sentences overturned. In fact, two out of every three death sentences in the last 22 years has been overturned on appeal, according to the Columbia study.

That's astounding.

And it just stands to reason that with George W. Bush executing people by the dozens every year--131 down and counting--that some of those just may have been innocent. Both the Tribune and the New York Times recently examined the Texas cases and raised serious questions about the guilt of several of those whom Bush has put to death.

George W. can talk nonchalantly about how everyone has been guilty. But how does he know for sure?

The one Texas case I've looked at closely was that of James Beathard, who was executed on December 9. Beathard and another defendant were charged with murder, though one of them was an accomplice. At Beathard's trial, the prosecution said he did the deed. At the other guy's trial, the prosecution said Beathard was the accomplice.

The state convicted both of them for murder, though the prosecutors' theories were totally incompatible.

That didn't bother the prosecutors.

And it didn't bother Bush.

But it should bother all Americans who want to see justice fairly administered.

In 1994, 80 percent of the American people were in favor of the death penalty. Now it's down to 66 percent.

And I'm convinced, as we become more aware of the miscarriages of justice and the irrevocable errors that states are committing, that the death penalty will no longer be seen as acceptable by a majority of American citizens.

Instead, it will be seen as the barbarism that it is.

--Matthew Rothschild

June 15 , 2000



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