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Death Penalty Expanded in NY

NY Death Penalty News


On September 17, 2001, New York expanded its death penalty to cover an ambiguous range of offenses. Gov. Pataki's new "anti-terrorism" legislation swept through the state legislature virtually without debate. Evidently, a rational and reasoned response to last week's senseless terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was not the order of the day. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver conceded as much when he termed the bill "overkill" - but nevertheless supported it for "symbolic" reasons.

The death penalty provisions of the new bill are irrelevant at best, and potentially dangerous. We know that terrorists who are caught and brought to justice will be tried and sentenced in federal, not state courts; that the death penalty cannot deter terrorism; that executing terrorists would only convert them into martyrs in the eyes of other would-be terrorists, and possibly invite reprisals against U.S. citizens around the world. Israel, a land beleaguered by terrorism for decades, has never executed a terrorist - not, we must assume, because it has any sympathy for terrorists, but because it understands that the death penalty is ineffective and unworkable on all levels.

Even more than most death penalty laws, the new death penalty provisions are wide open to potential misuse and misapplication. For the purposes of the new law, terrorism is defined as an offense committed with the intent of intimidating a civilian population or influencing a policy of government. How widely this loose definition will be applied in practice remains to be seen. But the capital justice system has already shown itself vulnerable to political pressure and to manipulation for political ends.

As death penalty abolitionists, we must feel concerned to see our devastating grief over the loss of innocent life in the terrorist attacks and our wounded patriotism appropriated and cheapened in this way. The death penalty is not a symbol we can own.

All the more reason to admire the seven members of the state legislature who voted against the bill. Each voted his or her conscience in the face of extraordinary political pressure. They are:

Thomas Duane

Barbara Clark
LOB 702 Albany, NY 12248
518 455-4711

Susan John
LOB 749
518 455-4527

Clarence Norman
LOB 739
518 455-5262

Richard Gottfried
LOB 822
518 455-4941

Martin Luster
LOB 826
518 455-5444

Edward Sullivan LOB 717
518 455-5603

NYADP Appoints David Kaczynski Executive Director

After an extensive search, the Board of Directors of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty has named David Kaczynski of Schenectady to the position of Executive Director. David comes to the position from a career in social work, counseling troubled teens from diverse backgrounds.

David and his wife Linda approached the FBI in 1996 when they began to suspect that David's older brother Theodore was the so-called Unabomber, responsible for a series of mail bombs that killed three people and injured 23 others over 17 years. The couple felt betrayed when the U. S. Justice Department broke several of its promises and sought the death penalty despite Theodore's serious mental illness. Although his brother's life was ultimately spared in a last-minute plea bargain, David received a disturbing glimpse into the dishonesty and brutality of the nation's capital justice system.

In 1999, David and Linda traveled to California and lobbied unsuccessfully for clemency for Manny Babbitt, a mentally ill Vietnam War veteran. Babbitt, a poor African-American, was turned in by his brother Bill to the Sacramento police, who promised that Manny would receive help for his mental illness and not get the death penalty.

Since Manny's execution, David has given numerous speeches and appeared on several national television shows voicing his strong opposition to the death penalty. "The death penalty is wrong in principle, arbitrary and unfair in implementation," David said recently. "Those of us who oppose the death penalty dream of a justice system that reflects what's best rather than what's worst in our national character. It's supposed to be blind to wealth and privilege, but it's anything but that. In effect, we've linked the impulse for revenge with a system that reflects the gamut of social inequalities. People are beginning to realize that this is a mockery of justice, and they're offended by it."

We are pleased to welcome David to the staff, and excited to have such a prominent and dedicated abolitionist to lead us towards the end of the death penalty in New York.

Greenburgh Town Board Calls for Moratorium

On Wednesday, July 18 the Board of the Town of Greenburgh passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. The vote was 5-0. This is the 53rd municipal moratorium resolution in the United States and the 3rd in New York. (The city governments of Rochester and Buffalo endorsed the moratorium last year). Many thanks to the Death Penalty Moratorium Alliance of Westchester for this important victory!

Statement on the Execution of Timothy McVeigh

With the execution of Timothy McVeigh on the morning of May 16, 2001, the federal government of the United States is resuming executions for the first time in 38 years. The fact that Mr. McVeigh was convicted of a terrible and notorious crime, must not blind us to the serious flaws in the system that is putting him to death.

Timothy McVeigh is one of only three white people on federal death row. Fully 86% of federal death row inmates - 18 of 21 - are people of color. According to the Justice Department, in 75% of the cases in which a federal prosecutor sought the death penalty in the last five years, the defendant has been a member of a minority group. White defendants are more likely than black defendants to receive plea agreements in federal death penalty cases, according to data from the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. The Justice Department has also found serious geographic discrepancies in the application of the federal death penalty, with just five jurisdictions - including the Eastern and Southern districts of New York - accounting for 40% of federal death penalty cases. At the very least, this situation cries out for a moratorium.

Timothy McVeigh has asked to be put to death. He is not alone. According to Amnesty International, one in eight executions in the U.S. are of people who have hastened their own deaths by discontinuing their legal appeals. The reasons range from the isolation and hopelessness of life on death row, to serious mental illness, to a desire for publicity. Whatever the reasons, the specter of state-assisted suicide is troubling. In Mr. McVeigh's case, we also face the disturbing and dangerous prospect of motivating like-minded people to avenge his death, or to imitate his crime in order to win a similar place in the limelight.

The families of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing are not united in believing that Timothy McVeigh should be killed. Bud Welch, whose daughter Julie was killed in the bombing, says, "The execution of Timothy McVeigh will not bring back Julie or her colleagues, nor will it end the grieving for any one of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. Revenge and hate are the reasons 168 people died that day in 1995. I oppose the death penalty absolutely, in all cases, because in all cases it is an act of revenge and hatred."

We oppose the execution of Timothy McVeigh as we oppose all executions, as an act that brutalizes our society, and promotes violence as a solution to our problems.

Editor's Note: Revenge and hate are not the reasons for the Murrah Federal Building bombing. The American people were being set up for Executive Orders to be signed by Bill Clinton depriving the American people of God given rights or as some would say Constitutional rights and Bill of Rights.

Rochester Activists Organize Clergy for Moratorium
January 24, 2001

ROCHESTER, NY--At a press conference sponsored by the Greater Rochester Council of Churches, area religious leaders called for a moratorium on capital trials. Among those asking for such a moratorium were Bishop Matthew Clark of the Catholic Diocese, Bishop Jack McKelvey of the Episcopal Diocese, Dean Frank Hanrahan of the Evangelical Lutherans, Rev. Paul Womack of the United Methodists, Rev. Lawrence Hargrave, co-interim executive minister of the American Baptist Churches, Rev. Richard Gilbert of the First Unitarian Church, Rabbi Alan Katz of Temple Sinai,and the Presidents of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Mercy Congregations. Dr. Mohammad Shafiq of the Islamic Center and members of the Zen Center supported the moratorium but were unable to attend.

Good coverage was given by all five TV stations and several radio stations, as well as the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Both the Catholic and Episcopal dioceses have made elimination of the death penalty a primary focus of their public policy goals this year.

Moratorium Resolution Hearing in New York City Council
January 22, 2001

NEW YORK---Exonerated former death row inmates, murder victims' family members, legal experts and religious leaders joined together to urge the New York City Council to pass a resolution supporting a moratorium on the death penalty.

About a hundred people attended the hearing and the preceding news conference, which was widely covered in the New York City news media. The heart-rending testimony of victims' family members and the wrongly convicted provided a dramatic counterpoint to the words of top legal experts such as Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project.

Some of the media coverage:
NY Daily News

The hearing came after an intense grassroots campaign aimed at Council Speaker Peter Vallone. Initially Vallone did not want the hearing to take place, but relented after receiving hundreds of letters, faxes and phone calls from concerned New Yorkers. Another uphill struggle is anticipated to bring the resolution to a committee vote and to the floor of the City Council. If you live in New York City, please help!

Sister Helen Prejean presents Moratorium 2000 signatures to United Nations in New York City
Solidarity event held in Syracuse

On Monday, December 18, 2000, Sister Helen Prejean and representatives of Amnesty International and the Sant' Egidio Community presented 3.2 million signatures on a petition calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the United Nations. AP and CNN covered the event. In Mr. Annan's remarks he was very clear about his personal support for abolition of the death penalty. That's rather remarkable for the world's most high-profile diplomat.

About 200 people attended a rally outside the UN at the same time--pretty good for a cold Monday the week before Christmas! Sr. Helen and Susan Sarandon both spoke, among others.

Members of People Against the Death Penalty of Central New York also held a news conference on December 18. They featured high school student Michael Wilson, who spearheaded a drive that collected more than 500 signatures for the Moratorium 2000 petition. Three local churches rang their bells at noon in support for a moratorium. Activists presented the Syracuse City Council and Onondaga County Legislature with requests to pass moratorium resolutions.

Tuesday December 19 the three Moratorium 2000 organizations were honored by Councilmember Bill Perkins in a ceremonial on the floor of the New York City Council. Each received a proclamation and the representatives spoke briefly. A number of the council members were in the chamber to here Sister Helen tell them they needed to pass the moratorium resolution. Sister Helen also spoke outside at a news conference.

Many thanks to everyone who attended one or more of these events. FYI the Moratorium 2000 petition drive will continue in 2001, with a goal of 10 million signatures. So keep your blank petitions and keep collecting names!

A message from Amnesty friend Nancy Hoffman:

"I received an appreciative letter from Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney: 'Thank you ever so much for sending me a copy of the petition, dated October 4, 2000, to Speaker Vallone objecting to the quashing of City Council resolution 1473. I have also received the petition, dated September 16, 2000, addressed to Speaker Silver. Please keep me advised of developments.' He goes on to enclose his Op-Ed piece from the February 7, 1995 NY Times which argues strenuously against reinstatement of the death penalty in NY State."


TRUE DEMOCRACY Spring 2002 Copyright © 2002 by News Source, Inc.