March 30, 2005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March, 2005: A month to remember for anti-death penalty movement
HARRISBURG- As March closes, activists in the anti-death penalty movement in Pennsylvania reflected today on significant shifts in the battle against capital punishment in the last 30 days. The end of executions for child offenders, a new campaign against the death penalty by the Catholic church, and reconsideration of the issue by one of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators were all a part of an eventful month.
“How appropriate that the same day that we recognize Abolition Day, March 1, the Supreme Court decided that killing those who commit crimes as children is cruel and unusual punishment,” said Andy Hoover, president of Central Pennsylvanians to Abolish the Death Penalty. “Despite the shrill cries from extremist opinion peddlers on talkradio and in the nation’s newspapers, this was a decision clearly supported by the American people.”
An ABC News poll in December, 2003, showed that only 21 percent of Americans support the execution of child criminals.
March 1 is celebrated annually by anti-death penalty activists as Abolition Day, the day that Michigan became the first English-speaking territory to abolish capital punishment in 1847.
Meanwhile, 20 days after the Supreme Court decision, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced a new campaign to end capital punishment. The Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty was announced on March 21. The new pitch by the bishops comes with the backdrop of a new poll showing support for capital punishment amongst Catholics dropping quickly. A Zogby International poll taken in November and this month found that Catholics are now evenly split on the death penalty.
“Over the years, we’ve had a lot of great Catholic laypersons and clergy involved with our movement as individuals,” Hoover said. “To now have the church fully behind the issue as an institution will give our fight a boost.
“We welcome the bishops’ new campaign and look forward to working with them in the coming months.”
Just a day later, on March 22 in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) expressed newfound concern about how the death penalty is operating in America.
Santorum told the Post Gazette that he is “very troubled” about the continuing discovery of innocents on death row. “I never thought about it that much when I was really a supporter of the death penalty. I still see it as potentially valuable, but I would be one to urge more caution than I would have in the past,” he said.
“It’s very telling when Senator Santorum says, ‘when I was really a supporter of the death penalty,’” Hoover commented. “Of course, this means he is no longer ‘really a supporter of the death penalty.’
“Of course, Senator Santorum may simply be trying to smooth off some of his rough edges in light of a difficult re-election campaign in 2006, but the message to Pennsylvania Republicans is clear: It’s OK to question yourself on the death penalty and to do so publicly. Senator Santorum has given his fellow Republicans political cover on this issue.”
Santorum will face State Treasurer Bob Casey, Jr., one of Pennsylvania’s most popular Democrats, in the 2006 senatorial race. In the 2002 gubernatorial primary, Casey expressed support for the death penalty.
“If someone had told me that one of the two senatorial candidates would express doubts about capital punishment, I would have assumed that it was Casey,” Hoover said. “His father was no fan of it and many in his party are also opposed to it.
“It is a pleasant surprise to hear these doubts from Senator Santorum.”