Sunday, November 13, 2005

The least dp supporters could do is be honest

Thursday night I had the opportunity to attend a death penalty debate at Dickinson College in Carlisle. This one was entitled "Does the system work?" and featured two attorneys, Robin Maher of the ABA's Death Penalty Representation Project and Syndi Guido of the PA State Police Policy Office.

For veterans of the abolition movement, we can expect the usual arguments. Sometimes supporters of killing manage to surprise me. When discussing both race and the size of PA's death row, Dauphin County DA Ed Marsico once broke down the state's death row without including Philadelphia. That one caught me by surprise. I wasn't aware that Philly had seceded and become the 51st state.

If two sides disagree on a conclusion while discussing the facts, the Abolitionist can respect that. But Guido did something else altogether. She flat-out lied to the audience.

Now, I'm not talking about dishonesty like the discussions around deterrence. DP supporters can point to statistics and studies that appear to be legitimate evidence that capital punishment is a deterrent.

We're also not talking about dishonesty around the impact of race, like when Ed Rendell and DAs argue that PA's minority rate on death row is so high because it is minorities who are committing first-degree murder. (Of course, they then fail to mention that it is death-qualified juries, which are potentially racked with bias, that determine if the person is charged with first-degree murder.)

No, no, no. Guido just did not tell the truth, straight-up. First, she claimed that there are more whites on death row than minorities. This is a bald-faced lie. In PA, the minority death row rate is 69%, second-highest in the nation. When questioned on this in the Q&A, she said that she was referring to national stats, but even nationally, the minority rate is 55%.

Mind you, earlier in the debate when Maher mentioned facts and figures from other states, Guido pulled out the good ol' "not in my state" card, as if Pennsylvania's capital system is running like a well oiled machine.

Guido also had the nerve to tell the audience, 140 strong and mostly college students, that "life doesn't necessarily mean life" and went on about the governor's power to commute a sentence. Maybe this is technically true, but this is fear-mongering at its worst. A) As was pointed out in the Q&A by yours truly, the only alternative to the death penalty for first degree murder is life without the possibility of parole and LWOP is also the mandatory sentence for second-degree murder. B) She failed to mention that a commutation requires a unanimous vote from the board of pardons before it even gets to the gov. That board includes the attorney general, who thinks it is perfectly acceptable to execute the mentally retarded. No commutation is getting to the governor, short of Jesus Christ himself telling the board on video that the defendant is innocent. Even then, the AG would ask to see the holes in JC's hands just to be sure.

Besides, the governor's power to commute is an outgrowth of our system of government. Maybe Ms. Guido has heard of "checks and balances". It's yet another one of those "technicalities" set up by the Founders and ensures that one branch of government doesn't accumulate too much power.

This is what supporters of the death penalty are left with. They can't win on the facts, so they're left with fear-mongering, half-truths, and straight lies. Eventually, the public will see through their charade.

4 Comments:

At 11:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 12:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 800 lb gorilla that por-dp folks do not wish to acknowledge is the fact that everyone on death row here in PA are those who are poor. The dp has been a tool used by the "haves" and "have-mores" to manipulate and control the "have-nots". Make no mistake about it, justice has little to do with the DP - classism does.

 

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