Sunday, January 22, 2006

No killing by the Green Mountain State

Some of us are working hard to end the death penalty in killing states. Unfortunately, abolitionists have to look over our shoulders to be sure that killing-free states don't institute the death penalty.

New England has been one area of the country where the death penalty has been almost completely on ice. Connecticut and New Hampshire are the only NE states that kill. The NH legislature passed a repeal bill a few years ago (vetoed by the gov) and is debating that issue again. Mass Gov Mitt Romney tried to pass a "fool-proof" (try "foolish") capital statute earlier this year and was thumped.

Now a state lawmaker in Vermont is planning to introduce a bill to reinstate state-sanctioned murder in that state. Michael Mello, a law professor at Vermont Law School, argues against reinstatement.
Vermont, of course, thinks it will be different from the other states that have tried to craft capital punishment systems that are fair and swift. Only the worst of the worst will be killed by the state; no innocents will be sent to death row or executed; real defense lawyers will be provided to people on trial for their lives. This is what the politicians will tell us. But California and Florida and Texas and Pennsylvania and the others all thought they would be different, too.

Once the legal machinery of death is fired up, it takes on an inertia and a momentum all its own. A narrow death penalty statute will be broadened over time, as more and more categories of crimes and classes of criminals become death-eligible and there will be calls for speedier and speedier executions.

I've always admired Vermont for its independent, maverick nature. It doesn't need the death penalty to stain its reputation.


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