Progress on Death Penalty Justice
Last September, despite recanted eyewitness testimony and last-minute clemency appeals to the Georgia state Pardons and Paroles Board, Troy Davis was executed, sparking international outcry. It has been four months since that egregious sentence was carried out, but Davis’ killing created a new wave of anti-death penalty activism and is leading more and more people of faith to demand an end to state-sanctioned executions.
In a sign that state legislatures are finally taking notice, the Pennsylvania Senate recently “passed a resolution calling for a review of the fairness, equality and expenses of having a death penalty that is rarely used.” Although executions are rare in Pennsylvania, 208 inmates remain on death row.
In the typically conservative state of Montana, faith leaders are actively engaged in efforts to save Canadian-born Ronald Smith from death by lethal injection. Smith, convicted of the 1982 murders of two Blackfoot Indian men, is the only Canadian on death row in the U.S.. Eighty religious leaders gathered at a press conference last week to call both for clemency for Smith and the abolishment of Montana’s death penalty – a measure that has already passed the State House of Representatives.
From Episcopal Café:
I have seen no research that indicates that (the death penalty) acts as a deterrent to violent crime,” Rev. Franklin Brookhart, Bishop of Montana for the Anglican-affiliated Episcopal Church, argued in a letter to state legislators. “I cannot see how it makes us a better nation, that is, a more compassionate and fair society. And it clearly does not set a good example for individual conduct or moral maturity.
Just this week, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of death row inmate Cory Maples, who is awaiting execution in Alabama. Reflecting one of the most shocking examples of inadequate representation, Maples missed the opportunity to file an appeal due to mishandled mail and lawyers who failed to inform the court that they would no longer be managing his case.
In a rare display of empathy by the high court (Justice Alito called it “a veritable perfect storm of misfortune”), the Justices ruled 7-2 that Cory Maples deserved another hearing. Unfortunately, Justices Scalia and Thomas refused to join the broad majority.
Scalia, who has been called out by Catholic theologians for his misrepresentation of Catholic theology on this issue, said in his dissent that while the majority of justices may have ruled out of an “understandable sense of frustration,” the ruling would set a precedent to other death row inmates to challenge their sentence because of ineffective counsel. Instead of acknowledging the errors of the legal system, Scalia was more than ready put a man to death based on the errors of his inept legal counsel.
Andrew Cohen at the Atlantic explains Scalia’s dissent:
Justice Scalia wants certainty and finality on appeal — even if it means injustice to a capital defendant. Even Justice Alito’s litany of errors — eight of them! — wasn’t enough to convince Justice Scalia that Maples deserved more from his attorneys, the justice system, the High Court and the Constitution… This week we see how far lawyers must go in abandoning their capital clients before Justice Scalia will take notice and do something about it.
Despite Scalia’ (and Thomas’s) disappointing dissent, people of faith across the United States continue the march forward to bring an end to the death penalty and these blatant miscarriages of justice.