Feb. 2, 2001, 7:13PM
System is fair, just; no to a moratorium
By DUDLEY SHARP III
There have been a great many attacks against both Texas and the United
States because of our use of the death penalty for our most vile criminals.
Such attacks are unwarranted.
The complaint that Texas executes too many murderers is a straw man. Those
who oppose execution do so regardless of the numbers involved. From sentencing
to execution, Texas now takes nearly 13 years to execute capital murderers, a
period of time longer than the national average. In addition, Texas has a 15
percent rate of overturning those cases on appeal, a rate less than half of
the national average of 33 percent. Far from any rush to judgment, what we see
in Texas is a careful and reflective effort to seek justice in these most
difficult of cases.
Nationally, there is a growing movement to have moratoriums on the death
penalty. As the anti-death penalty movement has made clear, such is but a
prelude to getting rid of the death penalty. Nationally, that time is now
about 12 years from sentence to execution. A time extension is hardly merited.
Concern for innocents convicted and racism appear to be two main issues
within the moratorium movement.
Uncorroborated claims by the anti-death penalty movement find that 90
inmates have been exonerated since the beginning of the modern death penalty
in 1973. A careful review of those cases shows that no distinction has been
made between the factual innocence (the truly, "I didn't do it"
cases) and the legally innocent (the "I got off because of legal
Big difference. By various anti-death penalty sources, it appears that the
factual innocent convicted are really in the 20-40 range, or approximately 0.4
percent of the 7,000 sentenced to death since 1973. It is unlikely that there
is any other criminal sanction in the world that has a better record of
convicting the guilty and in identifying and freeing the allegedly factually
Many of the world's social and government institutions put innocents at
risk. Yet, I am aware of only one -- the U.S. death penalty -- that has no
proof of an innocent executed since 1900. Paroles, probations, pretrial
releases and mandatory releases have resulted in hundreds of thousands of
innocents being harmed or killed while such criminals were under
"supervision." Most recently, and historically, we also note the
terror and death visited upon innocent citizens by those criminals who escape
from prison. It appears that there are many other pressing criminal justice
practices which put many more innocents at risk and which do, in fact, result
in extraordinary loss of life.
In fact, under all debated scenarios, many more innocents would be put at
risk by not executing.
Historically, charges of racism with the U.S. criminal justice have been
accurate. But not so with the modern death penalty. White murderers are twice
as likely to be executed as are black murderers and are also executed 15
months more quickly than black death row inmates. A 1991 Rand Corp. study, a
1994 Smith College study, as well as a review of murders within capital
circumstances, reveals that the foundation for being sentenced to death is the
Finally, there is the external criticism which we receive from foreign
nations, primarily from Europe. A recent article from the liberal New Republic
confirms that the majority of the European population does support executions
for vile crimes. So those European nations which condemn us do so from a
nondemocratic position, with regard to that sanction. Furthermore, the
European Union, a force for uniting European countries into a united economic
bloc, requires abandonment of execution as a requirement for benefiting from
EU membership. However, there is no ban to executions during wartime. In other
words, the EU has no position to criticize U.S. use of executions, for they do
exactly as do we -- that is, select execution as a punishment option under a
very limited circumstance.
While improvements can be made to any system, such should be studied within
the light of fact, not shrouded by the false claims of those whose goal is to
abolish the death penalty.
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