From Mississippians Educating for Smart Justice (http://www.mesj.info/):
2009 Legislative Update: Capital Punishment
The United States Supreme Court has said that any criminal punishment, including the death penalty should reflect the “conscience of the community,” and its application should be measured against society’s “evolving standards of decency.” Events in our state in 2008 should trouble the consciences of Mississippians. In the past year, we have seen:
· the exoneration of Kennedy Brewer, an innocent man who spent 13 years on death row;
· the exoneration of Levon Brooks, another innocent man who was convicted of murder and imprisoned for 16 years;
· the execution of Earl Berry, a mentally retarded man;
· the execution of Dale Bishop, a mentally ill man who was merely present during a killing while the actual murderer received a life sentence; and
· the forced resignation of Dr. Stephen Hayne, the de facto State medical examiner whose testimony has been crucial in condemning many of the prisoners on Mississippi’s death row.
Thoughtful Mississippi must contemplate the absurdity of continuing a system that has delivered such horrific injustices. Proposals expected to be introduced in the 2009 Legislative Session address these issues.
Compensate the Innocent. More than 120 people have been freed from death row since 1973, after their innocence was vindicated by DNA analysis and other proof. Polls show that the American public is deeply concerned by the prospect of sending more innocent men and women to their deaths. Many are skeptical of such claims, but in the wake of the State’s admission that Kennedy Brewer was innocent of the charges that held him on Death Row for 13 years, we are faced with the likelihood that there are others like him in Parchman.
State Representative Willie Perkins has introduced House Bill 189 and House Bill 200. These bills would compensate people wrongly convicted of crimes. Mississippi is one of the few states without such a system; we send wrongly incarcerated people home with only an apology. To be certain, compensation will never fully redress the wrong inflicted on innocent prisoners and their families, but it will reflect a measure of repentance for that wrong. It may also serve to hold the State’s agents – whether prosecutors, law enforcement officers, or appointed defense counsel – accountable for their misconduct.
Both of Rep. Perkins’ bills have been referred to the House Corrections and Appropriations Committees. They can be followed at:
Stop the Executions of Those Who Do Not Kill. The bipartisan outcry against the unfairness of executing Dale Bishop, a mere accomplice, while the actual killer in the case was sentenced to life, proves that Mississippians do not support the arbitrary application of the death penalty. Of the over 1,100 prisoners executed in the United States Since 1976, Bishop was only the eighth person to be executed who was not either the actual killer or the payor in a murder-for-hire.
As the Clarion-Ledger reported in July 2008, neighboring States such as Louisiana or Alabama would not permit a mere accomplice to be executed. Representative John Mayo has introduced House Bill 29, which would adopt this rule in Mississippi. It has been referred to the House Judiciary En Banc Committee. It can be followed at:
Moratorium. These two proposals, of course, are merely the beginning of a moral response to capital punishment in Mississippi. Those who work with Death Row prisoners know that capital punishment does not deter crime; most persons who commit murder are seriously mentally ill, high on drugs or alcohol, or desperately impoverished. They do not undertake a “cost-benefit” analysis before killing their victim.
The death penalty is not needed to prevent repeat murders. Society is more than adequately protected by incarcerating murderers for life without parole. In that event, if later proof shows the prisoner is actually innocent, he would be alive and could be released and compensated. That is certainly not the case today. And the families of prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment can continue to visit their loved ones; when a prisoner is executed, his or her family suffers as well.
If deterrence and the protection of society are insufficient to justify the death penalty, why keep it? Some argue that the families of victims deserve retribution. This is doubtful both factually and morally. Although the cost per execution varies from state to state, the fact that prosecuting, appealing and inevitably executing those sentenced to death costs much more per case than that of those given a life without parole sentence is indisputable. With 64 death row prisoners in our state, can we afford to continue such a costly and fallible practice?
Spending that same money on assisting the families of murder victims, such as college funds established for minor children of murder victims, low interest mortgage loans, retribution payments, would be a far more Christian response than fostering revenge.
The fact is that more study of these issues is desperately needed. Representative Mayo has sponsored House Bill 145, imposing a moratorium on executions pending such a study. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary En Banc Committee and can be followed at:
Conclusion. These bills should be important to Mississippians who seek to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before [their] God.” Micah 6:8. They are commended to your further study and support.