Hope for domino effect
Maryland moratorium takes step that should be inevitable for all death penalty jurisdictions
Washington, DC (May 9, 2002) -- Citing various recent news items calling into doubt the fairness of the capital punishment system in the United States, Cynthia Orr, co-chair of the Death Penalty Committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, expressed hope that the moratorium on imposition of the death penalty announced today by Maryland Governor Parris Glendening will begin a trend of states recognizing flaws in application of the death penalty.
"If we can have zero-tolerance policies for teen alcohol use, butter knives in school, and drugs in public housing, we should not execute another human being until we are sure that the capital punishment system is flawless," said Orr, a criminal defense lawyer in San Antonio. "And that doesn''t just mean making sure innocents aren''t executed, but also assuring that a dark-skinned person who kills a white person is no more likely to be executed than any other murderer."
Nine of the 13 inmates on Maryland''s death row are African-American. Victims in nearly 75 percent of the death row cases were white, although over all almost three-quarters of murder victims in Maryland are African-American.
"The common-sense findings of the Illinois death penalty report that followed the moratorium there illustrate how broken-down our death penalty mechanisms really are," Orr said. "The pending ruling of New York federal judge Jed Rakoff that the federal death penalty cannot be justified because of wrongful convictions is applicable to every jurisdiction. The courageous actions of Judge Rakoff and Governors Ryan and Glendening should lead to a domino effect of honest assessment resulting in moratoriums around the country."
Last month, Ray Krone, an Arizona inmate, became the 100th death row exoneration since reinstatement of the death penalty in the early 1970s. Recurring problems of inadequate counsel, law-enforcement misconduct, false confessions, bad forensic science, and faulty eyewitness identification have contributed to the exonerations, many of which were made possible and more certain by the advent of DNA testing. In Illinois, Governor George Ryan imposed the moratorium after a spate of exonerations put the number of those freed at 13, compared to 12 executions since reinstatement of the death penalty in that state.