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National Death Penalty Update

The execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner reads like something out of a wild west novel. On June 18th, Utah held the first execution by firing squad since 1996, and Gardner is only the third person to be killed in this manner in more than 30 years. The uniqueness of the method of execution again brought national attention to the death penalty and gave abolitionists a chance to highlight the many problems with capital punishment.

“I don’t want to give the government the right to execute citizens, period,” said Greg Hughes, a Republican state representative from Utah. “Inevitably, you’re going to kill innocent people.” Hughes also noted his concern about how arbitrarily death sentences are imposed, equating it with a kind of “popularity contest”. Additionally, the family members of Gardner’s victim, Michael Burdell, joined the chorus of voices opposing the execution, saying that the Burdell would not have wanted his killer put to death.

The sudden spotlight on Utah helped galvanize those working to repeal the death penalty in their states. NADP is happy to stand along with Utahans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (UTADP) as we work to end the death penalty all around the country.

While the Gardner execution was another example of the many flaws in today’s justice system, we also got a reminder this month of why we must continue with our efforts. On August 17, 2009, the Supreme Court issued an rare order mandating a new evidentiary hearing for Georgia death-row inmate Troy Anthony Davis. The ruling gave Davis the chance to prove what he has long claimed—that he did not take the life of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1991.

Following the hearing, which took place on June 24th and 25th, Anne Emanuel, legal analyst for Amnesty International USA, released the following statement: “Given the evidence that emerged from the two-day hearing, it is clear that the state’s case against Troy Davis is thin and tainted. Today’s hearing underscores the deepening doubt that has plagued this case. It is difficult to imagine that a jury would convict Davis today after hearing four of the witnesses who convicted Davis 19 years ago testify in open court before a judge that they lied. One eyewitness testified for the first time that he saw his relative, the alternative suspect, Sylvester “Redd” Coles, shoot police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989.”

While this hearing marks a major development in the case of Troy Davis, it must be said that the burden of proof that Davis’ lawyers must meet to prove his innocence is quite high, so we join all those around the country and even the world who are waiting to see what will happen. And again, we are reminded that risk of executing an innocent person is alive and well in America.


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