Today: Jul 17, 2024

SCSU students lobby against death penalty

Photo courtesy Eliezer Santiago
Student observe a PowerPoint lecture about death penalty statistics.

Stephany Kaufman, Kristina JamesSpecial to Southern News

A vast majority of the country’s criminologists agree that the death penalty does not deter murderers, according to Brian Evans of Amnesty International. However, capital punishment still exists in Connecticut.

Last week students gathered for “No Human(e) Way To Kill,” a presentation that addressed issues surrounding the death penalty and urged students to attend Hartford’s Student Lobby Day on Feb. 29. “No Human(e) Way To Kill” was hosted by Ebony McClease, graduate intern for the Women’s Center and representative of Amnesty International’s Northeast Youth Action committee, and led by Evans via Skype video conversation.

“In Connecticut there is a bill right now to abolish the death penalty,” said McClease, “and no matter what peoples’ reasons behind abolishing it, each death penalty case costs approximately $1 million in tax payer’s money. It’s not necessarily the cheapest solution.”

According to Evans, studies suggest the death penalty costs about three times as much as life in prison.

McClease said she believes the death penalty should be abolished because of the possibility of executing the wrongly accused.

“There have been people convicted who were found not guilty of murder and some of them had already been executed,” said McClease. “Then they have to go back to the family and say, ‘oops.’ As people we have human error and flaw – how do we justify murder?”

Evans said 138 people executed in the United States were later found to be innocent, and many more have been executed despite serious doubts about their guilt.

According to CNN, Connecticut has only had two executions since 1960, when Joseph Taborsky was executed by electric chair.

It wasn’t until 2005, 45 years later, that another Connecticut inmate, Michael Ross, would be put to death on death row. Ross, a serial killer who was convicted of murdering four Connecticut women in the 1980s, chose to give up his appeals and asked the court to kill him.

The families of his victims said they felt justice was served.

“Finally justice has been served,” said Debbie Dupris, whose sister, Robin Stavinsky, was murdered by Ross, as reported by CNN. “And I know that our sister, Robin Dawn Stavinsky, is looking down upon us at this moment and I know that she will rest easier knowing that that person who ended her life no longer has the privilege of having his own.”

Meghann Bray, a student at Norwalk Community College, shares the same views as Dupis and the other families.

“I am for the death penalty,” she said, “especially if someone is in jail for murder. They killed somebody so what’s the point in them being able to live if they took somebody else’s life?”

While Bray and the families of Ross’s victims agree that the death penalty is necessary, in 1972 in the case of Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional.

Five out of the nine supreme justices voted against sentencing three prisoners, two of which were on trial for murder and one for rape, to death.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, said that the death penalty and the way judgments were made in those cases followed discriminatory patterns.

“These discretionary statutes are unconstitutional in their operation,” he said. “They are pregnant with discrimination and discrimination is an ingredient not compatible with the idea of equal protection of the laws that is implicit in the ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishments.’”

According to Evans, this year is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision to abolish the death penalty – a verdict that lasted only four years.

“It was a very big decision that unfortunately didn’t last,” Evans said.

To understand why Amnesty International believes the death penalty should be repealed now, Evans said people have to examine why it had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1972.

“The death penalty was deemed cruel and unusual punishment,” said Evans, “and offensive to human dignity.”

Evans said another reason the death penalty should be repealed is that death row defendants are determined in random and unfair and illogical ways.

“There’s no rhyme or reason for why somebody would get the death penalty,” he said. “It depends a lot on the wealth of the county it occurred in – not how serious the crime was.”

Death penalty sentences are also determined by the defendant’s ability to afford a good lawyer, according to Evans.

Statistics show that there is also a racist undertone in regards to death penalty sentences. About half of homicide victims are African American, yet the vast majority of death row defendants have been executed for killing white victims. There’s also a disproportionate number of executed African Americans and Hispanics, said McClease.

Liberal studies major Marcus Lewis said he agrees that the death penalty is applied unfairly.

“After seeing the statistics,” he said, “I kind of feel that it’s slanted.”

According to Evans, 88 percent of criminologists agree the death penalty does not deter murder more than other punishments.

Murder victims’ families often feel capital punishment does no justice for their loved one, according to McClease.

“A lot of my research of families of victims shows that the idea of retribution wasn’t helpful,” she said. “It didn’t change the fact that their loved one was murdered.”

McClease said she urges students to lobby for the repeal of the death penalty on Wednesday, Feb 29.

“I hope students go to be a part of the legislative party,” she said.

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