• Don Lichterman

Death Penalty = Higher Taxes, Death Penalty Focus, Mike Farrell, 5 executions in 4 States in May!

Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty - A Project of Equal Justice USA

Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty - A Project of Equal Justice USA


The last year has been one for the history books in the movement to end the death penalty. Since last fall, we have seen three states end the use of capital punishment – one through legislative repeal of the law, one through executive action stopping all executions, and one through a judicial decision ruling the death penalty unconstitutional. If this were horse racing, we essentially just won the Triple Crown.


In New Hampshire, the legislature passed a bill to repeal the death penalty for the second time in as many years. While their governor vetoed the bill both times, this year a bipartisan coalition banded together to override his veto, making the Granite State the 21st to completely rid itself of capital punishment. The state will now save millions a year that it can redirect toward solving cold-cases and on programs that could actually prevent violence in the first place.


In California, Governor Newsom used his executive power to put a halt to executions and shutter the state’s execution chamber. After wasting over $4 billion to carry out 13 executions since reinstatement, this action couldn’t have come soon enough.


And in Washington, the state’s Supreme Court found overwhelming evidence that their system was wrought with socioeconomic and racial bias and arbitrariness, leading them to throw out the death penalty law as counter to the State’s constitution and to convert all death sentences.


These are huge victories, but they aren’t the only signs of success. This year, 10 states have seen Republican-sponsored legislation introduced to repeal the death penalty. Louisiana passed a bill out of committee; Ohio’s house passed a bill to prevent those with severe mental illness from being executed; Wyoming fell only four votes shy of passing repeal, and Ohio’s governor halted executions as he continues to study the constitutionality of lethal injection drugs. Click here to learn more!


Death Penalty Focus (DPF) President Mike Farrell explains why we can’t sit back in the wake of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium.


New Hampshire repeals its death penalty, the 21st state in the union and last state in New England, to do so.


DPF is building on the momentum of the moratorium and the victory in New Hampshire with new leadership and a new location.


The South shows no sign in slowing down its pace of executions, with four states killing five men in the past few weeks.Florida’s first African-American state attorney announces she won’t run for re-election, a disappointing decision for abolitionists everywhere.A new study finds that the death penalty means higher taxes, fewer services.


You’ll find all that, plus a quick rundown of death penalty developments around the country, and a few reading suggestions below.

DPF President Mike Farrell takes note of the increasingly ugly rhetoric coming from a group of death penalty supporters, and says we can’t be complacent in the wake of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium. “The struggle is ours to win, but it’s not over,” he says. Read More


New Hampshire repeals its death penalty Twenty-one years after New Hampshire legislator Renny Cushing introduced his first bill to repeal the death penalty, he was finally successful last month when the legislature overrode Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto, and abandoned capital punishment. Twenty one states have now outlawed the barbaric punishment, and four others have moratoria in place. In addition, the repeal means no state in New England has the death penalty.


“Our efforts do pay off even if, as in New Hampshire, it takes decades,” DPF President Mike Farrell says.


For Rep. Cushing, it was a personal as well as a political victory. Both Cushing’s father and brother-in-law were murdered in separate incidents, and Cushing has long decried the cycle of violence that the death penalty perpetuates.


“I know firsthand that the pain and trauma from losing a loved one to violent crime will never dissipate. Today’s vote will ensure that this cycle of pain, which only creates more and more victims in its wake, will no longer be perpetuated by our state government,” Cushing said in astatement released after the vote.


The override wouldn’t have been possible, of course, without the votes of Republican legislators. In her Atlantic article, “GOP Lawmakers Are Quietly Turning Against the Death Penalty,” Madeleine Carlisle points out that, “New Hampshire is one of a growing number of states where Republicans . . . are joining Democrats to push for a ban.”


She says there are several reasons conservatives are increasingly opposed to the death penalty, but believes the basic reason is exemplified by two of the New Hampshire Republicans who voted for repeal. Rep. David Welch, whose wife died on Christmas Day 2016, and Sen. Bob Guida, whose wife lives in a vegetative state, both cited their personal experiences as motivating factors in their becoming death penalty opponents. “That type of deeply intimate answer may be why Republicans and Democrats in New Hampshire, and in other states, are joining together to scrap death-penalty laws, even as they remain deeply polarized on a whole set of other issues,” Carlisle writes.


New Hampshire has not executed anyone since 1939. The only person on death row is David Addison, who was convicted of killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006. The repeal does not apply retroactively.


Four states, five executions. The machinery of death was in high gear in the South in May. Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida each killed a man, and Alabama executed two.


Georgia began the month by executing Scotty Garnell Morrow on May 2 for the 1994 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Barbara Ann Young, and her friend, Tonya Woods. He was also convicted of shooting a third woman, LaToya Horne, who survived. Morrow, who apologized to the friends and family members of the victims in his last statement, had his spiritual advisor, an imam, with him in the death chamber. His was Georgia’s first execution this year.


Alabama executed two prisoners, both of whom were teenagers at the time of their alleged crimes. And both had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse as children.


Michael Samra was 19 when he confessed to helping Mark Duke kill his father, Randy Duke, Duke’s fiancee Dedra Mims Hunt, and her two young daughters, Chelsea Marie and Chelisa Nicole Hunt, in 1997. Both Samra and Duke, who was 16 at the time of the murders, were sentenced to death, but Duke’s death sentence was commuted in 2005, after the Supreme Court found in Roper v. Simmons that it was unconstitutional to execute a defendant who was younger than 18 at the time of the crime. According to AL.com, Samra’s lawyers had argued in a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court that “evolving standards of decency” called for a ban on the execution of defendants who were under the age of 21 at the time of their crimes, but the Court declined to review his case.


Christopher Lee Price was also 19 when he was charged in the 1991 murder of pastor Bill Lynn in the course of a home robbery. He was sentenced to death by a vote of 10-2 in 1993.


According to CBS News, his execution was delayed while state officials waited for a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on a request for a stay Price’s lawyers had filed. They argued that Price had a federal lawsuit pending challenging the state’s lethal injection protocol which was scheduled to be heard this month but, over the objections of Justice Stephen Breyer, the court voted 5-4 to allow the execution to proceed.


Price’s last words were “A man is much more than his worst mistake,” according to CBS News.

Florida executed 65-year-old Bobby Joe Long for the murder of Michelle Denise Simms in 1984. Long had confessed to killing 10 women and raping dozens of others over an eight-month period in 1984, but ultimately pleaded guilty to killing eight women, and in 1985, was sentenced to death for Simms’ murder.


Finally, Tennessee executed Don Johnson for the murder of his wife, Connie, in 1984. Johnson was a very different man from the one who walked onto death row all those years ago. He became a Seventh Day Adventist, and was ordained by that church as a deacon because of the ministry work he had done with other condemned prisoners. Church officials and members, as well as Johnson’s stepdaughter, had asked the state to spare his life.

Nevertheless, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee who, according to the Times Free Press, was elected last year after a “campaign that centered on his religious faith,” refused to grant clemency to Johnson in spite of his conversion and his good works in prison.


The day before he was killed, Johnson released a letter in which he wrote, “I truly regret my life and what I became in the process. I will continue to carry the pain of all the grief that I have caused others to endure.”


Johnson’s execution is the first of four Tennessee is planning for this year. Last year, after a nine-year hiatus, the state killed three prisoners.


Florida SA Aramis Ayala won’t run for reelection. Stating that, “After the Florida Supreme Court’s decision on the death penalty, it became abundantly clear to me that the death penalty law in the state of Florida is in direct conflict with my view and my vision for the administration of justice,” Aramis Ayala announced that she will not seek re-election as Orange-Osceola State Attorney.


Ayala made the announcement in a video  posted on her Facebook page.


Soon after she was elected in 2016, Ayala declared that she would no longer seek the death penalty in murder cases prosecuted in her district. In response, then-Gov. Rick Scott re-assigned approximately 24 of her office’s homicide cases to a prosecutor in another district. Ayala challenged the decision, and in 2017, the Florida Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision, ruled in favor of Scott. (The majority opinion was written by a judge who had been appointed to the Supreme Court months earlier by Scott.)


After the ruling, Ayala convened a Death Penalty Review Panel of seven assistant state attorneys to assess first degree murder cases in her district and recommend charges.

In her Facebook statement Ayala, the first African-American state attorney in Florida history, said that her efforts to diversify the SA’s office “to better reflect the rich diversity of the community in which we live,” meant she was able to “raise the standard of prosecutorial accountability.”


Ayala will remain in office until her term is up in 2020.


Study: The death penalty means higher taxes; fewer services. “I have no reason to believe government officials are deliberately hiding the way they pay for capital trials, but I do believe taxpayers in death penalty states are paying for these trials in ways they would not realize.”


And some of the ways they’re paying, according to West Virginia University Economics Professor Alexander Lundberg in his recently published paper, “On the Public Finance of Capital Punishment,” is by paying higher property taxes. “Counties meet the expense of trial by raising property tax rates and by reducing public safety expenditure. Property crime rises as a consequence of the latter,” he explained in an email.


While Lundberg says that “in some cases” county officials are open about raising taxes or reallocating funds from other areas, some “may not even be aware of the trade-off. They could simply look at a budget deficit and try to handle it by raising taxes and cutting spending in the most accessible targets.”


He says what was most surprising to him was the link between capital trials and property crime.


“Although we know police deter crime, I was surprised to find counties often cut spending on police to fund these trials.” He says Katherine Baicker, dean of the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and Law Professor and Founding Director of the West Virginia Innocence Project Valena Beety both have found evidence of cuts to road and bridge spending as well.


Lundberg focused on Texas — which he says is “typical of how most death penalty states operate” — because of its “data availability and financial transparency.” The state “publishes the outcomes of all capital trials and requires counties to have independent auditors provide annual financial statements.” And because it holds more death penalty trials than most other states, it “offers an exceptional opportunity to study how counties respond to the fiscal shock of capital trials.”


While Lundberg doesn’t believe governments are trying to hide how they pay for capital trials, he does think, “Support for the death penalty would decrease if citizens knew its true cost to them personally. I think most people would be surprised to learn they pay higher taxes and get fewer government services, like policing, to maintain the death penalty.”

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