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Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA  02140




Death Penalty Information

"People have a hard time understanding why someone would confess to something they did not do.  But what happened in my case was not so much a confession as it was brainwashing."

Gary Gauger, exonerated from death row, son of murder victims Morris and Ruth Gauger

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A Brief Background on Capital Punishment

In 1976, capital punishment was reinstated in the United States following a four-year moratorium after the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1972.  Since that time, nearly one thousand men and women have been executed in the United States.  Astounding as it may seem, over one hundred have also been exonerated and released from death row when it was discovered upon post-conviction investigation, often by independent parties, that they were not guilty of the crime of which they were accused and convicted.

Out of this deeply flawed institution has come much controversy and misery.  Family members of the executed have been made orphans, widows, and childless.  Family members of the victims have been re-victimized over and over by mandatory appeals and overwhelming media attention on the offender.  Executions have seen the ranks of quiet, hymn-singing protestors outside the prison walls confronted by groups of frying-pan waving hecklers.  And, internationally, executions are carried out with brutal methods and public beheadings.  And yet, crime continues.

We must ask ourselves, "Why does this practice persist?"  For all of its adverse personal and social impact, why does the death penalty continue to be practiced in the world?  Do we rape rapists?  Do we burn down arsonists' homes?  Do we beat batterers?  Why does homicide fall into a different category of crime and punishment?

Consider the following facts about the death penalty:

  Of the thirty eight states with the death penalty, twenty-two execute those whose crimes were committed while juveniles, under the age of 18, despite mounting evidence against the suitability of such punishment based on incomplete brain development in juveniles and their inability to fully understand the consequences of their actions.

  Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Texas has executed over 300 individuals, yet Texas is admittedly no safer with regards to crime rates than any of the twelve states that do not have capital punishment.

  Canada, the closest geographical and social equivalent to the United States, has not had the death penalty for many years and suffers no adverse social effects as a result.

  Many individuals who maintain their support for the death penalty cite various passages from the Old Testament in their defense, yet nearly every major religion and denomination has a public statement denouncing the death penalty as an ineffective and socially destructive punishment.  (See Religious Statements on the Links page)

  Over 100 men have been released from death row, exonerated of crimes they did not commit.  In nearly every case, the only reason the errors in prosecution and criminal investigation were exposed was due to the work of third-party groups and individuals investigating the cases, not by the appeals process.  In Illinois, over eighteen men have been exonerated, some of them due to the efforts of a class of journalism students at Northwestern University Law School who were assigned to investigate questionable death penalty cases as a class project.

  In order to seat a jury in a death penalty case, a juror must be "death eligible."  That is, the prospective juror must be willing to convict the accused knowing that a sentence of death is a possibility.  In this way, the accused already has the deck stacked against him or her as no one who conscientiously opposes the death penalty is likely to be accepted as a juror.

  Despite being twelve percent of the population, blacks make up 35% of those who have been executed for their crimes and 42% of all death row inmates.  The overwhelming majority (80%) of their victims were white, even though nationally only 50% of murder victims are white.

  Less than 2% of all murder cases are tried as capital cases, creating an enormous disparity between homicide victims' families which can be very difficult to bridge when providing victim services.

  Many victims who oppose the death penalty are denied their legal rights as crime victims as defined by the laws of their states.  They are often not allowed to give victim impact statements at trial, not notified of hearings in a timely manner, denied victim services because they are "pro-defendant," and even excluded from the courtroom during trials by the prosecution.

  Expenses related to the conviction and execution of Timothy McVeigh amounted to over $13 million, yet the victims of the families of the Oklahoma City Bombing received only $250,000 to divide amongst themselves for victim services.

The death penalty is a remarkably unforgiving punishment.  Once exacted, it can never be taken back.  Mistakes in overzealous prosecution take place, that much us certain.  How can our society remain the only westernized country that perpetuates homicide's violence with capital punishment?  How can prosecutors seek the death penalty because society "owes it to the victim's family" when a particular victim's family does not require a life in exchange for a life?

Members of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights know that killing is wrong because we have experienced it first-hand.  The reasons we oppose capital punishment vary.  Our opinions about forgiveness, restitution, reconciliation, and the criminal justice system vary.  But one thing is certain, we all agree that the death penalty should not be a part of our culture.  It should not be the final word on violence in society.  We will work to rid it from our midst, worldwide.

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