ACLU Calls For Pennsylvania to Become Third State To Enact Death Penalty Moratorium

May 16, 2002 12:00 am

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Statement of Larry Frankel, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania


PHILADELPHIA– The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is once again calling on Pennsylvania to enact a death penalty moratorium. We urge our elected officials to demonstrate the kind of compassion and courage displayed by the Governors of Maryland and Illinois and make Pennsylvania the third state in the country to suspend its use of the death penalty.

With us today are Ray Krone and William Nieves, two men who had at one time been sentenced to death. Krone, who grew up in Pennsylvania, spent over two years on Arizona s death row for a crime that even the prosecutors concede he did not commit. Krone is the 100th person in this nation to have been released from death row thanks to evidence of innocence. Nieves, who was granted a new trial, was acquitted at his second trial and released from Pennsylvania s death row in 2000.

Whether one supports or opposes the death penalty, it is time for our leaders to recognize the magnitude of the problems plaguing our nation s death penalty system. Because these problems exist in Pennsylvania, the ACLU urges the General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 25, introduced by Senator Edward Helfrick (R-Northumberland County); and House Bill 1111, introduced by Representative John Myers (D-Philadelphia). These bills would implement a moratorium in Pennsylvania.

Our nation s death penalty system allows for too many mistakes. Although many of these problems have been identified and discussed, we have never really addressed them. As the cases of the now more than 100 innocent people released from death row show, the credibility of our criminal justice system has been compromised by the failure to utilize DNA testing, use of false or mistaken testimony, prosecutorial misconduct, police misconduct, faulty expert testimony, and jailhouse snitches. Ineffective and incompetent defense lawyers have also contributed to miscarriages of justice.

The case of William Nieves amply shows that these problems exist in Pennsylvania. Nieves, who was sent to death row in 1994, was granted a new trial on account of ineffective assistance of counsel. Evidence that had previously been withheld from Nieves was presented at his second trial. Because this exculpatory evidence was available to his new lawyer, Nieves was acquitted and released from prison in 2000.

In America, and in Pennsylvania, we have a double standard of justice: one for the rich and another for the poor. A rich man can hire a lawyer who will investigate the facts and skillfully prepare and present a defense. For a poor man, justice too often means relying on a lawyer who may be inexperienced, ill-prepared and lacking in adequate resources to prepare an effective defense.

In Pennsylvania four men have been released from death row, one more than the number of people executed since the death penalty was reinstated. Thirty-eight states have the death penalty; 24 of them have released people from death row. The number of errors in so many states points out that there is too great a chance of executing an innocent person. Now is the time for Pennsylvania s legislators and Governor Schweiker to take a fresh look at the death penalty. A system that narrowly avoided executing an innocent person such as William Nieves cannot be called successful or equitable.

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