ACLU Encouraged By Rush of Republican Support for Innocence Protection; Urges House to Move Quickly and Prevent Further Innocent Executions

May 14, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Encouraged by a recent onrush of support for a bill designed to reduce the number of innocent men and women who are mistakenly executed in America, the American Civil Liberties Union today said that Congress must act quickly to turn this legislation into law and combat such executions.

“By now, more than 100 wrongly sentenced people have been released from death row, a fact that begs the question: how many more mistakes have been made that tragically have not been caught?” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Legislation desperately needs to be in place to require far more stringent protections against the execution of an innocent person, an act which is nothing less than the greatest violation of liberty imaginable.”

The ACLU’s remarks came today in response to the announcement by Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-MA) and Ray LaHood (R-IL) that their bill has now, with the help of an unnamed “conservative, pro-death penalty Republican,” been pushed over the 218-cosponsor mark in the House, giving it majority support. The bill – titled the Innocence Protection Act (HR 912) – would utilize DNA evidence and more competent legal counsel to seal a number of cracks in the current death penalty system that have resulted in the execution of innocent persons.

Reps. Delahunt and LaHood are set to hold a news conference this afternoon on the bill’s recent strides forward in Congress. Their move comes in the wake of Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning’s decision to suspend executions while that state undertakes a thorough review of its death penalty system. The ACLU urged Congress to undertake a similar study on the national level.

“Besides passing the Innocence Protection Act, we urge Congress to pass the Senate’s National Death Penalty Moratorium Act, a bill that would create a two-year national bi-partisan commission and suspend federal executions during the study,” King said.

“When it comes to the death penalty, the stakes could not be higher. We have seen too many errors and flaws in the system result in too many tragic executions,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, Director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project. “Congress needs to do the responsible thing and make sure our criminal justice system is not killing innocent people.”

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