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one of America's most brilliant trial lawyers, Professor Anthony Amsterdam of the University of Pennsylvania. Though Negroes believe that in certain states black men are more likely than white men to be sentenced to death, the NAACP's Legal Defence Division is acting for all the poor, irrespective of race.
Florida and California are the states with the largest number of men under sentence of death-51 in Florida, 60 in California-out of a total of about 400 in the whole country. Though juries continue to order capital punishment, their orders are seldom carried out. In both states in recent years the courts and Governors opposed to the death penalty have stayed the executions. But this year new Governors were sworn in who declared themselves willing to let the death penalty be exacted-Governor Kirk in Florida, Governor Reagan in California, both Republicans who replaced Democrats. With ordinary people frightened by the increase in crime, State Legislatures have been incapable of abolishing capital punishment. "It was the prospect of wholesale slaughter which stirred us to act", said one NAACP lawyer.
Petitions were filed in Florida in March and in California in July and have been accepted by federal judges in both states, at least to the point of ordering certain facts to be examined, a process which appears to ensure a halt to all executions until the two suits are settled. Like most momentous constitutional controversies this promises to take years and is full of fine points which are hard for the layman to understand. But the main ones are that people who favour the death penalty are allowed to serve on juries without being challenged while those who oppose it are subject to dismissal by the prosecutor; that legal aid is not available to conduct appeals after a man is convicted; and that at present the law sets no standards for arriving at the death penalty, apart from the unguided judgment of a judge or jury. It all boils down to the assertion that the death penalty is "cruel and unusual" punishment of the kind forbidden by the Constitution. Unusual it has certainly become. So far this year there has been only one execution (in California); last year there was only one.
[From the Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, Mar. 21, 1968]
NOT TOO YOUNG TO DIE-SENATE WITNESS CITES PARADOX IN EXECUTIONS (By William Grigg)
Four teen-agers, none old enough to qualify as a witness for executions, are now facing death sentences in the United States, the chairman of a college group opposing capital punishment told a Senate subcommittee today.
Douglas Lyons, 20, chairman of Citizens Against Legalized Murder, a group organized at the University of California at Berkeley, said one of the four is a 16-year-old who, when 15, killed his father with a bayonet in Ohio.
"I suppose there are people who would say that by executing this boy we are deterring other children from bayoneting their parents," Sen. Philip A. Hart, D-Mich., said.
He mentioned those who cite the phrase in the Bible, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth . .
What these people may not know, Lyons said, is that ""an eye for an eye' was a reform. It used to be two eyes," the punishment being more extreme than the crime.
Rep. Phale Hale, a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, testified that of the more than 3,000 executions in U.S. history, 178 of those executed have been teenagers.
Of the total executions, he continued, eight since 1893 have been proved to be of innocent persons.
Former Michigan Gov. G. Mennen Williams testified that there is no evidence that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime.
Asked about his kidnaping by inmates while on a visit to a state penitentiary, Williams said, "I don't think that either (kidnaper) would have been deterred by the death penalty." The state abolished the penalty in 1846..
In testimony yesterday, Clinton T. Duffy, former warden of San Quentin, said "There are no humane ways to kill."
In an electric chair execution, the prisoner cringes from torture, his flesh burns and smells and his eyeballs may literally pop out, Duffy said as he testified in support of legislation to abolish the death penalty for federal crimes.
A hanging can be particularly gruesome, Duffy said, when the neck is not broken and the convicted man slowly strangles.
All the testimony was before the Senate Subcommittee on Criminal Law. Its hearing on the death penalty is believed the first in the Senate's history, despite pleas from men going back to the time of Thomas Jefferson that the death penalty be abolished.
The bill before the subcommittee was introduced by Sen. Hart whose state is one of 13 that have abolished the penalty.
The District of Columbia death penalty also would be eliminated by the Hart bill. It was last used in 1957 when Robert E. Carter, a Negro, was electrocuted for the murder of a policeman in 1953.
The Hart bill also would end the death penalties for military crimes such as desertion and cowardice.
[From the Washington Post, Feb. 19, 1968]
There was a nobility and moral fervor in Theodore R. McKeldin's derogation of himself for having permitted four executions while he was Governor of Maryland that commanded the highest respect and the fullest forgiveness. "I am ashamed to say I hanged four men," the former Governor told a legislative hearing at Annapolis on Wednesday. "The public clamor was such that I yielded to it. May God forgive me."
Not Theodore McKeldin alone but every citizen of the Free State shared in the barbarism and blasphemy of those executions. Like all executions, they were barbarous because they constituted an application of the law of the jungle-the stark retribution of an eye for an eye. And as Mr. McKeldin observed, "There's no evidence that the execution of one murderer ever deterred another from committing a similar crime." They were blasphemous because they arrogated to mere humans a divine authority. "The vengeance that sends a man out of this world into eternity is not ours but the Lord's," Mr. McKeldin said.
Maryland has had an object lesson just lately in the reckless folly of capital punishment. It came very close to executing John and James Giles and Joseph Johnson for a crime they probably did not commit and for which, in any case, they were convicted by grossly improper means. No rectification would have been possible had they been sent to the gas chamber.
Maryland is now considering two bills to abolish the death penalty. The time is overdue for its citizens to acknowledge the limitations of human judgment and to bring the state into conformity with the civilized restraints on punishment now accepted in a number of states and under consideration in many more. The conclusive argument against capital punishment in our view is that it constitutes an official denial of the sanctity of life. Thus it fosters the very irreverence it is intended to prevent.