February 8, 2000
volume 11, no. 27
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NEWS & VIEWS     Acknowledgments
Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

Clinton studies suspension of Federal Death Penalty for too many erroneous sentences raise serious questions

    CHICAGO-WASHINGTON, D.C., 7 (NE)(ZENIT) - In a recent public statement, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, praised the decision taken by Gov. George Ryan to impose a moratorium on Illinois' death penalty until its procedures have been reviewed, topic in which many North American bishops have been insisting and which has been clearly denounced by Pope John Paul II during his visit to St. Louis last year. The Cardinal emphasized that it is the "first Governor of the 38 states with capital punishment to halt all executions until the procedures of the death penalty are reviewed." "A good response to violence in our neighborhoods is not capital punishment but, rather, the ongoing reform of the legal and correctional systems, the strengthening of family life and other ties, and the fostering of respect for the dignity of all human life," the Archbishop of Chicago affirmed.

    Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C. ZENIT reports that the debate about capital punishment has reached the desk of the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who is currently studying the possibility of suspending the death penalty at the federal level, just days after a similar measure was taken by the governor of Illinois.

    Joe Lockhart, spokesman for the President, confessed that the leader is "concerned" about the decision of Governor George Ryan to suspend the death penalty in order to undertake an exhaustive study about the manner in which it is applied.

    Ryan imposed a moratorium on executions in his state confronted with the fear that innocent people might die. In fact, from 1976 to date, Illinois has executed twelve prisoners, but has had to release thirteen people who had been unjustly convicted and sentenced to death. With further resources or new investigations, the condemned parties were able to demonstrate the mistakes made by the Courts.

    The petition Clinton will analyze at the federal level was presented by Senator Russ Feingold (Democrat, Wisconsin). Besides asking for a moratorium, Feingold requested that Clinton order the Minister of Justice, Janet Reno, to conduct a study regarding the form in which the death penalty has been applied at the federal level, "in light of the serious interrogatives raised in Illinois."

    The decision to study the problem was made known hours after the Supreme Court suspended, without further explanations, the execution of a convicted murderer assassin in the State of Alabama. He had appealed his case on the grounds that the electric chair constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

    Capital punishment was reestablished in the United States in 1976. Since then, more than 500 prisoners have been executed, a third of them in the state of Texas; some three thousand people are on death row in America's penitentiaries.

    Execution for more common crimes, generally homicides, falls under the jurisdiction of state authorities. The death penalty becomes the decision of the central government when federal crimes such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, or attacks on federal institutions are involved.

    According to Feingold, of 21 people condemned to death by federal courts, at least 15 are come from minorities. The first convict to be executed for a federal crime since 1993 would likely be Juan Raśl Garza, a Hispanic prisoner who has run out of appeals. ZE00020710


February 8, 2000
volume 11, no. 27

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