Monday, November 12, 2012

Philadelphia Inquirer Calls for Moratorium on Death Penalty

Inquirer Editorial: Execution stay points to need for a moratorium

As near as Pennsylvania came Thursday to carrying out the state's first execution in more than a decade, there is still time for Gov. Corbett to enact the moratorium sought by a bipartisan legislative task force studying whether the death penalty makes any sense.

There's no doubt that the eleventh-hour reprieve for convicted York County killer Hubert L. Michael Jr. - affirmed in a rare move by the U.S. Supreme Court - lifts a rock on critical flaws in the capital punishment system.

But the brief, two-week stay issued to allow a federal judge to explain his denial of Michael's petition to escape death row provides too little time to determine whether justice would be served by his execution.
There's also a broader constitutional issue that must be resolved before any date is kept with the state's executioner: A pending class-action lawsuit legitimately calls into question whether the use of a lethal injection amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Going ahead with Michael's execution also would violate the spirit of Supreme Court rulings that limit the death penalty for defendants with psychological problems. The court now bans executing the mentally retarded, as well as juveniles, who, due to their youth, have a limited grasp of the impact of their crimes.
A step further toward the United States' joining most other Western democracies in scrapping the death penalty would be to exclude the severely mentally ill, which is pertinent in Michael's case. Suffering for years from what attorneys describe as serious mental problems, Michael, 56, has gone back and forth on appealing his sentence.

So, the state Attorney General's Office should not be allowed to assert that Michael lost his right to fight execution because he once appeared to accept it. Since there's no rush to execute someone for a crime dating to 1993, the courts must have time to explore legal avenues that point out the wrongfulness of this punishment.

Beyond scrutinizing one killer's pleas, the events surrounding preparations for an execution illustrate the needless costs capital punishment entails. The endless legal proceedings are a given. There's also the enormous emotional toll on relatives and friends of victims during the lengthy appeals process.
Last week, those closest to Michael's young victim - Trista Eng, 16 - wept before state pardons officials. Ending capital punishment would spare all victims' families that anguish, offering them the hope of closure and some measure of peace. Corbett has the power to begin that healing by declaring a moratorium.

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