ACLU of Massachusetts Decries Federal Imposition of Death Penalty Charge in Local Murder Case

December 23, 2003

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BOSTON - The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts today decried the imposition of the federal death penalty in the case of Gary Sampson.

Sampson was originally charged by the state with first-degree murder and did not face the death penalty. But when a local prosecutor referred the case to federal officials, federal prosecutors opted to seek the death penalty

"What is particularly troubling is that the decision to bring the death penalty back to Massachusetts was not made by the people of Massachusetts through their elected officials. Rather, it was made by a handful of federal officials who have sought to impose the death penalty in states like Massachusetts that historically have declined to impose this punishment," said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

"It has been more than half a century since anyone from Massachusetts has been executed," Rose noted. "Even in the aftermath of gruesome murders, Massachusetts since 1947 has consistently rejected attempts to introduce capital punishment in the Commonwealth."

Massachusetts is one of 12 states that have declined to impose a death penalty. In March 2001, in a 94-60 vote, a majority of the state House of Representatives again declined to reinstate the death penalty.

"There appears to be a conscious decision by federal officials to bring federal death penalty cases in states where there is no death penalty," says Rose. "In so doing, they have taken the decision about capital punishment out of the hands of the people of Massachusetts and put it into the hands of a few federal prosecutors."

Among the reasons the ACLU of Massachusetts opposes the imposition of the death penalty are:

  • Credible empirical evidence has shown that innocent people can and have been put to death in states that have capital punishment. Over 400 people have been wrongly convicted in the United States of capital crimes since the beginning of the 20th century - including at least 22 people in Massachusetts - most recently, Shawn Drumgold, who was recently released and charges against him dropped after he was wrongly convicted in 1989 for first-degree murder despite conflicting testimonies and widespread doubts about his guilt.
  • Credible empirical evidence shows that the death penalty does not create a deterrent to future crimes. Massachusetts is a low homicide rate state, particularly when compared to high homicide rates in most death penalty states.
  • The death penalty is contrary to fundamental notions of human rights. The United States is the only major country of the Western world that tolerates the death penalty. 
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