ACLU Condemns Texas Execution of 62-Year-Old Great Grandmother

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
February 24, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union opposes tonight’s scheduled execution of Betty Lou Beets, a 62-year-old great-grandmother who will be only the fourth woman executed since the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976.

Any discomfort at the prospect of a woman’s execution only underscores what should be our discomfort with this practice. Any aversion to killing Beets should encourage a healthy aversion to the practice as a whole.

We have learned to casually watch the government execute a disproportionate number of black men, juveniles, those with mental retardation, those with incompetent lawyers, those who are innocent, and those whose victims are disproportionately white. Now that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied Beets’ appeal for clemency, we are asked to inure ourselves to watching yet another woman be executed by the state.

Why is it that a torch-bearer nation that prides itself on hope, equality, and justice is the only industrialized country in the world that not only sentences people to death by firing squad, hanging, and electrocution, but does so in the face of proof that death row sentencing practices are economically, racially, and gender-biased and do not deter crime?

The issue of gender, which has so occupied the public in this case — as well as in Texas’ 1998 execution of Karla Faye Tucker — is a determining factor in who receives a death sentence and who is executed. During the 1980s and early 1990s, only about 1 percent of all those on death row were women, even though women commit about 15 percent of all criminal homicides. Significantly, a third or more of the women under death sentence were guilty of killing men who had victimized them with years of violent abuse. Equally significant, since 1930, only 33 women (12 of them black) have been executed in the United States.

As the state that has carried out more executions then any other, Texas should follow the example of Illinois and take a long, hard look at the unjust and discriminatory practice of state sanctioned murder.

Just recently, Illinois republican Governor Ryan, a supporter of the capital punishment, suspended the state death penalty system in order to carefully examine how the death penalty process works — or rather, doesn’t work — to ensure that innocent people were not put to death. That action should be the first, tangible step towards that ultimate goal of ending sanctioned violence not only in Illinois but across the nation.

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