ACLU Responds to the Execution of Timothy McVeigh

June 11, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON–The execution of Timothy McVeigh today only strengthens our resolve in calling for a moratorium on federal executions in the United States.

Some will say that justice has been done today. But despite the millions of dollars spent on McVeigh’s defense, the FBI’s failure to turn over thousands of potentially crucial documents to his defense attorneys highlights systemic problems with the administration of the death penalty in the United States.

There can be no justice either when 80 percent of federal death row convictions can apparently be attributed more to geography and skin color than to the heinousness of the crimes.

Timothy McVeigh’s face has been on the cover of newspapers and magazines and displayed daily on television, but his face is not the everyday face of the death penalty. Invariably, that face is black or brown, and invariably that person comes from a state like Texas or Florida where a majority of federal death penalty convictions originate.

One such example is Juan Raul Garza, who is scheduled to be executed on June 19. Last year, President Clinton halted Garza’s execution after an internal Justice Department survey revealed stark racial and regional disparities in the federal government’s decision to seek the death penalty.

According to the government’s own survey, nearly 70 percent of federal capital defendants are Black and Hispanic, and less than one-third of the states are responsible for over half of the capital prosecutions in the federal system.

But last week, in a remarkable — and frankly unbelievable — switch of positions, Attorney General Ashcroft declared that there was no significant racial and geographic disparity in the imposition of the death penalty by the federal government and that he would not authorize further study of the matter. Ashcroft now states that “he knows of no reason not to proceed with the Garza execution.”

There are members of Congress who believe that the original Justice Department study should continue and that until these serious disparities are resolved, there can be no further federal executions.

This week, a Senate subcommittee will be holding hearings on racial and geographic disparities in the death penalty. The chairman of that subcommittee, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-WI has introduced legislation, which the ACLU vigorously supports, that would impose a moratorium on federal executions while creating a National Commission on the Death Penalty to review fairness in the administration of capital punishment.

We urge all Americans to contact their representatives in support of this legislation. Before one more federal execution is carried out, the federal government has an obligation to ensure that the sentence of death will be imposed with justice, fairness and due process.

Whether the government chooses to face established facts or not, criminal justice in this country is not color-blind. Until the Administration understands and accepts that reality, entire groups of American citizens will have serious cause to question the integrity of the criminal justice system in the United States.

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