ACLU Statement on the Execution of Timothy McVeigh

April 16, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON–The impending execution of Timothy McVeigh should not and will not derail the growing call for a moratorium on federal executions.

Certainly no one disagrees that McVeigh’s case received enormous defense resources and media attention and that he was convicted of a horrible act of terrorism. But the spectacle of his execution on May 16 cannot obscure the fact that our system of federal and statesanctioned executions is arbitrary and unfair, and infected with injustice and racism.

Nor can the enormity of the crime for which McVeigh was convicted and condemned to death eradicate the growing public realization that innocent people also have been convicted and condemned to death by a fatally flawed criminal justice system.

As study after study has shown, the vast majority of death row prisoners are people of color with few financial resources who are represented by overworked attorneys who do not have access to anywhere near the resources the McVeigh team had.

Some call McVeigh’s execution justice. But if it is true that McVeigh has received adequate due process and adequate counsel, it would be a fair punishment for him to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Further, anyone who is concerned about justice in America should be concerned that 80 percent of federal death row convictions can be attributed more to geography and skin color than to the heinousness of the crimes. That fact alone shows that we need to declare a moratorium on any further federal executions until our government can complete the studies that it has said are necessary to determine whether race plays a factor in deciding who is executed in the United States.

Right now, no other issue is pushing the United States further apart from its allies than the death penalty. The costs to our country in terms of global stature and vital cooperation from the international community are substantial. Our moral authority on the subject of human rights violations has been seriously compromised.

As May 16 approaches, the world will be watching as our leaders preside over yet another execution. But who will be watching as our courts continue to mete out this ultimate punishment with appalling indifference to fundamental fairness?

A system that would enact justice must first itself be just. The ACLU will continue to work with families of victims, religious and civil rights leaders, and growing numbers of other concerned citizens, to chart a course away from the cycle of violence which the death penalty embraces.

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