Reporters Expose Cruelty, Flaws in Death Penalty

December 9, 1999 12:00 am

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Washington – Activists against the death penalty, including the ACLU, often feel that they are fighting a losing battle. But in recent months, abolitionists have been heartened by articles opposing the death penalty which have appeared in several major newspapers.

Most recently, on December 5th, the St. Petersburg Times published two such articles. The first, entitled “Does the State of Florida Really Need to Execute This Man?” argues passionately against the execution of Freddie Lee Hall, a convicted murderer. Hall, the article notes, has brain damage and an IQ of 60, was tortured by his mother, and “thinks he is cursed by the ?Root Man.'” The piece describes the abuse that Lee suffered as a child, which, the article suggests, contributed to his criminal behavior as an adult.

“Is it right to execute someone so retarded or so deranged that he cannot fully comprehend his crime or his punishment?” the Times asked. The paper goes on to note that many of those who are put to death are indeed severely mentally ill and/or retarded.

The piece also describes the unfairness, flawed logic, and racism that determine, in part, who is and is not sentenced to death.

The second article, “Death Row Dean Shows How Justice System Fails,” discusses the cruel treatment of a mentally ill man on death row, also in Florida, and the prison system’s inability to deal humanely or appropriately with such inmates.

The Director of the ACLU’s Death Penalty Project, Diann Rust-Tierney, said she was pleased by the recent spate of articles revealing the cruelty and injustice of the death penalty. “Persuading the public to oppose capital punishment is the first step toward abolition,” she said. “And since the news media have a tremendous influence on public opinion, articles like this can play an important role in the fight to end the death penalty.”

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