Students Converge on Pennsylvania's Capitol to Protest the Death Penalty

October 10, 2003 12:00 am

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Rally Caps Student Conference Featuring First Governor to Commute Death Sentences Statewide and Death Row Exoneree Ray Krone


HARRISBURG, PA–High school and college students will rally on the steps of the state capitol tomorrow to protest the death penalty, following a day of conference and workshops sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Students Against the Death Penalty at Grace United Methodist Church. Keynote speakers are former Illinois Governor George Ryan, who commuted the sentences of all 167 Illinois death row inmates before leaving office in 2003; and Ray Krone, released from Arizona’s death row in 2002 following ten years imprisonment.

The conference is the second such event sponsored by Students Against the Death Penalty, a group co-chaired by Morgan MacDonald and John Noble, youth leaders in the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. “Like all Americans, students are increasingly concerned about the systemic unfairness in our death penalty system, and we are eager to take a leadership role in opposing the death penalty,” said MacDonald.

Noble noted that research by undergraduate journalism students at Illinois’ Northwestern University helped to exonerate a death row inmate and called attention to the inequities of the State’s death sentencing system, which in turn led to Governor Ryan’s decision to commute all death sentences in the state.

“Governor Ryan’s participation in this student-led event is especially appropriate because of the role college students played in the Illinois death penalty debates,” he said.

At the conference, high school and college students from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Deleware and the District of Columbia will join their Pennsylvania peers in workshops designed to provide detailed background on the death penalty and to help students strategize follow-up actions to target the death penalty at the state and national level.

The conference is part of an ACLU initiative to reach out to young people nationwide through the creation of youth departments at ACLU affiliates, the establishment of the Students Against the Death Penalty program, and the recent College Freedom Tour bringing political forums and hip hop concerts to eight college campuses from Florida to Washington State.

The Harrisburg conference calls special attention to Pennsylvania’s death penalty system. With 241 prisoners, the Pennsylvania has the fourth largest death row in the country; 167 (69 percent) of inmates are people of color. Pennsylvania is one of 22 states that allow death sentences for juvenile offenders. While there have been no executions in Pennsylvania since 1999, four innocent people have been freed since 1986 — two of them in the past three years.

The conference takes place at a time of increasing attention to the inequities of the death penalty system and activism to end the death penalty. The weekend of October 10-12, when the conference takes place, has been named National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty by Amnesty International USA. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty will hold a major conference in Nashville, Tennessee, October 16-19.

For more information on the day’s events, go to

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