Tag Archives: Death Penalty

New Hampshire Debates Death Penalty Repeal

Will New Hampshire be the next state to repeal the death penalty? Last Wednesday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to repeal the death penalty by an overwhelming 225-104 vote.

The repeal bill now heads to the state Senate, where passage is somewhat less certain, and then to Governor Maggie Hassan, who has pledged to sign it. Still, its passage out of the state House is significant. The New Hampshire House, with 400 members, is the largest state legislative chamber in the country and is famously unruly. This crucial bill nonetheless passed with a strong bipartisan majority. Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), whose father was murdered in 1988, spearheaded passage of the bill, powerfully stating, “If we let those who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs.”

Should the bill pass the state Senate, New Hampshire would become the 19th state to abolish the death penalty, and the seventh to do so in the last several years. Much of this momentum comes from an increasing awareness across the ideological spectrum of the problems with the death penalty. Advocates have long pushed for repeal in the Granite State, whose famous motto, “Live Free or Die,” might not appropriately frame this particular debate. Still, given the important political status of New Hampshire, this debate has the potential to reverberate far beyond this corner of New England. While the debate over the death penalty is primarily a state matter, we should all be concerned about how this debate plays out in each state.

Reform Jews are staunch opponents of the death penalty. The rabbis of the Talmud established a series of legal requirements surrounding the death penalty so intentionally complex and difficult to satisfy as to make carrying out this ultimate punishment virtually impossible. Reform Jews have more formally opposed capital punishment since 1959, “believing that, there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified, and that it is the obligation of society to evolve other methods in dealing with crime… in the spirit of the Jewish tradition of tshuva (repentance).”

Repeal of the death penalty is a crucial social justice issue—and we hope that our friends in New Hampshire continue to advocate for a less vengeful and more just society.

Capital Punishment on Purim?

Purim, on the one hand, is an easy holiday to love. There are costumes, hamentashen, a fun story and songs; we are obligated to have a good time. On the other hand, Purim is also controversial—and one such area worth highlighting is the role of capital punishment in the Purim narrative. Since the era of rabbinic Judaism, capital punishment has been practically impossible under Jewish law, and Reform Jews have long formally opposed the death penalty, “believing that, there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified.” But on Purim, we come across the death penalty several times as we read the Megillah.

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Freddie Lee Pitts

Capital Punishment: New Drugs, New Questions

The death penalty is back in the news with increasing frequency —and there is, in fact, a reason. See if you can piece this together:

  • In Ohio, it took Dennis B. McGuire 25 excruciatingly painful minutes, from the time he was injected with fatal drugs to the time he was declared dead. The state used a new drug combination in its execution of Mr. McGuire, and received court approval to proceed despite defense attorneys asking for a delay, “in fear of the unused drug causing ‘air hunger,’ inflicting ‘terror and agony’ upon their client.”
  • In Virginia, the House of Delegates passed a bill that would mandate death by electrocution in many cases, while Missouri and Wyoming have flirted with reintroducing the firing squad.
  • The Supreme Court issued a last-minute, temporary stay of the execution of a Missouri inmate, Herbert Smulls, in the hours between President Obama’s State of the Union Address Tuesday evening and the man’s scheduled execution at 12:01 Wednesday morning, following the state’s refusal to disclose where they obtained a lethal-injection drug.
  • The first four executions of 2014 are being carried out by Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Texas, respectively. Each is using a different lethal injection procedure.

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Goodbye from the LAs

Today the five Eisendrath Legislative Assistants say goodbye after an amazing year representing the Union for Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. We have worked on nearly 70 different legislative issues, represented the RAC in countless coalitions, seen some bills signed into law and others tragically defeated, said goodbye to one Congress and welcomed the next. All in all it has been an incredible year.

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Freddie Lee Pitts

Bringing On Abolition

In 2011, there were 14,612 homicides in the United States. 43 people were executed in 13 states. This year, there have already been 18 executions, including Texas’ 500th since 1982. Dismal statistics like these consume my days working at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

On a more positive note, six states in the last six years have abolished the death penalty, bringing the total to 18 states. Sure, those states are all blue as can be (Obama won NY, NJ, NM, IL, CT, and MD in 2008 and 2012), but the next abolition victories will likely be in some purple and red states– including Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and New Hampshire.

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Death Penalty

Everything’s Bigger in Texas: 500th Inmate Executed in the Lone Star State

At 6:17 pm on June 26, lethal injections entered the body of 52 year old Texan Kimberly McCarthy. At 6:37 pm, she was pronounced dead and officially became the 500th Texas inmate executed since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. She was put to death for the robbery, beating and fatal stabbing of her 71-year-old neighbor, Dorothy Booth, in 1997.

While this crime is obviously heinous, the correlation of race and execution is crucial to fully understand the case. We cannot fully examine this case without understanding that McCarthy was black and Booth was white. This scenario of a white victim and black defendant has resulted in an execution 13 times more often than it has for a white defendant accused of murdering a black victim. In fact, death rows all over the country are disproportionately filled with minorities. Psychological research shows that even when controlling for the charges filed and the evidence entered, this disproportionate sentencing is consistent.

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Maryland to Repeal Death Penalty; Delaware is Next Target For Abolition

Maryland is set to become the 18th state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to abolish the death penalty. With an 82-56 vote in the Maryland House of Delegates on Friday, the bill, which previously passed the Maryland Senate by a 27-20 vote, is now heading to Governor Martin O’Malley’s desk for his signature. The Governor, who was instrumental in pushing the bill through the legislature, is sure to sign it into law. Read more…

Eye on the States: Will California Abolish the Death Penalty?

With the presidential election fast approaching, California is gearing up for another landmark vote; on November 6th citizens of the Golden State will cast their ballot on Proposition 34. Known as the SAFE California Act, the proposition aims to abolish the state’s death penalty and replace it with a life-sentence without the chance of parole. What makes Proposition 34 so important is that it will not only influence California’s own policy, it will also set an example for the nation.

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