Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Please Consider That Harm

Yesterday was the first meeting of Maryland's new death penalty study commission. An article in today's Washington Post, "Panel Hears of Inequities in the Death Penalty," gives a good summary of the testimony, including this mention of MVFHR board member Bill Babbitt and our colleague at New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, David Kaczynski:

The most gripping testimony yesterday was offered by David Kaczynski, brother of the Unabomber, and Bill Babbitt, whose brother also was a convicted killer. Both men turned in their brothers to law enforcement officials.

Kaczynski contrasted the case of his brother, Theodore J. Kaczynski, a Harvard-educated serial killer whose life was spared in a plea deal, with that of Babbitt's brother, Manny Babbitt, a paranoid schizophrenic Vietnam veteran who was executed for his crime.

"The death penalty compounds the tragedy of murder by harming another set of families," Babbitt said. "Please consider that harm when you consider the role of the death penalty in Maryland."

See this Baltimore Sun article, too.

The written testimony that Bill submitted to the commission also included this point:

I want to emphasize that my brother was executed in California. Not Georgia or Texas, where the systems are known to let people like Manny fall through the cracks. Like Maryland, my home state of California is thought to have a good public defender system and more protections for defendants than those states that execute a lot more often. Both states should be proud that our lawyers don’t sleep through trials. And yet even in a state with one of the better systems, things happened that should not have happened. My wife and I scraped together some money for a private attorney, despite California’s good public defender system. Many families do this, because they mistakenly believe that you are better off paying for justice, even if you only have very little to pay. We learned the hard way that is not always the case; Manny’s lawyer quit at the arraignment because he was too busy. The court-appointed attorney had never tried a death penalty case, did not trust blacks as jurors, and was later convicted of stealing $50,000 from the coffers of poor defendants. He admitted in a statement that he had failed Manny.

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