Thursday, October 20, 2005

It probably won't happen any time soon

American Civil Liberties Union officials have asked for a moratorium on executions in Alabama until a host of fairness concerns are addressed. That's their job. Meanwhile, Clay Crenshaw, the head of capital litigation in the state attorney general's office, argues that the biggest problem is that we aren't executing convicted murderers quickly enough. That's his job.

Some of the issues cited by the ACLU are common in many death-penalty states, including the facts that prosecutors in some counties seek the death penalty far more often than those in other counties and that a defendant is far likelier to end up on Death Row for killing a white person than a black person. (On the latter point, Crenshaw said slain blacks are "typically victims of a murder and not a capital murder.")

Other issues are more specific to Alabama, such as the lack of a statewide public defender system and judges' ability to override jury recommendations in capital cases. The ACLU also criticized the state's history of executing mentally retarded killers, but that seems to be a moot point after the U.S. Supreme Court declared such executions unconstitutional a few years ago.

A poll released in July found that 57 percent of Alabamians would support the kind of moratorium that the ACLU requests, but the legislative odds still will be stacked against such a measure, especially in an election year.

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