Witnesses at a New York State legislative hearing delivered an indictment of capital punishment as the state considers whether to reinstate the death penalty, reports the New York Times. The fierce opposition was a sharp turnabout from 10 years ago, when a political outcry over high crime and a new governor, George Pataki, who had made the issue a central theme of his campaign, helped usher capital punishment into law. Yesterday, speakers ranging from Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau to legal experts and even to families of murder victims, tried to persuade lawmakers not to restore the death penalty, which was effectively struck down by the state’s highest court in June.
Morgenthau cited FBI statistics showing that states with the death penalty have homicide rates that are 44 percent higher then those without it. “The death penalty exacts a terrible price in dollars, lives and human decency,” Morgenthau said. “Rather than tamping down the flames of violence, it fuels them.” Pataki aides have described the hearings as “obstructionist,” calling them a stalling tactic to prevent restoration of the death penalty. Despite pressure from Pataki, it seemed unlikely that action would be taken anytime soon. More public hearings are planned, and opponents of the death penalty hoped to use them to convince Democratic lawmakers that the public mood is different from a decade ago. Leading Democrats support the death penalty, including Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, U.S. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who has announced his intention to run for governor in 2006.