Minnesotans should decide in a constitutional amendment referendum whether to reinstate the death penalty after nearly a century for the “worst of the worst” criminals, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said yesterday. As 50 protesters outside his office chanted “execute justice, not people,” the governor proposed the outlines of a Minnesota system of capital punishment that he said would be “the most modern and cautious” in the nation, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “You can’t have justice unless the punishment fits the crime,” he said. “I believe the public supports this issue, and its moral weight and significance demand that the public be heard.”
Pawlenty called for restoring the death penalty last month, after a sex offender who had been released from prison, was arrested in the disappearance of college student Dru Sjodin. Legislative leaders reacted coolly. A Star Tribune survey showed enough opposition to defeat the initiative.
Constitutional amendment questions must be approved by the Legislature, but Pawlenty hopes some critics would be willing to turn the decision over to voters in November. Sen. John Hottinger denounced the plan as “a cowardly approach designed to allow elected officials to avoid responsibility for taking us down this dark alley of criminal justice.”
Pawlenty would require DNA “genetic fingerprint” evidence linking the suspect to the crime. None of the 38 states with capital punishment has that safeguard now, he said. Among other provisions in his proposal:
• It would apply only to first-degree murder of two or more persons, a public safety official, or one involving sexual assault or other “heinous, atrocious or cruel” actions.
• A unanimous jury decision and concurrence of the trial judge would be required.
• A prosecutor’s recommendation of the death penalty would have to be confirmed by a “peer review” board of prosecutors.
• The state Supreme Court would review all death sentences.
• A clemency board would be established that could urge the governor to grant reprieve to a condemned convict.
• The death penalty could not apply when the defendant is under 18 years old or mentally disabled, or in cases based on uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice, the testimony of a single eyewitness, or that of a jail informant.