Democratic New York State legislators refused yesterday to revive the death penalty this year. The New York Times says it was a “significant victory to opponents of capital punishment who are trying to build national momentum.” The death penalty law may stay off the books for years; the top New York court struck down the current law in June, finding a central element of its sentencing provisions unconstitutional.
After the U.S. Supreme Court restored capital punishment in 1976, thirty-eight states enacted capital punishment laws, the most recent being New York in 1995, although no one was executed under the law. Gov. George Pataki, a Republican who plans to disclose by summer if he will seek a fourth term, said it was “outrageous” for Democrats to derail the death penalty in a committee. “The Assembly leadership’s ‘so what’ attitude toward criminals, whether they’re sex offenders, deadly drivers, or heinous murderers, is simply shameful,” he said. The likely Democratic nominee for governor, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, also supports the death penalty, but he refused to comment yesterday. Lawmakers in Connecticut, Nebraska, and New Mexico have tried to overhaul or repeal their death penalty laws, but none has put the law to limbo for the time being. A moratorium is in place in Illinois, and a lawsuit aimed at the Kansas law is pending.