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January 2004
Minnesota Advocates Opposes Call for Death Penalty in Minnesota
January 2004

We all feel horror at the disappearance of Dru Sjodin and sympathy for her family. We need her to come home safely. We want her abductor to be punished. But in the call for vengeance, let us not take action that diminishes our humanity without providing protection against these crimes. Minnesota has long been, and should remain, a state that rejects the idea that government can take the lives of its citizens.

We used to be a death penalty state. In 1862, 38 Sioux Indians were executed in Mankato - reportedly the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The last state-sponsored execution, which occurred in 1906, was a botched hanging that lasted nearly fifteen minutes before death by suffocation occurred. In response to the public outcry against this cruel and inhumane treatment, the Minnesota legislature abolished the death penalty in 1911. Minnesota remains one of twelve states without the death penalty. It should remain a state without the death penalty for these reasons:

The death penalty is not a deterrent.
Studies have consistently failed to show that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. A United Nations survey concluded: ". . . research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis". A New York Times survey, released in September 2000, found that during the last 20 years, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty has been 48 percent to 101 percent higher than in states without the death penalty. According to the FBI, 10 of the 12 states without capital punishment have homicide rates below the national average; Minnesota has one of the lowest homicide rates in the country.

We run the risk of executing innocent people.
Since 1973, 107 prisoners have been released from death row in the U.S. after evidence emerged of their innocence of the crimes for which they were sentenced to death. One was Albert Burrell, a death row inmate in Louisiana who was exonerated with help from Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights' Death Penalty Project. Several states are re-considering capital punishment or have declared moratoriums on executions - most notably Illinois, where 13 death row inmates were found to have been wrongfully convicted.

The rest of the world is moving away from capital punishment.
Under international law, the death penalty violates the right to life and the right to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Currently there are 112 countries - most of the world - that are abolitionist in law or practice. In 2002, 81 percent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, and the U.S. In fact, the U.S. is the only country in the world that continues to execute juvenile offenders as part of its regular criminal justice system. The Council of Europe has stated that "the death penalty has no legitimate place in the penal systems of modern civilized societies" and asked the U.S. to take concrete steps towards ending executions in order to retain Observer status.

The death penalty is arbitrary and unfair.
Ninety-five percent of death row inmates cannot afford their own attorney. Individuals - even co-defendants - charged with committing the same crime often receive different punishments. As the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions reported in 1997, "Race, ethnic origin and economic status appear to be key determinants of who will, and who will not, receive a death sentence" in the United States. Blacks who kill white victims are several times more likely to be sentenced to death than whites who kill black victims. Reintroducing capital punishment is especially alarming as Minnesota already has the largest disparity between black and white imprisonment rates than any other state, with black defendants almost twenty times more likely to be imprisoned than are white defendants.

The death penalty is expensive.
Experience in other states shows that one death penalty case costs between $1 million to $3 million, from the point of arrest to execution. A life imprisonment case costs approximately $500,000, including incarceration. One study in California showed that state would save $90 million per year if it were to abolish the death penalty.

The death penalty is not right for Minnesota. Let's look for real solutions that will result in a more secure society and a justice system that respects the rule of law and the humanity of all people in our state. Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights will continue to work with other concerned groups and individuals to fight a reintroduction of the death penalty in Minnesota.