Tuesday, January 21, 2003


The NYTimes (reg. req.) looks at the Democratic Presidential candidates views on the ultimate sanction....


Absolutely, Positively for Capital Punishment

No one was surprised when prosecutors and families of crime victims denounced Gov. George Ryan of Illinois for commuting the death sentences of 167 prisoners last weekend. But some of the loudest voices condemning the Republican's decision came from a less-expected quarter: Democratic politicians, including several candidates running for the party's presidential nomination.

Rod R. Blagojevich, the Democrat who succeeded Mr. Ryan as governor on Monday, said the clemency was "terrible" and a "gross injustice." Gov. Gray Davis of California made it clear he would never consider a similar action. And Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who entered the presidential race last week, issued a bitter denunciation.

"Governor Ryan's action was shockingly wrong," Mr. Lieberman said in an interview on Friday. "It did terrible damage to the credibility of our system of justice, and particularly for the victims. It was obviously not a case-by-case review, and that's what our system is all about."

Four of the seven Democrats who have already joined the presidential race or are likely to do so have longstanding views supporting the death penalty and have not changed their positions because of the circumstances in Illinois. Along with Mr. Lieberman, the group includes Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Senator Bob Graham of Florida and Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

Of the seven, only the Rev. Al Sharpton opposes the death penalty, as he has done for years. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts supports it in the case of convicted terrorists, and Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, supports it for murderers of children or police officers.

In the view of these advocates, many Democrats fear being painted as soft on crime in a way that crippled Michael S. Dukakis in 1988. The Republican Party has long favored execution and can point to national opinion polls showing three-quarters of Americans supporting capital punishment.

"We understand that a lot of Democrats are fearful of being `Dukakised' on this issue," said Dianna Wentz, executive director of the Moratorium Campaign, a group founded in Louisiana by Sister Helen Prejean to support the kinds of moratoriums on execution that now exist in Illinois and Maryland. "In this country, it's still politically dangerous to say you're opposed to the death penalty. But our point is that it's not political suicide to come out in favor of a moratorium."