Thirty-five years ago the Supreme Court set in motion an experiment that has had enormous implications for the rule of law and the principles of equality and fairness. The experiment was modern day capital punishment.
In 1976, when, in Gregg v. Georgia, the court approved a death penalty statute that purported to guide prosecutors, judges and ultimately juries in determining who among
those convicted of capital crimes should be punished with death—the hypothesis was that a punishment as uniquely severe as death could be meted out fairly, error-free and without undermining the constitutional principle recognizing the intrinsic value of the individual.
In recognition of NCADP’s 30th anniversary in 2006, Eugene G. Wanger of Lansing, Michigan, wrote a history of our organization up to that point. Wanger is an attorney, a long-time abolitionist and a former member of NCADP’s Executive Committee. He has co-chaired the Michigan Committee Against Capital Punishment since 1972. As a delegate to the 1961 Michigan Constitutional Convention, Wanger, who was the convention’s youngest Republican delegate, authored the state's constitutional prohibition of the death penalty. In part to honor his abolition efforts, Michigan’s State Bar presented Wanger with its 2005 Champion of Justice Award.
We share this history with you to illustrate how much we have grown organizationally. The rock-solid foundation built by the dedicated men and women who created NCADP enables us to confront, and surmount, all present and future challenges we face in our fight to end capital punishment nationally, and support the movement to abolish it worldwide. To read “A 30th Anniversary History,” click here.
Following up on a handful of investigations spearheaded by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) with a group of committed cooperating attorneys, the Innocence Project, The Justice Project, and students at Columbia, Michigan and several other law schools, some of the nation's best investigative journalists and leading newspapers have recently exposed grave errors leading to the execution of innocent people.
Executed and Innocent: Four Chapters in the Life of America's Death Penalty, published by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, documents four such stories: Ruben Cantu, Carlos De Luna, Larry Griffin, and Cameron Todd Willingham
If the execution of one innocent person is one execution too many, then what have we discovered about our criminal justice system when we learn that four people who were almost certainly if not demonstrably innocent have been executed? How many more are there for whom the proof has been lost or destroyed? How can we trust a system that we always knew sent the innocent to death row ? and that we now know has executed them as well?
Prosecutorial and police misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel and flawed testimony characterized each of these cases, and faulty eyewitness identification and lack of credible evidence were factors in at least three of the four. Now is the time to move forward to drastically overhaul the death penalty. Better yet, because alternatives exist, we should finally abandon our national experiment with capital punishment.