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NDASK applauds report

Kaitlynn Riely | Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The American Bar Association’s (ABA) release of a report calling for Indiana to impose a moratorium on executions less than six months after the creation of Notre Dame Against State Killing (NDASK) might be “divine providence,” said co-organizer Will McAuliffe.

The student group formed last fall to impose a moratorium on the death penalty in Indiana – and on Tuesday it came a step closer to that goal. The ABA released its report urging the state to halt executions until changes can be made to improve the administration of death penalty cases.

McAuliffe, who is also an Observer columnist, called the findings of the report a “stepping stone” to ending use of the death penalty.

The Indiana Death Penalty Assessment Team, a panel working under the guidance of the ABA, reviewed Indiana’s death penalty system for nearly two years. Indiana is the fifth state to be assessed under ABA’s Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project.

The seven members of the panel – including former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, an adjunct professor in Notre Dame’s political science department, and Indiana Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend – listed 12 changes Indiana should make to its death penalty system to make it fair and accurate.

The changes, which NDASK endorsed, included requiring law enforcement agencies to record all interrogations, banning the execution of defendants with severe mental illnesses and requiring that biological evidence is preserved the entire time the defendant is imprisoned.

NDASK co-organizer Andrea Laidman said the debate about the use of death penalty is just starting to take place nationally and is now taking root in the Midwest, specifically Indiana.

“I think the reason that we started NDASK was because no one was talking about the issue on campus and across the state as a whole,” Laidman said.

But with the speaker series NDASK sponsored in the fall – which included Kernan and Broden – and now with the release of this report, Laidman and McAuliffe hope people will start talking about the death penalty.

“I think one of the biggest things to come out of this is it adds a lot to the discussion in terms or resources, in terms of numbers and in terms of policy recommendation,” McAuliffe said. “Now there’s this one big, overarching resource of over 300 pages for people in the state of Indiana to use in discussion.”

But the ABA report is only a recommendation, not an actual policy. The next step in the process, McAuliffe said, is either for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to order a moratorium or for the legislature to pass one.

A recent statewide survey conducted for the ABA makes those two options seem hopeful, McAuliffe said. The survey showed a majority of voters favor a temporary halt to executions in Indiana while the system is studied.

“When you have 61 percent of people supporting a moratorium like that – it’s a very political topic,” he said.

And so it makes sense for the governor or the legislature to impose a moratorium, McAuliffe said, since a clear majority backs it.

“Worst case scenario – for us at least – is after two years of looking at it, they say well, actually it does work and here’s why … and then they resume the death penalty,” he said.

But McAuliffe said he is confident that once people study death penalty cases in which mistakes have been made, they will oppose it. Americans don’t want a judicial system that puts people to death unfairly, he said.

“We think that people who take a step back … and aren’t under the ticking clock a specific case provides, are able to really look at [the death penalty] and see that it doesn’t work,” McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe and Laidman said they hope the report will bring more media coverage to this issue. The report also adds a “layer of legitimacy” to NDASK’s work this year, Laidman said.

The group’s plans for the rest of spring semester include building a statewide network to address the death penalty issue, starting a victim’s families outreach committee and coordinating an academic conference in April with experts on the death penalty from across the country.