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Dieter: Death penalty political issue

Nick Bock | Friday, September 21, 2007

The fight to end use of the death penalty is an “issue that identifies and epitomizes what Notre Dame stands for,” said Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

Speaking to an audience of approximately 25 people Thursday evening in the Hesburgh Center Auditorium, Dieter described his assertion that the death penalty has become “a part of the political system, not of the criminal justice system.”

Recent studies indicate that the success of an appeal of a death sentence depends almost entirely on the political stance of the president that appointed the judge, Dieter said. Appeals that were heard by judges appointed by George H. W. Bush were upheld 91 percent of the time, while appeals that were heard by judges appointed by Bill Clinton were overturned 88 percent of the time.

“Issues do not matter [now], what matters is who appointed the judge,” Dieter said.

Dieter expanded this theory to illustrate what he called the “strange and absurd” nature of the death penalty. He provided economic and moral arguments to support his assertion.

California currently has 660 inmates on death row, Dieter said, and the state executes one person every two years. It costs substantially more to hold death row inmates than inmates with life sentences due to extra court and appeals costs, Dieter said, and that cost is usually paid by the taxpayers. Dieter said this money could be “redistributed into law enforcement and other ways to make society safer.”

An audience member asked what Dieter would say to those who do not believe the death penalty is morally wrong. He responded that the death penalty is economically inefficient and said “the burden lies with those who say that the state has a right to take life.”

Dieter said 3,300 people are on death row, yet some of the worst people in American society – Eric Rudolf, Ted Kazynski, and Charles Cullen – received life sentences. He also gave examples of innocent people who were condemned to death, such as Anthony Porter, whose conviction was later overturned.

Senior Shannon Reabe attended the lecture and said it “stressed the need to look at a more comprehensive picture.”

Notre Dame Against State Killing cosponsored this lecture with Campus Ministry.