Just hours before a scheduled execution in Georgia, a coalition of civil rights groups announced a new push to end the death penalty in the United States.
The groups, including NAACP and Amnesty International, said there was new momentum for the cause as support for capital punishment erodes, more states abolish the death penalty and a series of botched executions has opened Americans’ eyes to what they view as the brutality of the practice. They condemned it as an outdated, immoral and racist institution and pledged to redouble their efforts to reach out to the 90 million Americans, who they said oppose the practice.
“The practice of government-sponsored execution simply has no place in a modern criminal justice system,” said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, one of the groups in the “90 Million Strong” coalition. The coalition was convened by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
The announcement came as another controversial execution loomed — that of Robert Wayne Holsey, a convicted cop-killer in Georgia who is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Tuesday. A parole board refused to grant clemency to Holsey on Monday, “apparently unpersuaded by evidence that he was ineptly represented at trial by a drunken lawyer, had an exceptionally harsh childhood and has a severe intellectual deficit,” according to The New York Times.
The trial lawyer admitted he was drinking as much as a quart of vodka a day and at the time of Holsey’s conviction was facing theft charges of his own, the Times said.
It’s not exactly an unfamiliar story. By this point, many Americans are no doubt familiar with the fact that African Americans are disproportionately convicted of capital crimes, that indigent criminals often receive subpar representation and that those who commit capital crimes sometimes suffer from mental and intellectual disabilities. But would they go so far as to abolish the death penalty?
The answer is, probably not. Sixty percent of Americans favor the death penalty, according to a June Washington Post-ABC News poll, while 37 percent are opposed.
Still, this coalition may have some hope. Support for the death penalty is down substantially from 1994, when 80 percent of Americans supported the death penalty, the poll showed. And for the first time, the poll showed that more than half of Americans say they prefer a life sentence for convicted murderers rather than execution, with the shift primarily resulting from changing opinions among nonwhites.