Friday, June 17, 2005

Press Release: Death Penalty Opponents, Former Death Row Inmate to Speak Against Capital Punishment

June 17, 2005
For Immediate Release
Contact: Nancy Welch, 802-862-1686; Joseph Gainza, 802-228-2340

Death Penalty Opponents, Former Death Row Inmate
To Speak Against Capital Punishment

Burlington--As Vermont’s first death penalty case in decades gets under way, four prominent opponents of capital punishment will argue for keeping Vermont death-penalty free. All four are part of a public panel planned for June 22, 7 to 9 pm, in Contois Auditorium, Burlington City Hall.

One speaker, Billy Moore, a former prisoner turned Pentecostal preacher, will speak from an insider’s view of death-row. Moore served nearly 17 years on death row for a murder he admits to committing in 1974, when he was a 22-year-old Army private. He came within days of execution when the family of the victim, who had befriended Moore in prison, appealed for clemency. They were joined in their appeal by many others, including Mother Theresa and The
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which dubbed Moore “the saintly figure of death row.”

The Pardons and Parole Board commuted Moore’s sentence to life imprisonment
And one year later, in 1991, he was paroled. He recently published his memoir, I Shall Not Die: Seventy-Two Hours on Death Watch, and has spoken at numerous law schools and universities including Harvard and Yale.

“Many of us oppose the death penalty because in at least one in seven cases, someone sentenced to die later turns out to have been innocent,” explained Nancy Welch of Vermonters Against the Death Penalty, sponsors of the panel. “But the Reverend Moore’s story is a reminder that someone can be guilty of murder and over time undergo a dramatic change.”

Other panelists include attorney and former Vermont State Legislator Sandra Baird, whose daughter, Caroline Crichfield Baird, was murdered in 1998, and David Kaczynski, whose brother, Ted, was convicted for the infamous “Unabomber” murders. Mr. Kaczynski is head of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, which recently fought off an attempt by New York Governor George Pataki to reintroduce the death penalty there.

Kaczynski is particularly critical of the use of capital punishment against the mentally ill. His brother, who is serving a life sentence, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Ms. Baird also opposes the use of capital punishment under any circumstances.

Rounding out the panel is Alice Kim, organizer with the National Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Ms. Kim also plays a leading role in efforts to abolish the death penalty in Illinois. In 2000, the state’s Republican governor declared the death penalty “broken” after 13 death row inmates were found to be innocent. Then in 2003, former Governor George Ryan cleared death row completely, pardoning four additional prisoners and commuting the sentences for all others.

Vermont effectively abolished its death penalty more than 30 years ago. However, at the urging of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, the U.S. Justice Department used a 1994 federal law to bring a capital case against Donald Fell, who is charged with kidnapping and murdering Tressa King of North Clarendon in 2000. Testimony in Fell’s trial is set to begin June 20.

“It’s not only an attempt to bring the death penalty back to a state like Vermont that had abolished the death penalty,” noted David Buckingham, a student at the University of Vermont who is also active in Vermonters Against the Death Penalty. “The Bush administration chose to go after the death penalty in this and 11 other cases at the precise moment when Illinois and Maryland had declared moratoriums against the death penalty, and nationwide people were seriously considering getting rid of capital punishment completely.”

The United States stands alone among the world’s democracies in its continued use of the death penalty for certain crimes.

“Our aim with the panel is not to make arguments about the crime that Mr. Fell is charged with committing,” explained Allen Gilbert, head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont. “Our aim is to make sure that Vermonters have a chance to hear arguments against capital punishment, no matter what the crime, from a range of people very close to this issue.”

“We need to remember why Vermont banned the death penalty in the first place,” said St. Michael’s student Rachel Lawler, also a member of the Vermonters Against the Death Penalty Coalition. “We need to talk about how, at both the state and federal levels, we can keep it from coming back for any reason in any form.”

The panel is free and open to the public, with donations accepted at the door. It is sponsored by Vermonters Against the Death Penalty, a coalition whose members include the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty International, the International Socialist Organization, Pax Christi Burlington, the Peace and Justice Center, the United Church of Christ Just Peace Advocates, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.


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