News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, JUNE 12, 2006


Make sure death penalty is fair before imposing it

The death penalty, if administered fairly and uniformly, gives some killers what they deserve and probably deters other people from committing horrendous crimes. But that is a big "if," and a new Alabama study underscores it.

The American Bar Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project appointed a team of Alabama lawyers to examine capital punishment in this state. Their report came out Sunday.

They recommended that the state put executions on hold until Alabama can assure that its capital punishment system is fair and accurate and until judges are no longer permitted to override jury recommendations against the death penalty.

University of Alabama law professor Daniel Filler chairs the committee. Among other problems, it found inadequate and inconsistent legal representation for poor defendants whose attorneys are court-appointed, as well as the lack of a state law specifically providing for DNA testing after a conviction.

No current prisoner should be executed unless the courts determine that he had strong, adequate representation and that DNA evidence, if it exists, is consistent with his guilt. And the state should change laws if necessary to ensure that every accused person gets these protections, starting before he goes to trial.

Modern DNA testing was not available at trial for many defendants now on death row. That's no reason to deny it to them. The state should eliminate every possible uncertainty before putting someone to death.

The ABA study (www.abanet

.org/moratorium) deserves serious consideration by state officials — not politicking. That's why Alabama Attorney General Troy King's reaction is disappointing.

"The ABA is a liberal, activist organization with an agenda they constantly push," said Mr. King, who is running for re-election. "That's why I'm not a member of the ABA."

His opponent in the November election, Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr., issued a more thoughtful and appropriate statement.

"I believe the communication of information about the death penalty process and public debate of components of this process is the only way to assure that the death penalty is fair, accurate and timely and therefore an effective deterrent to heinous acts," Mr. Tyson said.

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