Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sub-Committee Approves Death Penalty Study

Legislation Joins Growing Call to Examine Problems of Fairness and
Accuracy

Nashville: The House Civil Practice and Procedure Subcommittee today
unanimously approved legislation introduced by Representative Rob Briley
(D- Nashville) and Senator Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) to create a
commission to conduct a thorough study of the state's death penalty
system. The legislation follows a call yesterday by the American Bar
Association, after a three-year assessment process of Tennessee's
capital punishment system that found deep flaws throughout the capital
punishment process. The bill has co-sponsors from both parties and from
East, Middle, and West Tennessee.


"The members of the committee affirmed today that Tennessee's capital
punishment system is a mess," said Reverend Stacy Rector, Executive
Director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing. "The death
penalty in Tennessee is dangerously broken and our state representatives
need to take steps to address all its problems."

According to the ABA Assessment, the Tennessee capital punishment system
suffers from serious flaws. Tennessee continues to sentence people with
severe mental disabilities to death, racial and geographic disparities
continue to plague the system (40% of Tennessee's death row population
is African-American), and inadequate defense counsel and flaws in
preserving DNA evidence cause questions regarding the reliability of
death penalty convictions. Moreover, nearly all of Tennessee's 102
death row inmates were indigent and could not afford a lawyer at trial.
There are several cases where serious questions exist regarding the
factual guilt or innocence of the convicted man.

"At the very least, Tennesseans deserve to know that the capital
punishment system is functioning properly," said Rector. "The only way
to begin to address it flaws and ensure that an innocent person is not
executed is to conduct a full study examining every aspect of the system
to ensure its reliability."

The proposed legislation would create a balanced study commission with
representatives appointed by the Governor, the Senate, and the House, as
well as lawyers for both the defense and prosecution, mental health
advocates, and victims advocates. The commission would make
recommendations to the legislature as to how the identified problems
should be addressed. The bill passed with bi-partisan support and will
now head to the full Judiciary Committee.

"We cannot stop with a review of our so-called 'sloppy' execution
protocols," said Rector. "We must examine the entire system in order to
address the wide-ranging problems before Tennessee makes an irreversible
mistake."

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