Monday, April 9, 2007

Shelby County Calls for a Halt to Executions

Nashville: Tennessee's Largest County joined over 150 municipalities
nationwide today in calling for a halt to executions. The Shelby County
Commission voted 8-3 to approve a bi-partisan resolution calling on the
Tennessee General Assembly to halt executions for two years until racial
disparities in death sentences and the risk of executing an innocent
person can be addressed. The Commission's call fits well with a move in
the state legislature to pass legislation creating a commission to
conduct a thorough study of the state's death penalty system introduced
by Senator Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) and Representative Rob Briley
(D-Nashville).

"The Shelby County Commission has taken a bold and necessary step
today," said Reverend Stacy Rector, Executive Director of the Tennessee
Coalition to Abolish State Killing. "Tennessee's death penalty system is
dangerously broken and our state representatives need to take steps to
fix it before we consider carrying out any more executions."

Nationwide over 120 men have been freed from death rows after evidence
of their innocence came to light, roughly one exoneration for every nine
executions in the same period of time. African-Americans make up 40% of
Tennessee's death row, while comprising only 17% of the population. A
nationwide study found that a person was four times as likely to face
the death penalty for the murder of a white victim then a victim of
color.

"Tennessee's death penalty is unfairly targeting the black community,"
said Mrs. Johnnie Turner, president of the Memphis NAACP Branch, who
testified before the Commission's Legislative Committee. "I am proud
that the County Commission acted to ensure that life and death decisions
are not be meted out based on a person's color."

The moratorium that the resolution calls for would halt only executions
for two years while the problems of Tennessee's death penalty are
examined. The trial and appellate processes would continue in their
usual way. The Shelby County Commission joins the Nashville-Davidson
Metro Council which has previously called for a moratorium on
executions.

"The governments of the two largest counties in the state have now
called for a moratorium on executions," said Rector. "Our state
policy-makers should take notice and act before Tennessee makes an
irreversible error."

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