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Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, Key Testimony, July 28, 2008

To Maryland Citizens:

Maryland Citizens Against State Executions has prepared the following summary of key witness testimony before the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment on July 28, 2008, in Annapolis. This hearing focused on racial, jurisdictional, and socio-economic disparities in the death penalty system.

This document summarizes these witnesses’ testimony and provides links to any written testimony that was made available to the Commission.

Bryan A. Stevenson, Professor of Clinical Law, New York University

Professor Stevenson is an expert on the disparate resources available to poor and minority defendants in capital cases. He is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, a private non-profit organization that provides representation to poor defendants in Alabama. Raised on the Eastern Shore in southern Delaware, Professor Stevenson was affected by both the racial segregation he experienced as a child and the brutal murder of his grandfather when he was 16 years old. He moved to the south after graduating from Harvard Law School, determined to make a difference for those most despised by society. He testified about the “despair, distrust and doubt” that many African Americans have about the American criminal justice system. Abolishing the death penalty would generate new confidence in the system among African Americans, he said.

 

Thomas Brewer, Capital Jury Project

Dr. Brewer is a former military policy officer and is now an assistant professor of Justice Studies at Kent State University. He has worked with the Capital Jury Project to interview jurors in capital cases. The Capital Jury Project conducted extensive research interviewing nearly 1,200 jurors who had served on death penalty cases in 14 different states, including Maryland. Dr. Brewer shared the findings of the Capital Jury Project’s national research, including significant problems such as half of jurors saying they had made up their minds about sentence before the sentencing hearing even began. Dr. Brewer also shared examples from some of the interviews with Maryland jurors. Dr. Brewer testified about “widespread shortcomings” in the death penalty jury process.

 

David Kaczynski and Bill Babbitt, relatives of capital defendants

David Kaczynski of Albany, N.Y., is the brother of convicted Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Bill Babbitt of Sacramento, Calif., is the brother of Manny Babbitt, a mentally ill Vietnam veteran who was executed in 1999. Both witnesses turned their brothers in because they suspected them of crimes. These witnesses discussed the disparate punishments their brothers received in the criminal justice system. In both cases, the men’s brothers suffered from severe mental illness. Ted Kaczynski, who is a white, Ivy League college graduate and had significant financial resources, was not sentenced to death. Manny Babbitt, who is African American and had little money to mount a defense, was sentenced to death and executed in 1999. Their stories provided a snapshot of the disparities in capital sentencing, as well as reveal the significant impact the death penalty has on families of the accused and executed.

 

David C. Baldus, professor, University of Iowa College of Law

Professor Baldus is one of the nation’s leading experts on the role that race plays in the capital punishment system. He has conducted studies of race in the death penalty in numerous states and his research was presented to the United States Supreme Court in the 1987 case McKlesky v Kemp, which held, among other things, that racial bias in death sentencing was inevitable. Professor Baldus began his decades of inquiry believing that discrimination and arbitrariness in death sentencing could be remedied with the proper attention of the courts and policymakers. He presented information about racial, geographic, and socio-economic disparities in Maryland’s death penalty and explained why he has come to believe that these problems cannot be remedied. He noted that of the 10 men who have either been executed in Maryland or remain on death row, all were convicted of murdering a white victim, though the victim is black in much higher percentages of death-eligible murders. “The death penalty system appears to be broken and cannot be fixed,” he told the Commission.

 

Raymond Paternoster, University of Maryland

Professor Paternoster summarized his 2003 research study that found significant disparities in the way Maryland counties seek the death penalty. His research found that certain counties were far more likely to seek the death penalty than others. And he testified that there was a significantly higher chance that prosecutors would seek the death penalty against defendants who kill white victims. He testified that the death penalty process is “tainted” by these wide disparities related to race and georgraphy.

 

 

Deborah T. Poritz, former chief justice, New Jersey Supreme Court

Justice Poritz left New Jersey’s highest court in 2006 after spending a decade wrestling with the problems of arbitrariness in the death penalty. New Jersey is well known for having the most sophisticated proportionality review system in the country, designed to eliminate such arbitrariness and discrimination. Justice Poritz testified about her long experience with this system and findings showing an enormous disparity in how often New Jersey county prosecutors seek the death penalty. Justice Poritz is also the former Attorney General of New Jersey.

 

For more information, contact:
Jane Henderson, executive director, Maryland CASE, 240-338-2579, janehenderson@mdcase.org