The Abolitionist New  
Vol. 3, No. 4
April 2015
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      Death penalty: just plain wrong


 Linda Valdez

  The Arizona Republic/


     Arguments against the death penalty get pretty ridiculous. Which is why we should abolish the death penalty.


     The toughest cases are those where there is no doubt about guilt. Jodi Arias escaped execution because of one juror. But her status as a cold-blooded killer is not in question. She was convicted of the 2008 murder of her lover, Travis Alexander, after a trial that was a salacious circus.


     Nevertheless, I'm glad my tax dollars won't go to execute this young woman. I'd be even gladder if she goes quietly to jail and I never have to hear her name again.


     Another clear case of guilt is Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He's admitted a heinous crime against people he didn't know. He's a killer. Cold-blooded. Indiscriminate.


     Three people were killed and more than 260 injured when Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, set off two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line in 2013. Tamerlan was later killed. Dzhokhar is on trial.*


     Some would say that if anybody deserves the death penalty, he and Arias do. And those people would be right. The crimes of these two people are vile and their guilt is certain.


     Such cases create a real challenge for people who oppose the death penalty. In Arias' case, a lone juror kept her off death row.

Tsarnaev's attorneys are hoping at least one person on his jury will save his life.


     Meanwhile, anti-death-penalty protesters are rallying on his behalf. But some look as ridiculous as Tsarnaev's attorneys, who want us to buy an argument that doesn't pass muster in kindergarten: My brother made me do it.


     One anti-death-penalty protester outside the courtroom was heard on NPR's Morning Edition saying "all his friends say he was just a regular dude, that there's some evidence to suggest that he's not hard-line at all."


     OK, then.


     This tracks the other argument Tsarnaev's attorneys hope will keep him off death row: that he's not such a radical. Just misguided.


     Sure, he's young. Nineteen when he planted the bomb. Like Arias, he looks like the kind of kid who could have been popular and successful. Both had a chance to make it good in America.


     Both chose murder. A priest may forgive sins. Society can't.


     It's the job of Tsarnaev's lawyers to rehabilitate his image or diminish his role in the crime. The subliminal message is that some murderers should get a pass because we sympathize with them.


     Death penalty opponents should not mimic that approach.


     They would be better off to concede that some murderers are more worthy of execution than others.


     If anybody deserves to be executed, Arias and Tsarnaev do.

Nevertheless, the death penalty is wrong.


     It is not wrong because some killers are young and attractive and you can imagine them as nice people. It is wrong because a civilized society should not put people to death. We have prisons to punish killers and prevent them from ever again being a threat to society.


     There are other arguments against the death penalty.


     Some people say it can never be fair because it is administered by human beings, who make mistakes. A mistaken execution cannot be undone.


     Some say the death penalty is wrong because it has been disproportionately used against racial minorities.


     Some say it is wasteful because the cost of appeals and the execution itself is higher than simply locking up a killer and throwing away the key.


     Such arguments fall apart in cases like Arias and Tsarnaev, where there is no question about guilt, and little indication of bias against the accused based on race.


     And keeping somebody alive just because it's cheaper? That goes in the OMG file.


     The simple truth is that Arias and Tsarnaev deserve the death penalty as much anyone could.


     But the state should not execute anyone - because killing is wrong.




     Those who protest the death penalty should not make themselves - and their cause - look ridiculous by pretending anything else matters.


Linda Valdez has written for the two largest newspapers in Arizona over the past twenty years, specializing in the areas of medicine, education, justice, and human rights issues. She currently is a columnist and editorial writer for the The Arizona Republic/, where this article appeared originally. You can contact Ms. Valdez at



Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty on April 8, 2015, on all 30 counts against him associated with the Boston bombing, 17 of which could warrant the death penalty. The penalty phase of the trail will begin on April 21.

Worldwide Report On Death Penalty A Mixed Bag 


    Amnesty International's 2014 report on the worldwide use of the death penalty demonstrates that an alarming number of countries still resort to killing people in the name of deterrence. The number of people executed last year fell by a reported 607 people, excluding China which does not report the number of executions it commits. 


     In an ironic, yet sad coupling, the United States, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq are the five nations that execute more individuals than all other countries in the world.


     Even though the number of executions dropped worldwide last year, 2,466 people were sentenced to death in 2014. 

     When the United Nations was founded in 1945, only eight countries had abolished the death penalty. Today, 140 counties have halted executions either by law or practice. The United States is the only western industrialized culture that still uses the death penalty.

     Amnesty International's full report on the death penalty is available on the organization's website.

A Thirty Year Fight For Justice Still Continues  


     There were many significant events that occurred in 1984: Ronald Reagan was elected to a second term as President in a landslide victory over Walter Mondale, Apple introduced the Macintosh personal computer, per capita personal income was $13,585, Los Angeles defeated Washington in the Super Bowl and Glenn Ford entered Louisiana's Angola Prison.


     A generation has passed, and all the happenings of 1984 can now be viewed with some some perspective, with the exception of legal issues facing Glenn Ford. His fight with Louisiana is still as fresh as it was the day he was incarcerated for his alleged killing of Isadore Rozeman. Yet, events in the past six months have shaken the Louisiana legal system, with many people citing the Ford case as the reason to abolish the death penalty.


     Ford and three other men were arrested for murdering Rozeman, but it was proved later that Ford was not at the scene of the murder. Ford was implicated as the killer by the girlfriend of one of the other suspects. However, at his trial, the woman testified that the police helped her concoct her story and that she had lied about Ford's involvement. This did not affect his conviction.


     Ford was also the victim of poor counsel. The local, court appointed lawyers who represented him were selected from an alphabetical list; one of them specialized in insurance law. None of his lawyers had any criminal law experience, much less in capital cases.


     Over the past three decades, Ford has maintained his innocence. He has tried continuously to show legal authorities that he was tried by an all-white jury, the coroner who testified to the time of death of the victim never examined the body, the police officer who matched the fingerprints at the scene of the crime to Ford had never been trained as a fingerprint examiner, Ford's lawyers never secured any expert testimony on his behalf because they did not understand who would bear the costs.


     In 2014, another suspect confessed to killing Rozeman in a statement to a confidential state informant. The State of Louisiana requested a new hearing for Ford based upon "new" evidence. Ford was released from prison on March 11, after serving almost thirty years for a crime he did not commit.


     Other than justice finally being served, the most interesting outgrowth from the case has been the mea culpa from A. M. Stroud, III, the lead prosecutor in the 1984 case. Stroud caused seismic rumblings in the Shreveport legal community for apologizing for his role in prosecuting Glenn Ford.


     Stroud states emphatically that Ford was not released from prison because of duplicitous legal maneuvering by his attorneys, but because he was innocent. "Pursuant to the review and investigation of cold homicide cases, investigators uncovered evidence that exonerated Mr. Ford," stated Stroud. "Indeed, this evidence was so strong that had it been disclosed during of the investigation there would not have been sufficient evidence to even arrest Mr. Ford!"


     Stroud admits that he failed to follow leads in the case that could have resulted in a different result, especially in investigating the rumors that three other men were involved in the murder. "My mindset was wrong and blinded me to my purpose of seeking justice, rather than obtaining a conviction of a person who I believed to be guilty. I did not hide evidence, I simply did not seriously consider that sufficient information may have been out there that could have led to a different conclusion. And that omission is on me," Stroud admitted.


     Stroud's comments are in response to the State of Louisiana's efforts to deny Ford compensation for his illegal incarceration. Although he did not participate in the murder, Ford  did try to pawn items stolen from the victim. Louisiana officials maintain this makes him ineligible for any funds due to his illegal thirty year imprisonment.  


     "Glenn Ford deserves every penny owed to him under the compensation statute. This case is another example of the arbitrariness of the death penalty. I now realize, all too painfully, that as a young 33-year-old prosecutor, I was not capable of making a decision that could have led to the killing of another human being," stated the former prosecutor.  (See video of Stroud's interview.)


     Glenn Ford has stage 4-lung cancer and may have less than a year to live.

New Book On Capital Punishment Asks Serious Questions

     Joseph Ingle has come to some shocking conclusions about the United States, the recognized champion of human rights throughout the world. He believes there is unacknowledged and systematic oppression in America imposed by the very people who founded the country.


      Early in his career of working with men on death row, he discerned that his concept of the United States as the bastion of democratic government and the champion of human rights was completely in conflict with his work in prisons. He found it difficult to face the contradictions he perceived. Yet, he knew he had to answer one question: do we have to view our government through the lens of tyranny? 

      Ingle's new book attempts to address this question based upon his years of reading, writing, observations, and continuing educational work with the condemned.


     Ingle began his work with prisoners while studying at Union Seminary and living in East Harlem. A native of North Carolina, he is a graduate of St. Andrews College. Ingle came to Tennessee in 1974 as field director for Southern Prison Ministry. He attended Harvard University in 1991 on a Merrill Fellowship. He is a United Church of Christ minister and has been working with prisoners, especially the condemned, since 1974.


     He has previously written Last Rights: 13 Fatal Encounters with the State's Justice and The Inferno: A Southern Morality Tale.  


     Slouching Toward Tyranny: Mass Incarceration, Death Sentences and Racism is available from Algora Publishing, online bookstores, or your local book dealer.