“The death penalty, as it’s applied in Tennessee today- I’m against it.” said District Attorney Al Schmutzer of the Fourth Judicial Circuit (representing Sevier, Cocke, Grainger, and Jefferson counties) last night at a forum on capital punishment last night at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Having put 4 men on death row and with two more capital cases going to trial this year, D.A. Schmutzer was speaking as the pro-death penalty counter-balance to David Kaczynski of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty and Bill Babbitt (below) of Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights.
Now Mr. Schmutzer wasn’t saying that he had any sort of moral opposition to the death penalty, quite the contrary, in fact. But his statement does point to an important fact, Tennessee’s death penalty system is simply broken. With a death row of over 100 people, Tennessee ranks 10th in the nation in number of people awaiting execution, yet we are basically unique in the South in that we have executed only 1 person since 1967, an astounding record! Earlier in his remarks, Schmutzer had made the comment that the death penalty really is about victim’s families, but, as he tacitly admitted later in the evening, our current death penalty system is the last thing any person truly interested in the families of murder victims would create.
All four of the men, D.A. Schmutzer proudly reported placing on death row have had their sentences of death overturned and are now serving lesser sentences. In fact, over half of all death sentences handed down in Tennessee are later overturned on appeal due to serious error during the trial. And with each appeal, the family of the victim is left waiting and forced to relive the worst event of their lives over and over again. Instead of beginning to move toward healing, families are left in limbo as to whether or not this execution will take place- many people on Tennessee’s death row have been there over 20 years. So, the D.A. is right- this system does not work! Even as a pro-death penalty speaker, it is hard to argue that our current system is anything other than a failure.
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