Lawmakers are on a push to help death move faster

ROGER SIMON

March 26, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

The Maryland Senate wants to kill people more quickly.

It takes much too long to execute a person in Maryland. Nobody has been gassed here since 1961, and so we've got 13 people sitting around on death row just watching television and eating popcorn. All expenses paid.

Even though the Governor's Commission on the Death Penalty has four more public hearings scheduled on the issue, the Senate sees no reason to wait.

So it has passed a bunch of bills that will execute people more quickly, which should make our streets safer.

Actually, there is no hard evidence it will make our streets safer, but that is only one motivation.

Another motivation for killing prisoners more quickly is that by staying alive, they mock us.

They sit there surrounded by their lawyers, whose salaries are often paid for with our tax dollars, and they laugh at us.

They kill and then they mock.

Even our new attorney general, Janet Reno, agrees with this. Though prior to her nomination Reno had said she opposed the death penalty, in her confirmation hearings she strongly supported it.

Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., told Reno about a friend of his in Cottageville, S.C., was had been robbed and killed.

The murderer was caught, Thurmond said, but "it was 10 years more before he finally went to the electric chair. These appeals went on and on. They've got to stop."

To which Reno replied: "Senator, I couldn't agree with you more on that issue. We've sought the death penalty [in Dade County, Fla., where she was the prosecutor.] We've gotten the death penalty. And to find those people still in prison without that penalty carried out after 10 or 13 or 15 years makes a mockery of the justice system."

See? A mockery.

Reno continued in that vein so strongly that two Democratic senators felt compelled to bring up the Walter McMillian case to her.

The McMillian case speaks volumes about speeding up the death penalty. First of all, how fast can we carry it out? Nationally, the average length of the appeals process in death penalty cases is 8.5 years.

So what could we shorten it to? Five years? Three? Two? I think everybody would be delighted if we could execute a guy just two years after his conviction.

Which would have made Walter McMillian a dead man. McMillian had been on death row in Alabama for six years before it was discovered that he was completely innocent.

McMillian had been convicted of the shooting of an 18-year-old women on the perjured testimony of three men. One of the men was given a lighter sentence in another case for his testimony and the others split $7,000 in reward money.

McMillian presented 12 witnesses who testified he was at home at the time of the shooting, but the jury didn't believe them, and the judge sentenced McMillian to death.

Why? Well one reason could be that McMillian is black and the victim was white. McMillian also had been having an affair with a white woman and his son was married to a white woman.

This is not usually considered a plus in murder cases in Alabama.

"The only reason I'm here is because I had been messing around with a white lady and my son married a white lady," McMillian said from death row.

After turning down his appeals four times, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals voted 5-0 earlier this year to overturn his conviction. Even the prosecution admitted it had made a "horrible mistake" in McMillian's case.

So six years after his conviction and seven days before Janet Reno testified about how we must execute more quickly, McMillian was released from prison.

And he walked out to see a banner held by his friends that read: "God Never Fails."

Men and women do, however. It is the nature of being human to make mistakes. But should the innocent be executed because of them?

Alabama was very embarrassed by the McMillian case. It had been on "60 Minutes" and it made for very bad publicity.

So there is one more reason why legislators want to speed the execution process.

It is a dirty little secret that you don't hear mentioned in debate, but it goes like this:

"Let's hurry up and kill them before we find out they didn't do it."

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