Thursday, 8 February 2007

Speakers at Carroll forum question death penalty

Speakers at Carroll forum question death penalty

By ANGELA BRANDT - IR Staff Writer - 02/07/07

Jon Ebelt IR Staff Photographer - David Kaczynski, left, takes a turn at the podium for a 15-minute presentation on personal experiences dealing with the death penalty. Kacyznski was forced to turn his brother over to the FBI nearly a decade ago after suspecting Ted Kacyznski was the Unabomber.

Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s brother told a group of about 100 Helena-area residents it was not his sibling’s mental illness that saved him from the death penalty but that he had good attorneys. This is not the same for many criminals facing execution, David Kaczynski said.

Kaczynski spoke Tuesday night at a gathering to support a bill to abolish death-penalty sentences in Montana. He said that although he agonized over his decision to turn his brother into the FBI, he thought he was lucky.

David Kaczynski said he was touted as a hero, which is not always to the case for those who have spoken to law enforcement about their family members’ possible involvement with crimes. He recalled the story of one California man whose only thank you was a front-row seat at his brother’s execution.

“I saw the part of the story I didn’t have to live,” Kaczynski said.

The public panel discussion held at Carroll College was a preview of testimony scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning. A group in support of the bill, called the Montana Abolition Coalition, which is comprised of a multitude of civil-rights organizations and church groups, put together the event.

Kaczynski said he has always been against the death penalty and never imagined that he would be personally involved with the cause after his brother was a candidate for capital punishment.

Executive director of the Montana Catholic Conference, and a member of the Abolition Coalition, Moe Wosepka said Montana’s execution of convicted killer David Dawson last year may have helped to charge their efforts.

Wosepka said although America’s methods of dealing with criminals has improved from the days of “rope-wielding vigilantes” and public hangings, lethal injections — the method of execution currently used by Montana — are not the answer. Since the 1970s, the state has executed three people.

Kaczynski is set to testify along with two family members of murder victims, Gary Hilton, a former warden of the New Jersey State Prison and former Texas district attorney Sam Millsap.

Millsap prosecuted a man who at the time he was convinced was guilty. The case of accused killer Ruben Cantu was later investigated by a Texas newspaper, which uncovered evidence that made Millsap question not only that case but the death penalty in general.

Millsap said his home state and Montana have much in common, with both states’ having a bulk of cattle and love of football. But, one major difference is the number of executions in the two states. While Montana had three death penalties occur in the last 12 years, Texas has seen three in the month of January alone and another six are planned over the next 90 days, Millsap said. Two prisoners are on death row in Montana.

Millsap said he is embarrassed that he cannot remember if he dealt with seven or nine cases that led to execution.

“It breaks my heart that I can’t remember,” he said during the discussion.

He said he still has dreams of half of those cases where “questions linger.” Millsap told the crowd that Cantu’s case was not included in those he wondered about. He said at the time, when he was a 34-year-old prosecutor, he thought the decision that Cantu should die was “crystal clear.” Now, 25 years later, there are “shades of grey today that didn’t exist.”

Cantu was found guilty with the testimony of one eye witness, Millsap said. People make mistakes, he added.

“You can’t undo an execution,” Millsap said.

No comments: