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Stopping Connecticut's First Execution in 40 Years

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Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Dec. 13, 2004
http://www.btlonline.org
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Campaign Launched to Stop Connecticut's First Execution in 40 Years

- Interview with Robert Nave, director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/nave121704.ram

On Jan. 26, 2005, the state of Connecticut is set to execute its first death row prisoner in 40 years. Michael Ross, 45, has admitted raping and strangling eight young women in the early 1980s.

Republican Gov. Jodi Rell declined to postpone this execution until after the state's next legislative session, which would have allowed legislators to debate and possibly pass a bill abolishing capital punishment. Now it appears that the only thing that can save Ross is if he reverses his position of wanting to be executed and initiates new appeals, or his former attorneys succeed in persuading a judge that he was not competent to make decisions related to his case.

Twelve states, including four in New England, have banned the death penalty. In a 2003 poll, Connecticut residents favored the death penalty 60 to 34 percent. But when the choice is execution or life without parole, less than half supported capital punishment. Nationally, support for the death penalty has dropped from a high of 80 percent in 1994 to 70 percent this year. But, again, when the option of life in prison without parole is offered as an alternative, support for the death penalty drops to 50 percent. Capital punishment, long banned in developed nations around the world, has been criticized in the U.S. for being racially, economically and geographically discriminatory, disproportionately affecting people of color and the poor who are often denied adequate legal representation.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Robert Nave, director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty and Amnesty International's Death Penalty Abolition coordinator in the state. Nave talks about why he opposes capital punishment and what his group and others are doing to outlaw the death penalty in Connecticut.

ROBERT NAVE: When an execution occurs, it is two things: it is murder, and it is murder in your name, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen here in the state of Connecticut. The state of Connecticut is going to murder -- because on the death certificate of all people who are executed, the cause of death is called “homicide.” The death penalty was called unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1972 in a case called Furman v. Georgia. They called it freakish and arbitrary and they overturned it and they told the states to rewrite their laws. Well, Connecticut did rewrite our law by 1973. And we’ve had the death penalty on the books 31 years, and we have sentenced ten people total to death. Eight currently sit on death row. One was taken off death row because it was found he should not have even been prosecuted for death. And then the other gentleman was taken off of death row for two reasons: the prosecutor in the case acted so egregiously in front of the jury, so incorrectly, so inappropriately, that the Supreme Court struck down the sentence. Plus, as it turns out, the judge did not even instruct the jury correctly in a death case; the judge did not even get it right. And that just shows how flawed our judicial system is in so many ways -- that we cannot trust the judicial system to send only guilty people to their death, as 117 people nationwide have been exonerated from death row, due to innocence.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Michael Ross is not a very sympathetic poster boy for ending the death penalty, being white and highly educated, having committed multiple heinous crimes that he has admitted to -- in other words, there is no chance that he is innocent of these crimes.

ROBERT NAVE: First of all, we have to be very clear. We are not advocates for people like Michael Ross; we are not advocates for people on death row. What we are advocates against is poor public policy; we do not like poor public policy and that’s what the death penalty is -- poor public policy. And when it comes to people like Michael Ross, yes, what they did was extraordinarily heinous, and our sympathies do go out to the families of all of his victims. And, in a way to honor their death, their life, and their memory, we choose not to honor it through continued murder and violence. We choose another route, which is, I believe, much more civilized, and that is not the death penalty.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So what you’re saying is that in these cases you would support life in prison without possibility of parole?

ROBERT NAVE: In some cases, life without parole would be more appropriate than life, which is not necessarily forever. Life without parole may be needed in some cases, absolutely, but we don’t comment on that because that is another argument for another day. In the case of Mr. Ross, people get confused. They mix up mental retardation and mental illness. Michael Ross is not mentally retarded. He is an extremely intelligent and articulate man. And unfortunately, because people have seen that, they say he should know better; he is inherently evil, and he must die. The whole concept of mental illness is so misunderstood … when it comes to mental illness, there is no control over a person’s actions very often, and Mr. Ross is severely and profoundly mentally ill. He suffers from several and varied profound mental illnesses, the chief of which is sexual sadism, a diagnosable and recognizable and recognized illness by the American Psychiatric Association.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What is your group trying to do to prevent this execution?

ROBERT NAVE: We are working towards getting the legislature to look at this, either pre- or post-execution. We’ve been trying this for years, but because it’s a political hot potato, people are very leery of this, those who are elected to office. However, the time has come because we are about to murder in the name of the state of Connecticut, which means in the name of you and me. So the legislature is looking at this, but furthermore, since Mr. Ross is volunteering, are we helping him commit state-sponsored suicide? Jack Kevorkian sits in jail right now for helping people commit suicide who were terminally ill. He is in jail for that. Theoretically speaking, the state is helping Michael Ross commit suicide. Should we all be in jail, because we are responsible for this act of assisted suicide?

BETWEEN THE LINES: If this execution goes forward, since Connecticut hasn’t had one in so long, what would be the form of execution?

ROBERT NAVE: The form of execution in Connecticut is lethal injection. And the process is carried out at 2:01 a.m. And I would ask the people of the state of Connecticut if this was not poor public policy, why is this carried out in the middle of the night? Why is it that we don’t see this first-hand? Why don’t we know who the execution team is? Why don’t we know who pushes the button that starts the lethal injection? But the fact remains that we won’t know most of this -- we are going to try to find out all this -- but if it was not poor public policy, why are we not being allowed to know all this? Toxicology reports are showing that in many cases, people are not asleep during this process that can take as long as half an hour. To those who witness, they’ll just see a person laying perfectly still, when in actuality he may be alive and being tortured during that entire time. And if anybody thinks that torture is acceptable for anybody, that is a gross human rights violation. Torture is unacceptable, period.

Contact the network by calling the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty at (203) 206-9854, or visit their website at http://www.cnadp.org

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Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Dec. 17, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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