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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute President Urges President Bush to Impose Moratorium on Death Penalty

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.--In an April 2nd letter to George W. Bush, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, urged President Bush to issue an Executive Order imposing an immediate moratorium on the administration of the federal death penalty, particularly in light of the Senate's consideration of the "National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2001." The bill would place a hold on executions by the federal government and encourage the states to do the same, pending the National Commission on the Death Penalty's review of the fairness of the death penalty system.

Citing the Justice Department's report, "The Federal Death Penalty System: A Statistical Survey (1988-2000)," Whitehead raised several concerns about the inequities in the death penalty system. Among these are concerns over racial discrimination and the obstacles to foreign policy. For example, the report found that three quarters of the federal capital defendants against whom the prosecution has been authorized to seek the death penalty are non-white. Similarly, U.S. attorneys are almost twice as likely to recommend the death penalty for a black defendant when the victim was non-black than when the victim was black. Additionally, charged capital defendants were more than twice as likely to receive a plea agreement if they were white. The federal death penalty has also begun to jeopardize the extradition of federal suspects to the United States. For example, one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives, James Kopp, who was arrested in France and is suspected in the 1998 murder of New York physician Barnett Slepian, faces the death penalty under a federal law that permits the death penalty for using deadly force against an abortion doctor. Because France abolished the death penalty in 1981 and has refused to extradite suspects who face the death penalty elsewhere, French officials have refused to hand Kopp over to U.S. authorities.

In his letter to the president, Whitehead states, "While a moratorium would not necessarily restore the standing of the United States in the international community, it would certainly signal a commitment to the principles of fundamental fairness and justice that Americans share in common with our allies and partners abroad. I therefore respectfully urge you to issue an order staying all federal executions until the completion of the Commission's study. Furthermore, if Congress passes S.B. 233, I urge you to sign it into law."

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.

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