Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center

The debate surrounding the death penalty continues to be a challenging one.   If it hasn’t touched you by now, at some point, it will.   I can easily imagine that in 1897 Indiana when the capital punishment statutes became law, it was a topic of discussion among folk in the town square.   The state death penalty was overturned in 1972 but, it was later reinstated in 1977.   At one point, it was considered unconstitutional, cruel and, so severe.  Could it ever be equally parallel to the crime committed?   Let’s put an end to this 198 year old atrocity.    

Currently, there are 33 states where the death penalty exists and 18 states do not have a death penalty.  There have been 6 states in 6 years that have done away with the death penalty.

Capital punishment is unfairly applied to minorities and people who can’t afford competent legal defense.  Across the country there have been 1330 executions carried out since 1976 and a disproportionate number of defendants were black and their victims were white.  In a recent California study, those who killed whites were over 3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks and over 4 times more likely than those who killed Latinos.

State governors who once believed in the death penalty have since abolished it in their state.  Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy acknowledged that  (1) people are served poorly by their counsel, (2) are wrongly accused, (3) there have been cases of mistaken identity, (4) discrimination and, (5) it doesn’t serve the murder victims’ families. Without a doubt, there are biases and ineffectiveness in the criminal justice system.   Former Mexico Governor Bill Richardson had stated that he did not have the confidence in the criminal justice system.

Justice doesn’t come for everyone or, it may come in short supply for merely a few.   One fact in particular comes to mind, executing innocent people is unethical and so wrong, plain and simple.  Such is the case for Carlos DeLuna’s case of mistaken identity and the execution of an innocent man.

The book “The Wrong Carlos” by Professor James Liebman of Columbia Law School documents the circumstances surrounding the December 8, 1989 Texas execution of an innocent man named Carlos DeLuna who maintained his innocence until his last spoken word moments before his execution was carried out.  Professor Liebman, 12 students and six years of intense investigation found “everything that could go wrong did go wrong”.   

Carlos DeLuna, 20 years old, was the same height and weight of Carlos Hernandez, a man with an extremely lengthy violent criminal record.   They looked so much alike they could have passed for twins.  Even family members sometimes couldn’t tell them apart.  DeLuna was an eye witness to a scuffle between the victim, a white female, and Hernandez.

The shocking details were astonishing. Various people, even DeLuna, provided information to the police.  Confessions from Hernandez were ignored.  At one point, the police thought that DeLuna had made up Hernandez.   Glaring discrepancies stood out and the crime investigation was seriously flawed.  Evidence at the scene of the murder was contaminated, evidence had disappeared and, evidence at the scene had not been used.  During the trial, the prosecutor told the jury that Hernandez did not exist.  There is so much more to this story, so much so that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated, “There has not been a single case – not one – in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. The innocent’s name should be shouted from the rooftop”.

The Indiana Criminal Law Study Commission’s 2002 report found that those convicted of killing white victims are sentenced more severely than those convicted of killing non-white victims.   The American Bar Association racial disparity study backs up the Criminal Law Study Commission’s findings.

Two distinct circumstances of disparity are found in these next 2 cases.

Glenn Beard was convicted and sentenced for the 2012 murder of 13 year old Jarrell Tucker in Indianapolis.  Glenn Beard was identified by the Indiana Department of Correction as a serious violent felon.  He had a disturbing lengthy criminal history and was on parole at the time of the murder.  Glenn Beard is white and his victim, a black teen.  Glenn Beard was in possession of a firearm which is a violation of his parole agreement.   In order to be considered for the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole, the state must prove without a reasonable doubt the existence of at least one aggravating circumstance alleged. There were at least 4 aggravating circumstances.   Glenn Beard received neither the death penalty nor life imprisonment without parole.  The victim, a black male barely 13 years old. The convicted murderer, a 57 year old white male.   

In 1979, Indianapolis citizen Gerald Hatcher was convicted of a Class A robbery and sentenced to 90 years in an Indiana prison.  One might think the time seemed excessive.  In 1987 upon the onset of a basketball game, a prisoner was stabbed and tossed over a railing.  Hatcher, attending to his injured friend, was also trying to keep peace and defuse the pandemonium among several of the inmates.   As the tension seemed to mount, someone with a knife charged Hatcher.   With little left to do, Hatcher attempting to defend himself and was swept into the chaos.   An inmate had been stabbed and Hatcher was later charged with his death.    Hatcher would be charged with murder and now a candidate for the death penalty.   It would be discovered much later that the deceased inmate had been stabbed by another inmate, medical attention was intentionally delayed and he was left to die.    Gerald Hatcher would also discover later that he had been identified by the prison administration as a contract killer for a prison gang.  In the months and years that followed, he would be subjected to questionable treatment, intimidation, coercion, improper interrogations and, harassment.

With few options for legal representation, Hatcher began to conduct his own legal research. He filed court documents and prepared his own appeals.   His spirit, hard work and determination paid off.  His conviction was vacated, his 90 year sentence set aside and, he appealed his death penalty.  The jury was hung on the murder charge and, in 1993 Gerald Hatcher was released after 13 years of imprisonment.   He also received a partially favorable judgment as result from a lawsuit against the State of Indiana regarding the intimidation and harassment he experienced while isolated in the prison hospital.

The Washington D.C.’s Death Penalty Information Center’s website notes Indiana history. The death penalty has been present for much of Indiana states history and that it [the death penalty] has been a part of Indiana legislature and culture even before Indiana was granted statehood in 1816.   Indiana Department of Corrections records show that executions of blacks were commonplace thru the early 1930’s.

In its early history, Indiana had the lowest age in the country for an execution -  10 years of age.  In 1987, the Indiana State Legislature passed a law raising the minimum age of execution to 16 and in 2002; it was raised to age 18.   The state’s high court also cited a 1988 decision by the US Supreme Court barring the execution of juveniles younger than 16 at the time of the crime.   Since then, the US Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional to execute anyone younger than 18 years of age. 

A survey of former and present presidents of the country’s top academic criminological societies, indicate 88% of these experts rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder.

The high cost of extensive trials and the appeals process can be overwhelming.    Various studies indicate that costs resulting in death penalty cases far exceed costs with life in prison without parole and the majority of those costs occur at the trial level.  Studies have found that a death penalty case can be as much as 10 times more expensive than a non-death penalty case.   Death penalty cases require more lawyers, witnesses, law enforcement investigations, pre-trial motions, experts  and, longer jury selection.   Since many of the cases are flawed to begin with, they often are retried more than once even before the appeals are filed.

For far too many reasons, it does not work.  The death penalty represents anguish, pain, ineffectiveness and, racial bias.  It is questionable whether it even brings peace to the victims’ family or delays justice.   There is no doubt that we should reevaluate our attitudes toward crime and punishment however; there are no compelling reasons to maintain this policy.   

If Indiana were to abolish the death penalty, Indiana will once again, make history.

Abolishing the Death Penalty