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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, May 18, 2024

Activists list human error, race as reasons against death penalty

Death penalty opponents addressed law enforcement error, racial disparity and mental competency at a panel Wednesday night at the Wisconsin Historical Society. 


Cynthia Hirsch, a former Illinois prosecutor, said death penalty cases take a heavy toll on prosecutors. ""[A death penalty case] becomes a career case, and suddenly deciding halfway down the road that ‘maybe we've got the wrong guy' or ‘maybe the death penalty isn't appropriate' could have been career disaster,"" she said. 


""The result of all this pressure cooking . . . is that good, competent people lose judgment,"" Hirsch said. ""We develop a kind of tunnel vision; we are absolutely convinced in the merits of our case because we have so much at stake in this case.""  


Robbie Lowery from the Wisconsin Department of Justice also said law enforcement mistakes can occur.  


""We go where the evidence leads us, but sometimes we make mistakes,"" he said. ""Mistakes should not cost someone their life."" 


The panelists addressed discrimination in death penalty cases. 


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Hirsch said there have been 1,049 executions from 1977 to 2006. Blacks accounted for 358 of those cases and 216 involved white victims; cases against whites with black victims accounted for 20 of the total cases.  


Vikki Pannetti told the story of Scott Pannetti, her brother and current death row inmate in Texas. Pannetti said her brother had a history of mental illness, yet the judge allowed him to represent himself at his murder trial.  


""He did so wearing a cowboy outfit and tried to subpoena Jesus Christ and Ann Bancroft,"" Pannetti said.  


Pannetti said society has a responsibility to protect those who can't protect themselves. 


""Our criminal justice system is suppose to represent the ideals our country stands for,"" Pannetti said. ""This is a case that should shake you to the core because it undermines every principle our society should stand for."" 


Juan Melendez, a recently exonerated Florida death row inmate, said the death penalty is unnecessary. He said right now Wisconsin currently does not run the risk of executing an innocent man, but bringing the death penalty back to Wisconsin would be a step back.  


The death penalty will be voted on in November and as a non-binding referendum.

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