The College Libertarians and the College of William and Mary’s chapter of the NAACP hosted the second lecture in their three-part series, “Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty,” Wednesday, March 22.
National Advocacy Coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty Marc Hyden spoke about the legal and financial pitfalls surrounding the death penalty.
It risks innocent life, costs a ton of money and it gives an error prone government an awful lot of power,” Hyden said.
“It risks innocent life, costs a ton of money and it gives an error prone government an awful lot of power,” Hyden said.
According to Hyden, there have been many cases around the United States in which innocent people have been incarcerated and his organization works to make sure that those who are falsely accused are not put on death row.
Hyden cited examples of cases in which innocent people were sentenced to death, including the case of Anthony Graves.
“Anthony spent 12 years on death row and another six years in prison for allegedly killing a family of six,” Hyden said. “The only problem is, Anthony didn’t commit the crime. The real killer had admitted to the murder and said Anthony had nothing to do with this.”
Even though an admission of guilt was provided by the actual killer, the prosecution withheld the evidence and Graves was incarcerated for a total of 18 years. His case was later reopened and he was found innocent and released.
Another example Hyden provided was that of Carlos de Luna, who was accused of murdering a gas station attendant in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“Carlos was convicted and executed for allegedly killing a gas station attendant in 1983 in Corpus Christi, Texas,” Hyden said. “There was no physical evidence linking him to the murder for which he was convicted. It all relied on circumstantial evidence in the eye witness testimony of one guy.”
De Luna had been framed by another man named Carlos who was a police informant in Texas at the same time as de Luna’s alleged crime. Two factors led to him being incarcerated and later executed. The first issue was that the other Carlos had been telling people in his neighborhood that he had gotten away with killing his girlfriend and some assumed that de Luna was the man spreading the rumor.
The second problem was that the eyewitness who testified against de Luna later admitted he was only 50 percent certain de Luna was the killer and that he thought “every Mexican looked alike.” Together, Hyden said these factors led to de Luna’s wrongful incarceration and execution.
Hyden said the death penalty is also a financial burden.
“The way the death penalty is run should offend those of us who are dedicated to protecting potentially innocent life,” Hyden said. “As well as those of us fiscal conservatives like me who want to see fiscal prudency, fiscal sanity in government. The truth of the matter is, the death penalty is far more expensive than life without parole.”
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Nebraska taxpayers payed approximately $1.5 million more for death penalty prosecution cases than life without parole prosecutions. The same study found that states with the death penalty spend about 3.54 percent of their budgets on their criminal justice systems while states without the death penalty spend about 2.93 percent of their budgets.
“California has the worst costs associated with their death penalty,” Hyden said. “They spent $5 billion on their death penalty program and executed 13 people. That’s over $300 million essentially for execution … Maryland and North Carolina each found that each execution is about $2 million more than the full cycle of life without parole.”
Virginia has executed 111 people since its reinstatement of the death penalty in the 1970s. The state has the shortest time between conviction and execution in the entire country, lasting approximately eight years.
Executive Director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Michael Stone said Virginia currently has people awaiting execution.
“Unfortunately, we still have six people on death row,” Stone said. “We executed one person in January, Ricky Gray, who was responsible for a horrendous murder of a young married couple and their two very young girls.”
According to Hyden, another factor that leads to the decision to administer the death penalty is the race and gender of the victim. Hyden said defendants accused of harming white females are the most likely to be sentenced to death.
“If the victim is a white female, the odds of an execution happening go up exponentially,” Hyden said. “However, if the victim is a black male, the odds of an execution are pretty low … To me, that says that certain juries find some people, some races, some sexes to be more important, more valuable than others. And I really think that’s not where we’re at as a society.”
College Libertarians President Skip Estes ’17 said he was surprised by the statistics surrounding the death penalty.
“I know I learned a lot about the death penalty,” Estes said. “I didn’t really know that the statistics were really that shocking. I knew it was bad, but it didn’t know it was hundreds of people being executed wrongfully.”
The United States has released 155 incarcerated people who had been sentenced to death since the 1970s. These individuals spent an average of 10 years in prison.
Hyden said he believes he death penalty puts a government on the same level as its criminals.
“When the government kills an innocent U.S. citizen, it becomes no better than the offenders that it’s trying to execute,” Hyden said.