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AR Lawmakers to Consider Death Penalty Repeal

March 25, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Maryland has become the latest state to repeal its death penalty, and a half-dozen others are considering doing so, including Arkansas. New legislation (HB 2166 and SB 1055) in the state House and Senate would give maximum life sentences instead.

Arkansas hasn't executed anyone since 2005, although according to Dave Rickard, chairman of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, it may be just a matter of time.

"There are eight men now who have exhausted all their appeals, and the Attorney General has indicated that he will file warrants for their execution. I imagine that he'll wait until after the legislature finishes," said Rickard. "So, we're probably at least another year away from an execution."

Rickard sees the delay as a chance to convince lawmakers that capital punishment isn't only a moral issue, but an economic one. He says keeping people on death row is about triple the cost of housing regular inmates.

Both death penalty repeal bills are expected to be in committee this week.

In addition to cost, other factors are at work in what has become a national trend of re-examining death sentences. Multiple studies have proven bias in these cases based on income and race, and shown that capital punishment hasn't been a crime deterrent. And modern investigation techniques have shed new light on many murder cases, adds attorney and former State Representative Herb Rule.

"There have been numerous exonerations in recent years that feed the doubt amongst those who are skeptical about government and law, and courts," said Rule, "that mistakes come up and lead to the possible execution of people who are not guilty."

In a voter survey released this month in North Carolina, 68 percent of respondents support a death penalty repeal if the offender is required to work and pay restitution to victims' families. Six states have repealed their death penalties in the last six years.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - AR