When we run campaigns to end the use of the death penalty, we get a variety of responses. Many people walk by not wanting to be involved. Some will come and readily sign the petition. A few will shout at us or say that they agree with the death penalty and want to see it reintroduced into the UK.
Glenn Ford at his release. Picture: AP
Quite apart from the moral case against the practice, the major problem is that mistakes cannot be undone. Once someone is executed, discovering that they were innocent is not a lot of use. Evidence of this is the recent release of Glenn Ford in Louisiana, USA, after having served 30 years in the notorious Angola Prison.
The case has all the familiar hallmarks of other people released in these circumstances. Firstly he was black and that is still a problem in the southern states. Secondly, the prosecution ensures that there is an all-white jury. Thirdly, the defence council is inexperienced and in this case, he was a corporate lawyer and it was his first time in front of a jury. Add in dodgy expert testimony and a man now known to be innocent spends 30 years of his life in gaol waiting to be executed. It now appears the key witness lied and she has admitted that and the Shreveport Times – Shreveport is where the murder was committed – reports that key evidence that would have exonerated him was withheld. This or other evidence, was discovered by a Sherriff’s investigator and led to his release.
Glenn goes adds to the list of 144 other people released from death row since 1973. Of course we cannot read across to this country the circumstances of the south in the USA. Even so, this should give pause for thought to those keen on a reintroduction of the penalty to this country. Recent revelations about the activities of the Metropolitan Police show that ensuring a scrupulously fair trial cannot be relied upon.
Amnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all cases.