Three Anti-Death Penalty Advocates Spoke Last Night for a Panel titled Voice of Hope, Agents of Change.
By Ashley Bressler
The Daily Collegian Online- University Park, PA
As part of an effort to encourage Penn State students and the State College community to rethink major social issues and engage in discussion, anti-death penalty advocates spoke at the panel, Voices of Hope, Agents of Change, last night.
Harold Wilson, Frank Baumgartner and Rev. Walter Everett spoke of the new way the death penalty is being discussed.
Wilson, of Philadelphia, spent more than 16 years on death row in Pennsylvania for crimes he never committed.
After several trials, DNA testing and elimination of the racial disparities that influenced his original trial and sentence, Wilson was released in 2005.
"I'm the 122 person in the U.S. to be exonerated and the sixth person in Pennsylvania. It's a title that many people wouldn't know what it really means," Wilson said. Baumgartner, professor of political science, said there has been a shift in the way Americans discuss capital punishment.
The shift focused more on the faces of people who have been exonerated, the people who were wrongly convicted and were sentenced to years in prison.
Baumgartner said there are 228 people currently on death row in Pennsylvania, but that only three inmates have been executed since 1976.
He said 60 to 70 percent of death sentences are thrown out when reviewed by federal judges and are given a new trial.
"They're not all vicious criminals, some of them just got caught up in the system," Baumgartner said.
Everett, who represents victims' families against the death penalty, said he has been actively advocating against the death penalty throughout his entire adult life.
"I've always been opposed to the death penalty on religious ground, moral ground, and on practical ground, but it all came to home when my son was murdered 20 and a half years ago," Everett said.
Everett said he was angry after his son's death, but that he knew the only way he would find closure was to forgive the person who murdered his son.
He said once he was able to find forgiveness, his healing began.
"Society is out for vengeance, but the vengeance does nothing for the families of the victims," Everett said.
The panel discussed the many racial and economic disparities associated with the death penalty.
Wilson said he was not only wrongly accused, but the wrongful conviction was a direct result from lack of funding during his trial. He said his family hired a lawyer, but his trial was still seriously hindered by lack of funding.
"If you don't have the capital, you'll get the punishment," Wilson said.
He said because Pennsylvania restitution laws have not been changed, all of the six individuals who have been exonerated from death row are still waiting restitution.
"The only thing I've received was a 65 cent bus token," Wilson said.