Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Two New Measures To Bring Death Penalty to Wisconsin - NBC15

Last night Madison's NBC affiliate carried a story discussing the proposed death penalty referendum. I was featured in opposition to the referendum.

By Dana Brueck

A single referendum question could tell lawmakers, once and for all, how Wisconsin feels about the death penalty. A death penalty opponent says the move would advance the political debate without providing real information on the issue.

No one has been put to death in Wisconsin in more than 150 years, but the case of Steven Avery has compelled some lawmakers to re-visit the debate.

"I had a number of constituents call up who were actually crying and said you need to introduce your bill and do something," Sen. Tom Reynolds says.

Reynolds calls his legislation the most narrowly crafted death penalty bill in the nation. Anyone convicted of sexual assault, murder and dismemberment or mutilation of another would be eligible for a sentence of death, if DNA evidence is present.

Steven Avery, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 18 years, is suspected of raping and killing freelance photographer Theresa Halbach. He has not been tried, but the case's brutality has some lawmakers calling for the death penalty in Wisconsin.
"This is why western society, history of mankind may have had the death penalty, for people who have dehumanized themselves with such vile behavior," Sen. Reynolds says.

"Those examples are the ones you'd expect a politician to pick out because they're the easier ones to justify," criminal defense attorney Erik Guenther says. The State Bar of Wisconsin opposes the death penalty.

Guenther says a system of justice, not of revenge, exists to punish those convicted of heinous crimes. "Punishment with lifetime imprisonment, which is what we have now, does adequately address punishment and is significantly less costly than we as a society accepting the moral compromise to put people to death," he says.

But Sen. Alan Lasee wants to put the issue to voters through referendum ... asking, "Should the death penalty be enacted in the State of Wisconsin for cases involving a person who is convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, if the homicide is vicious and the conviction supported by DNA evidence?"

"If the majority say yes, then I would introduce a bill next session and take it from there," Sen. Lasee says.

But Guenther calls the question slanted, saying it also leaves out important issues, such as the quality of legal representation for a defendant. "The quality of representation affects the ability to question and challenge the presence of DNA evidence. Not all DNA evidence is the same."

LaSee's resolution is scheduled to hit the floor on Tuesday. If passed by both houses, the advisory referendum question would go on the September ballot. A committee hearing on Reynold's draft bill is scheduled for Wednesday.

To view the story as it aired on last night's evening news go to:

http://nbc15.madison.com/home/headlines/2418161.html

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