By KATE BRUMBACK, Associated Press
Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday there are overwhelming ethical, financial and religious reasons to abolish the death penalty all over the world.
Carter spoke at a daylong symposium on capital punishment at the Carter Center in Atlanta, but it wasn’t the first time the 89-year-old former president and former governor of Georgia has advocated ending capital punishment.
Statistics have shown that the possibility of the death penalty does not reduce violent crime that and crime doesn’t increase when executions are stopped, he said. He also said there are unfair racial, economic and geographic disparities in the application of the death penalty.
“It’s hard to imagine a rich white man or woman going to the death chamber after being defended by expensive lawyers,” Carter said.
He said there have been some positive steps, noting U.S. Supreme Court decisions that barred the execution of the mentally disabled, people under 18 and people convicted of rape unless a death is involved.
But he also noted that Georgia, which became the first state to ban executing the intellectually disabled in 1988, is the only state that requires death penalty defendants to prove beyond a reasonable doubt they are disabled — which he said is a nearly impossible standard.
Carter noted that a majority of the executions since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S. in 1976 have been carried out in Southern states, which are traditionally more conservative. But Carter said he doesn’t believe that opposing the death penalty has to be politically poisonous.
Sitting on a panel with Carter at the American Bar Association’s National Symposium on the Modern Death Penalty in America, Southern Center for Human Rights president Stephen Bright prodded Carter about the political viability of such a position in Georgia.
“Let’s say you were advising someone running for governor today, just hypothetically let’s say a member of your family was running for governor and asked you what position to take on the death penalty,” Bright said, drawing laughs from the crowd. Carter’s grandson, Georgia state Sen. Jason Carter, announced last week that he’s running for governor.
Carter laughed and then grew more serious in his response: “If I ever have someone like that in my family, I will give them a copy of the speech I just made and ask them to do what they believe in their heart is right because I don’t believe that the death penalty abolition would be an overwhelmingly a negative factor in Georgia politics.”
The key, Carter said, is stressing hefty alternative sentences, such as life in prison.
The American Bar Association does not take an official stance on the death penalty but does believe it should be implemented fairly, association president Jim Silkenat said.
A bar association analysis of death penalty systems in the 12 states that account for nearly two-thirds of the executions in the modern death penalty era shows that it is applied unevenly and unfairly, Silkenat said.
“Until we know for sure, for sure, that no innocent person is sent to sit on death row or be put to death, we must work to implement fairness and justice for all,” he said.