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Maureen Bridget Cavanaugh
January 7 1955 - April 4 2005

Professor Maureen B. Cavanaugh and Capital Punishment.


Letter from Law School and College and University Professors Regarding the 1000th Execution in the United States Since the Reinstatement of Capital Punishment


November 30, 2005

To Whom It May Concern:

We, the undersigned law school, college, and university professors stand together in expressing our deep concern that nearly 1,000 executions have occurred in this country since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976. We stand with many other Americans who are challenging the effectiveness of the death penalty and raising questions about the likelihood of innocent people being executed and the fundamental unfairness in the manner in which the death penalty is applied in this country.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center there have been 121 innocent people freed from death rows across the country since 1976 and now compelling evidence is emerging that some innocent people may have been executed. For example, Missouri officials are currently investigating the possibility that Larry Griffin, who was executed in 1995, was in fact, innocent. A report by Equal Justice U.S.A. documents nine cases where people were executed despite strong evidence of innocence. As the number of executions increase, the likelihood that we have, or will, execute an innocent person becomes a near certainty.

Many Americans are now questioning the need for the death penalty at all because the evidence shows that it is ineffective, unfair, and inaccurate. Death sentences have declined by more than 50% since the late 1990's and 80% of the executions that have gone forward have been in just one region of the country - the South. The size of death row has declined every year since 2001. The true face of the death penalty is shown in the fact that nearly half of the 1000 executions that have taken place in the U.S. have occurred in two states, Texas and Virginia. Recent judicial and legislative action in New York has left the legal status of the death penalty there very uncertain, and Illinois has a moratorium on executions.

The American Bar Association has called for a national moratorium on all executions because the system is so seriously flawed. After an exhaustive study of the issues, the ABA concluded that "the inadequacy and inadequate compensation of counsel at trial" was one of the "principal failings of the capital punishment system in states today."

Many organizations of victims' family members, such as Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, are saying that the death penalty offers them nothing. Also, there is a growing recognition of the harm that executions cause the family members, especially the children, of the executed. With the prosecution of even a single capital case costing millions of dollars, the cost of executing 1000 people is easily in the billions of dollars. In light of the serious economic challenges that our country faces today, the valuable resources that are expended to carry out death sentences would be better spent investing in programs that work to prevent crime, such as improving education, providing services to those with mental illness, and putting more law enforcement officers on our streets.

Leaders from nearly every religious denomination in the country have called for an end to the death penalty. The Catholic Church has embarked on a national campaign to end the death penalty, and other denominations are increasing their efforts as well. The U.S. is among a handful of nations throughout the world that continue to carry out executions, and it is out of step with the majority of its global allies on this issue.

We urge elected officials at the federal and state levels to take a closer look at the reality of capital punishment in the United States and seek ways to achieve a fair, just, and humane legal system.


(Institutional affiliation for identification purposes only. The signatures do not reflect the official policy of the named institutions.)

Maureen B. Cavanaugh Research Professor

Penn State University

The Dickinson School

Visiting Professor of Law

Howard University School of Law

Note: Maureen was one of over 200 academics who signed the letter for 1000executions.org, a now defunct organization. The 1000th person to be executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s was to take place on November 30, 2005. Virginia death row prisoner Robin Lovitt was scheduled to be put to death on that day. Anti-death penalty activists had various actions, vigils and speakouts planned to take place across the country. Due to the public outcry he was granted clemency by Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner on November 29, 2005. The honor of the 1000th execution went to Kenneth Lee Boyd, a confessed murderer of his wife and father-in-law, who was executed on December 2, 2005. Ironically, the letter was not made public until after Maureen was dead.


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