The liberal bias of the media was on display when most major papers and the news networks covered a so-called National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty at Northwestern University Law School. Some liberals and most Democrats, including President Clinton, have come around to accepting the death penalty. But not those at this conference. And they put on a good show, parading before the cameras some people who had been freed from death row for various reasons. At the end of the conference, these so-called “survivors of death row” each placed a sunflower in a vase to symbolize the life they regained.
The implication was that these people were all clearly innocent. But that wasn’t necessarily the case. Some were freed because of flaws or technical violations in the trials. Appearing on one program, a representative of the Washington Legal Foundation noted that the organizers of the conference were unable to cite one case in which an innocent person was put to death.
Nevertheless, in an editorial, the Washington Post maintained that there is a “possibility” that some of the people on death row might be innocent. The Post went on to say that the Northwestern University conference raised a “question” of how many “innocent lives” were going to be sacrificed in order to have a death penalty.
Despite the impression in the media, the real scandal involves the length of time it takes to carry out the death penalty. The average wait on death row is now more than 10 years—even in cases in which the guilt has been firmly established. Consider the case of Tyrone Gilliam, who was recently executed by chemical injection in the state of Maryland. He was convicted in 1988—ten years ago—of the shotgun slaying of a 21-year-old Baltimore hardware store accountant. He and his criminal associates robbed her of $3 and forced her to drive to a secluded area, where he shot her in the head with a shotgun. He was sentenced to die for his crime. He confessed twice to pulling the trigger and his confessions were corroborated by two co-defendants. The case was reviewed and upheld 16 times by state and federal appellate courts.
At the last minute, Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, made a last minute plea for mercy to Maryland Governor Parris Glendening, saying that Gilliam had converted to Islam and had seen “the error of his ways.” Farrakhan wanted Glendening to spare Gilliam’s life. Fortunately, Glendening rebuffed this plea for clemency.
The real problem in America is the lack of protection for the rights of victims of crimes. On November 3rd, victims’ rights constitutional amendments were ratified in three more states. They were approved by wide margins—93 percent in Mississippi, 71 percent in Montana, and 89 percent in Tennessee. A total of 32 states now recognize victims’ rights as part of their fundamental law, and there is a campaign to have a federal constitutional amendment enacted by Congress to protect victims’ rights. It’s time for the media to focus attention on the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators of crime.