Capital Punishment Opponents Tour State

By Beacon Staff

David Kaczysnki’s brother Ted, cemented in history as the “Unabomber,” will never be executed. Instead he will spend the rest of his life in prison, a reality that David embraces. But David, who originally tipped off authorities about his brother, is fully aware of how Ted arrived at the life sentence: a government-appointed, all-star defense team; a multi-million dollar trial and, in almost all regards, a lot more help than the average death row inmate ever receives.

To date, 130 death row inmates have been exonerated by DNA evidence and opponents of capital punishment, like David Kaczynski, say it’s clear that many of those inmates never received proper legal representation. That’s a major reason Kaczynski recently wrapped up an 11-day speaking tour across Montana with other anti-death penalty advocates to encourage Montana to abolish capital punishment. Last year, New Jersey became the first state to get rid of capital punishment since the U.S. Supreme Court restored it in 1976. Courts in other states like New York have ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional.

“We have a delivery system and that system is failing,” Kaczynski said in an interview.

On Oct. 6, Kaczynski was one of five speakers who told their stories at Kalispell’s Museum at Central School as part of a national anti-death penalty movement called Journey of Hope…Violence to Healing, sponsored here by the Montana Abolition Coalition. The tour hit 50 locations throughout the state between Oct. 2 and Oct. 12. Speakers included family members of both victims and the convicted, as well ex-death row inmates who were exonerated.

The tour comes at the home stretch of election season, and capital punishment will once again be an issue at the 2009 Montana Legislature. In the 2007 session the Senate passed a bill to abolish the death penalty in Montana and replace it with life without the possibility of parole. The Montana House Judiciary Committee ultimately tabled the bill by a margin of one vote. Lethal injection, which has recently been questioned in court nationwide for its constitutionality, is the only form of death penalty in Montana.

One of Montana’s two death row inmates, Ronald Allen Smith, has been in the news over the past year because officials in Canada, his home country, stated that they wouldn’t save him from execution in Montana for murders he committed in Flathead County in 1982. The death penalty is illegal in Canada.

In an interview following the Kalispell presentation, Kaczynski said capital punishment affects people in tangible ways, not the least of which is what he calls a drain on resources, both human and financial. To emphasize his point he said that before a court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in New York, the state spent $200 million on seven death row inmates who were never executed. He also said that in his brother’s trial the federal government “spent $5 million to kill him and $3 million to save his life.”

“This really isn’t about sympathy,” Kaczynski said. “It’s about compassion on one level, but it’s really about rationality.”

Kaczynski said his fight against the death penalty began after he received a phone call from Bill Babbitt, whose brother Manny was convicted of murder in California. Upon reviewing the details of Manny’s case and comparing them to his brother’s, he said he saw clear injustices in the legal system.

The high-profile case of his Harvard-educated, white brother, Kaczynski said, produced very different results than for Babbitt, an un-educated black Marine who served in Vietnam. Despite similarities in the case – both men were diagnosed schizophrenics and charged with first-degree murder – Babbitt was given the death penalty. During trial, Kaczynski said Babbitt was stuck with an alcoholic attorney who lacked criminal trial experience and who was later disbarred. The poor, colored and mentally ill, Kaczynski believes, are unfairly targeted by capital punishment.

“My concern is we’re executing a lot more Manny Babbitts in the country than we are Ted Kaczynskis,” he said.

Shujaa Graham, who also spoke in Kalispell, said while he was in prison for robbery in California in the 1970s, he was charged with the murder of a guard. Graham spent four years on death row until an outside movement persuaded authorities to give him one more trial. He was then proven innocent and exonerated, but he says today, “I’ve been out 20 years and I still struggle every day.”

“I’m here in spite of the system, not because of the system,” Graham said.

Among the other speakers on Oct. 6 was Bud Welch, whose daughter was killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings. Welch said he was always an opponent of the death penalty but after the bombings he struggled with that belief. It wasn’t until he met Timothy McVeigh’s father and saw the pain it inflicted on the McVeigh family as well as his own that he again grew strong in his anti-capital punishment beliefs.

“(Execution) would be an act of revenge and hate,” Welch said. “Revenge and hate simply was not part of my healing process.”

Kaczynski thinks the judicial system should use its resources better.

“If we invest that energy in crime prevention and healing for victims’ families, it’s really a no-brainer,” Kaczynski said. “Instead of investing all the money in something negative, put it in something positive.”