PBA quoted on death penalty legislation

When news broke yesterday of the Assembly Codes Committee’s failure to send death penalty legislation to the full Assembly for consideration and passage, the State Troopers PBA was asked to comment on the issue. PBA President Daniel M. De Federicis’s comments appeared in several newspapers across the state through the Associated Press news agency as well as independent reports. Below is the article printed by the Times Union newspaper of Albany, along with a link to their web site. President De Federicis’s comments were placed in bold by the PBA for emphasis.

First published: Wednesday, April 13, 2005

ALBANY — A Democrat-controlled Assembly committee Tuesday blocked a bill to restore the death penalty in New York, leaving Republicans promising to mount a long-shot attempt to force the issue.

The vote was 11-7, with three Democrats joining the Codes Committee’s four Republicans in calling for all 150 Assembly members to weigh in on this controversial legislation. The outcome all but killed any chance of the death penalty being reinstated this year.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 37-22 last month in favor of an almost identical bill to fix a flaw in the death penalty law that caused the state’s highest court to rule it unconstitutional last June.

The court said judges’ warnings to jurors that murderers would get a life sentence and a chance for parole if they could not agree on either death or life in prison without parole might lead them to opt for death to avoid the chance of criminals some day walking free.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn, chairman of the Codes Committee, said Tuesday’s decision reflects a shift in the public’s attitude toward capital punishment, and a willingness to accept life in prison without parole even for those who commit the most heinous crimes. A life sentence, he said, allows the chance to correct a wrongful conviction.

But, Lentol cautioned, this issue is unlikely to die quietly.

"The nature of politics being what it is, it will be brought up again and again in years to come," he said.

No one has been executed in New York since the law passed. There are two inmates on death row in Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, Clinton County.

Republican Gov. George Pataki, who made bringing back the death penalty a key plank in his successful 1994 campaign against Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo, called the committee’s decision "outrageous."

"The Assembly leadership is denying its own members the ability to put a strong and sensible capital punishment law back on the books," Pataki said. "The Assembly leadership’s ‘so what’ attitude toward criminals, whether they’re sex offenders, deadly drivers, or heinous murderers, is simply shameful."

Assembly Republicans, outnumbered 103-45, said they may try to bring the death penalty to a full floor vote by attaching it as an amendment to another bill that has already made it out of committee. But that strategy hasn’t worked even once in recent memory.

Assembly Minority Leader Charles Nesbitt, R-Albion, said the committee’s vote proved "more needs to be done to reform the Assembly rules and the committee system so significant legislation does not get bottled up by a select few."

Death penalty opponents said they worked hard to kill the bill in committee because they worried a full house vote would be very close.

"I think it may be a turning point for the state of New York and could be for the entire nation," said David Kaczynski, director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, and brother of Ted Kaczynski, known as "the Unabomber," who pleaded guilty to mail bombings that killed or maimed several people over 20 years. David Kaczynski turned his brother in, but insisted the death penalty not be sought against him.

Former U.S. Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo, who created the online anti-death penalty campaign Network for Justice, crowed: "The good guys win!" Andrew Cuomo was working for his father, Mario Cuomo, when he was fighting off efforts to reinstate the death penalty.

Not everyone was so pleased.

"At least get it to a vote," said Dan De Federicis, president of the State Trooper’s Police Benevolent Association. "It’s an insult to actively block this vote."

Assemblyman David Townsend Jr., an Oneida County Republican, had urged his colleagues to support the death penalty and argued life without parole doesn’t deter murderers — especially those already in prison — from killing. Without the threat of the death penalty, Townsend said, corrections officers and other prison workers will be in danger.

Click here for a link to the article in the Times Union newspaper