There is no way to devise a fool-proof system — or even a fair system — when it comes to sentencing people to death, and ultimately...
There is no way to devise a fool-proof system — or even a fair system — when it comes to sentencing people to death, and ultimately, killing killers is the wrong way to go, the younger brother of “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski said at a fund-raising dinner in Seattle last night.
David Kaczynski, who turned his brother in to the FBI and is now the executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, could not have had a more receptive audience: He addressed about 160 social-justice activists, people from various faith groups and criminal-defense attorneys as the keynote speaker at a dinner and auction at the College Club. The annual event benefits the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Kaczynski was brought to Seattle by Judith Kay, a social-ethics professor at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma and a coalition volunteer who visits and provides “death-row support” to the nine men now facing execution in Washington state.
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David Kaczynski, Kay said, faced a “horrible ethical dilemma” in deciding whether to step forward with suspicions that his schizophrenic brother was responsible for a 17-year-long bombing campaign that killed three and injured more than 20. His brother was arrested in 1996.
“I think he’s a model of courage and consistency of his convictions against violence,” Kay said. “He didn’t want any more innocent people harmed, and he didn’t want his brother to be killed.”
It will be 10 years next month that Kaczynski’s wife, Linda, first suggested to him the possibility Ted Kaczynski could be the Unabomber, David Kaczynski said last night. He spoke of his anguish, but also of the betrayal he felt when prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty against his brother, saying all that saved Ted Kaczynski from the execution chamber were his lawyers. In a 1998 plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty. Ted Kaczynski is serving a life sentence in a Colorado prison.
Race is also a factor, David Kaczynski said. He told the story of a California man, Bill Babbitt. Babbitt, who is black, also turned his schizophrenic brother in to authorities after suspecting that his brother, Manny Babbitt, was responsible for the murder of an elderly woman. But he didn’t get a good lawyer — his attorney had never argued a criminal case, let alone a capital case, Kaczynski said. Manny Babbitt died by lethal injection.
But Kaczynski and others celebrated a number of “small victories” last night, namely the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this week that bars capital punishment for crimes committed before someone turns 18. Kaczynski is also hopeful that New York — whose state Supreme Court last year struck down the state’s capital-punishment statute as unconstitutional — will decide not to reinstate the death penalty.
As for Washington, there are signs, too, that attitudes are changing, said Mark Larranaga, director of Washington state’s Death Penalty Assistance Center.
In the last five years, Larranaga said, Washington has had the fewest cases where the death penalty was sought, the fewest cases where it was imposed and the highest number of reversals in the state’s history. In that time, the number of death-row prisoners has shrunk from 18 to 9, “almost all of them because of reversals” that resulted in life sentences.
Still, Larranaga said, in this state “every single African-American man on death row was put there by an all-white jury.”
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654