Stay of Executions

Opponents of the death penalty have to be grateful for any recognition of its injustice. All honor to members of the American Bar Association (ABA) who voted to endorse at least a moratorium on capital punishment over the objections of their president, Lee Cooper. He said the vote amounted to one on banning capital punishment, and he preferred such a vote to be so designated.

We hope a vote for a ban does come from the nation's largest organization of lawyers. Meanwhile, the proposed moratorium would halt executions until defendants are assured greater fairness by the federal government and nearly 40 states allowing capital punishment. Moratorium supporters included proponents and opponents of the death penalty. Among them: 20 of 24 past ABA presidents.

The vote last week came as several states counted a decline in death sentences for other reasons. For example, where a sentence of life without parole was an option, juries often chose it over death. They seemed to recognize that the goal of punishment should be not vengeance but society's protection from convicted criminals. This preserves the possibility of rehabilitating prisoners or finding they did not commit the crime they were condemned for. The latter has happened in 350 capital convictions during this century, too late for 25 prisoners executed before the corrected finding.

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