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Dean supports death penalty

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Dean supports death penalty


Death penalty


The Governor spoke about his position on the death penalty and the appropriate usage of the death penalty for the state of Vermont.


Good, Jeffrey


Good, Jeffrey. "Dean supports death penalty; Governor changes position on 'heinous' crimes." Burlington Free Press, October 23, 1997.


HIST 298, University of Mary Washington




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MONTPELIER - For the first time, Gov. Howard Dean has publicly voiced his support for the death penalty.
After debating the issue for years, Dean said Wednesday, "I do think the death penalty is appropriate for certain.... (crimes), such as the murder of children and the killing of police officers in the line of duty."
Dean has previously opposed capital punishment. The governor, who is also a medical doctor, was asked at his weekly news conference if his view conflicted with the physicians' pledge to "do no harm."
He replied: " 'Do no harm' also, I think, pertains to letting people out of jail ... who would be a terrible harm to innocent people." Despite his statement of support, Dean said not to expect him to push lawmakers to revive the death penalty in Vermont. For one thing, he said, he doesn't think the Legislature would endorse it.
He's probably right about that, said one legislator who has tried for years to dell the idea inside the Statehouse. While Rep. Nancy Sheltra, R-Derby, welcomed Dean's support, she wondered if it was a "political ploy."
Dean has been traveling the country in recent months, prompting speculation that he might run for president in 2000. Sheltra wonders whether he's simply trying to win over death penalty supporters in other states.
See DEAN, 12A
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[image caption] Vermont hasn't used the electric chair since 1954.
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DEAN: Governor switches death-penalty stance
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"It's very easy to make a political stand like that when you know you don't have to deal with it here," she said. "If you really believe in something, you're out there working for it."
Vermont has executed 26 people, the last one in 1954, according to state archives. Most were hanged; five died in the electric chair, which is mothballed in a basement near Dean's office--with, according to one account, "its arms still bearing the scratch marks of dying men."
Vermont abolished the penalty for most offenses in 1965. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down nationwide as unconstitutional. After the high court opened the door again four years later, 38 states brought the penalty back.
Vermont was not among them. Vermont Law School Professor Michael Mello says Dean should think twice about joining a troubled club.
"This is a very dangerous road for him to be leading Vermont down," Mello said. "It's a myth to think that the death penalty will only be reserved for the worst of the worst."
[large font] "Death row isn't populated by the people who committed the worst crimes; death row is populated by the people who had the worst lawyers." Michael Mello, Vermont Law School professor
Mello speaks from experience as a lawyer defending death row inmates in the South. He recently helped win a new trial for Florida man, Joseph Spaziano, who was about to be executed when new information surfaced to bolster his claim of innocence.

Death penalty in Vermont
HANGING: Between 1788 and 1912, 21 people were hanged, two of them women.
ELECTRIC CHAIR: Between 1912 and 1954, five people were executed in the electric chair.
Source: Vermont Secretary of State's Office

"Death row isn't populated by the people who committed the worst crimes; death row is populated by the people who had the worst lawyers," Mello said. In states with the death penalty, he said, innocent people inevitably die.
Dean said he changed his mind based on "heinous" crimes, including the 1993 murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas in California. Closer to home, he cited the murder of Paulette Crickmore, a Richmond girl who disappeared on her way to school in 1986 and was found murdered.
He denied trying to score national political points, saying that Klaas case began the "evolution" of his thinking. "Certainly nobody could have even thought about... (a presidential bid) in 1993."
Nor, he said, would he argue that capital punishment would prevent the "heinous" murderers he would like to punish.
"If I thought the death penalty was going to stop the next depraved murder that might occur in Vermont, I would asked the Legislature to enact it," he said. "I truly don't believe it's a deterrent."

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Chiarello, Frances

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Van Doren, Jamie




Good, Jeffrey, “Dean supports death penalty,” HIST298, accessed December 5, 2023, http://hist298.umwhistory.org/items/show/290.