Death-Penalty Critics Welcome O´Connor Comments

WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 5, 2001 ( Critics of the way capital punishment is administered say that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O´Connor helped their reform effort with her public skepticism on the issue this week.

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O´Connor´s remarks resonated with members of a national panel studying the death penalty, composed of supporters and foes who nonetheless believe it is administered unevenly, the Associated Press reported.

The panel just last week recommended 18 reforms including new standards to ensure competent counsel for poor defendants and use of DNA testing when available.

“It´s extraordinary that she´s doing it because she has historically taken a strong position supporting the death penalty,´´ said former federal prosecutor Beth Wilkinson, who won the death sentence for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

O´Connor said in a speech Monday in Minnesota that “serious questions are being raised´´ about the administration of the death penalty and suggested that innocent people may have been put to death.

She noted that 90 death row inmates have been exonerated by new evidence since 1973.

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