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Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

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In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Eisenhower denies the Rosenbergs clemency, Feb. 11, 1953

President Dwight D. Eisenhower
On June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for conspiracy to commit espionage under the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917. 

Members of the Communist Party, the Rosenbergs had been convicted of passing secret information in 1945 about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. 

Their case remains a cause célèbre, with assertions that their prosecution and conviction reflected Cold War hysteria and did not warrant the death penalty.

One of the first decisions facing newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican and World War II military leader, was whether to grant executive clemency to the Rosenbergs, sparing them from being put to death.

On this day in 1953, Eisenhower declined to do so, stating: “The nature of the crime for which they have been found guilty and sentenced far exceeds that of the taking of the life of another citizen; it involves the deliberate betrayal of the entire nation and could very well result in the death of many, many thousands of innocent citizens. By their act these 2 individuals have in fact betrayed the cause of freedom for which free men are fighting and dying at this very hour [in Korea].”

Eisenhower continued: “We are a nation under law and our affairs are governed by the just exercise of these laws. The courts have provided every opportunity for the submission of evidence bearing on this case. In the time-honored tradition of American justice, [a] freely selected jury of their fellow-citizens considered the evidence in this case and rendered its judgment.

“All rights of appeal were exercised, and the conviction of the trial court was upheld after full judicial review, including that of the highest court in the land. I have made a careful examination into this case and am satisfied that the 2 individuals have been accorded their full measure of justice.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg
“There has been neither new evidence nor have there been mitigating circumstances which would justify altering this decision and I have determined that it is my duty in the interest of the people of the United States, not to set aside the verdict of their representatives.”

At about 8 p.m., Julius Rosenberg, 37, was executed at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, N.Y. A few minutes after his body was removed from the execution chamber, Ethel Rosenberg. 35, was strapped to the same electric chair. She was pronounced dead at 8:16 p.m. 

Both Rosenbergs refused to admit any wrongdoing and proclaimed their innocence up to the time of their deaths. Their sons, Michael and Robert, survived them.

In 2014, 5 historians wrote that newly available Soviet documents show that Ethel Rosenberg hid money and espionage paraphernalia for Julius, served as an intermediary for communications with his Soviet intelligence contacts, relayed her personal evaluation of individuals whom Julius considered recruiting, and was present at meetings with his traitorous sources.

Source: “This Day in Presidential History,” by Paul Brandus (2018)

Source: politico.com, Andrew Glass, February 11, 2019


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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