This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Frank Titus moderates.
Jerome Nathanson, Chairman of New York State Committee to Abolish Capital Punishment, who discusses "the case against capital punishment."
Panelists include Mike Wall, Charles Rosema, James Cardinal, Steve Bronstein.
He is questioned about his organization - which he describes as including people of all faiths and people of no faith. When asked, he states that he is categorically opposed to all capital punishment, even if Hitler had still been alive at the end of WWII. He favors life imprisonment. He also favors parole in some life imprisonment cases. He cites statistics in New Jersey where parole in these cases exist and there had been no instances of a paroled murderer killing again.
Nathanson is also questioned about the death penalty as used by the military.
He discusses how other states have gone about abolishing the death penalty. Caryl Chessman case is specifically mentioned.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 72086
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
Is capital punishment confined to the for those revenge motivate our judicial system as Carol Chessman going to die in the gas chamber for the abolishment of capital punishment eventually free convicted killers while the answers to these and other questions listen now to your city station campus press conference transcribed discussion the editors of college newspapers question a newsworthy personality our moderator on campus press conference is W. N.Y.C. news editor and reporter Frank Titus who introduced the panel and today's guest here is Mr Titus Good evening welcome to a campus press conference tonight our guest is Mr Jerome Nathan chairman of the New York State Committee to abolish capital punishment the members of our college news panel are Michael B. wall and why you square Journal Charles Rosie Columbia Daily Spectator Jim cardinal Fordham Law School and Steve Bronstein Cooper Union pioneer topic the case against capital punishment these programs are unrehearsed and on edited all these programs opinions expressed by any of the participants do not necessarily represent the views of the station on Feb twenty third the New York State Committee to abolish capital punishment urged Governor Rockefeller to support a bill which would establish a state commission to study the problem of capital punishment in New York State the Committee urged the governor to profit from the lessons of the carol Chessman case in California in a letter to Governor Rockefeller Jerome Nathan our guest and committee chairman said that a decision on capital punishment should be based on objective facts rather than in his words hysteria and political pressure which now characterize the California debate. Mr Layton some suggested that the proposed commission investigate the value of capital punishment as a deterrent to murder on the basis of evidence gathered in foreign countries and other states in this country a bill to establish a study commission on this problem has been introduced in the New York State Assembly by Assemblyman William Cappleman of New York Jerome Nathan from says capital punishment should be carefully evaluated by an impartial study commission only then can the people have the facts upon which an intelligent judgment can be made campus press conference examines the case against capital punishment tonight and here's Jim cardinal with the first question Mr Nathan is the public ready to accept a substitute for capital punishment I think that would be a most difficult question to answer at the present time Mr Cardinal and I know of no objective way in which a determination could be made this is why although our committee to abolish capital punishment has had legislation introduced in the New York State legislature calling for abolition we are at the present time actually putting our white terms of far as it can be effective behind the bill to establish a study commission to which Mr Titus has referred that bill incidentally was introduced by Mr Kaplan in the assembly and a companion bill has been introduced in the state Senate to the same effect by Senator Anderson. Our hope on a such a commission is that the facts would be a deuced and would be a more effective basis for the creation of a sound public attitude on the question if it were possible would you favor a public referendum in New York state on this issue under no circumstances would I do so particularly in the present climate of opinion and if I may Mr Titus I'd like briefly to explain why I take that position go right at the lake of I think among other things the Chessman case for example at the present time was introduced so much emotion so much sensationalism so much a Styria that you could not get a property popular judgment on this matter and it is hard to know at what point people of talk things through on the basis of which they can reach more objectivity I might mention in passing that a while back as you may know the Oregon state legislature passed a bill to abolish capital punishment and it was approved by the governor of Oregon but it was subject to popular referendum and was defeated in the state of Oregon Gov Mike the SAL of Ohio together with Governor Brown of California is an older of the opposed to the death penalty but when not too long ago it was proposed in Ohio that piece of be submitted to popular referendum gov to sail for this kind of reason I think was vehemently opposed to that kind of action center and you're in the text of your letter to Governor Rockefeller you will propounded this question does the death penalty discriminate against the poor and against certain minority groups or would you answer this question is capital punishment confined to the poor Well surely it is not confined to the poor would be a most unfortunate way to put the question. And yet even though there is every attempt in the American judicial system to give justice in the best of all possible ways there can be no doubt on the record that people who do not have funds have been more likely to go out of the chair want to accuse a different order than people who do have adequate being financially to employ the best kind of counsel this applies Unfortunately not only to those who were relatively privileged economically but in the same kind of ratio to members of minority groups in this country why is it fair that in a nation such as Great Britain the Conservative Party would favor a proposal is opposed to a proposal to abolish capital punishment whereas the Labor party favors such legislation how am I I have difficulty enough trying to make heads and tails out of American politics and wouldn't presume to answer the British question listen a concern taking up on Jim's question does the death penalty discriminate against the poor in certain minority groups I believe you gave your views on how it discriminates against the poor in your opinion and let's get to minority groups what the minority groups anyone more than the others well if you'll indulge me a moment Mr Titus could I get back to the question of a kind of discrimination if you will against the poor this is not my opinion warden laws who for years was a thing sing and surely was one of the greatest of correction officials in the history of our penal system. Undertook to make a survey I think it is correct to say that he had supervised the execution of one hundred fifty men and women and he often pointed out warden laws that is that most of those executed were poor and friendless while murderers with means could afford extensive investigations and unlimited appeals to escape the death penalty now unfortunately from any object of point of view I think. More people of minority groups relatively are economically in the lower straighter or are poorer than in the so called majority groups which constitute a population that isn't in other words because they are minority group it's because so many minority groups are poor my impression would corroborate what you just that's right Michael the wall Mr Nice and some what do you favor as a substitute for capital punishment in the case of my murdered perhaps well the bill to which I referred which is really the long run aim of our committee would substitute life imprisonment in all capital cases but it goes further than this as you perhaps know in some states life imprisonment automatically calls for parole eligibility after serving a certain period of time this is not true in New York State life imprisonment means literally imprisonment for the rest of one's natural life unless the governor should intervene and commute the sentence so our bill would call not only for life imprisonment as a substitute to the best family but also for parole eligibility after the person has served thirty years in the penitentiary well isn't one of the functions of the death penalty to deter murderers and in fact that a person faced with the choice of murdering someone we take into consideration would be perhaps more deterred by the threat of having his life taken than by the threat of having the state pays room and board for the rest of his life this is the common argument on the ground of prudence that is made by people who defend the death penalty actually if you compare states like Michigan with states immediately surrounding where the total Safiya logical picture is very much is the same Michigan and Illinois or Rhode Island which is abolish the death penalty with Massachusetts you will find that if anything where the death penalty has been abolished the rate of homicide is less than where it still prevails now. No one should be party to a specious argument this does not demonstrate that the death penalty is not a deterrent but it certainly should throw grave doubt on the proponents of the death penalty in their claim that they have proof that the death penalty is a deterrent now actually money correction officials are question people who are facing the electric chair or the gas chamber and at the moment when a person commits homicide the last thing in the world in his mind as a rule is what's going to happen to him his mind is in this situation and not in the future there seems to be a tremendous amount of evidence that. Charles Rosina don't you think there is a. Body of law which seems somewhat to be based on political injunctions contains a provision for the death penalty the Eye For An Eye idea well actually of us arose in as you perhaps in all from your study of comparative religions. The Eye For An Eye quote that is used from the Old Testament is very frequently distorted from its original intention this was not a creed of vengeance among the ancient Hebrews it was the reverse it was an attempt to say that is against making a capital offense out of endless numbers of crimes let's at least be some reform in the penal system so that we don't go that far actually even on the part of contemporary religious scholars. I think they will say that although in the Old Testament for example you could find justification for homicide in many cases for the death penalty in many cases they would point out that in their study even of ancient Israel it was very seldom a practice Steve Brownstein. Mr Nathan as you mentioned a few moments ago the governor of New York has the choice of recommending a prisoner who is in for life imprisonment up for parole now let's take for a moment a case in California with Carol the case of chessmen has become a political football where Governor Brown has thrown it into the hands of the legislature where he wouldn't have any part of it because of what it might mean to him in the next election to decide whether. Whether Chessman should die or not will that will the abolishment of the death penalty not lead to many more political struggles for Mr Bronstein I do think in terms of the proper understanding of what was involved with Governor Brown we should set the record straight it is very frequently said that he in effect passed the buck to the legislature because in the vernacular he didn't want to be in a political hot seat unless I am misinformed legally he has to have court authorisation to exercise any judgment of his own and when the court in Justin's last appeal to the California courts I think it was by a vote of four to three but I'm not certain of the figures when they rejected this plea Governor Brown legally had no I actually was in the chest because I think I'm correct about this. Jim cardinal who in your experience. Have been most adamantly opposed to the abolishment of capital punishment Well I think that would be fair to say but I'm very uncertain ground here Mr Card and my impression again for whatever it may be worth is that. Police officials by and large the law enforcement people and it's understandable on a psychological ground after all they are so often risking their lives they're the ones who have to take people with guns far more often than the average citizen does and it's understandable I say to her that they respond with a great deal of emotion when a policeman is killed in the midst of his duty now on the other hand if again recollection serves me right in the state of Rhode Island where the death penalty has been abolished one of the key law enforcement officials there has said that if anything in his judgment police officers are safer than they were in the period when the death penalty prevails and interestingly enough also and this is an aside I don't know Mr Cardinal of the ties up with your question. Again my impression is that increasing numbers of district attorneys favor the death penalty because even though jurors will sit on the case saying they have no conscientious scruple against the electric chair or the gas chamber as a matter of fact when they get into a case there is a great deal of human reluctance to sentence and all the men to death frequently as a consequence people who are guilty of the crime with which they are charged have actually been acquitted so do you find that educational background or perhaps economic background is a factor in opposing. The capital punishment I'm not sure Mr Carlyle or all together understand the question. How do you mean in what sense what bearing well well so far in the past surveys have shown that there is perhaps a direct correlation between educational background and opposition to the death penalty would you agree with this I have no figures on that and wouldn't be prepared to say it would be on their guesswork on my thought well where where are the issue of abolishment of capital punishment has become a political hassle in certain states. Doesn't devolve into a. Or let's say a contest between political parties as it has in England in my experience and I suspect this is true in New York State at the present time it's such a touchy question that politicians would like to avoid it altogether if they can they wish it would just be swept under the right of this is because of the mixed attitudes in the public there are people and a tremendous number of people who are completely convinced that capital punishment is a barbarism an anachronism it should be abolished there are also large numbers of people over who is dead bodies in effect would you about wish the death penalty now this is potentially political trouble and unless people in this states make the members of the New York State legislature face this trouble they're not going to face this the nation's Is yours a secular committee all secular in the sense that it is combined with people of all religious backgrounds of non-religious background of various professions in various walks of life well then in a sense that would be considerable religious conviction behind it would you say so even of a number of religions Oh indeed yes of course there is and many religious bodies are on record as favoring the abolition of the death penalty. Are you against capital punishment anywhere in the world under any circumstances