Against Death Penalty

RECEIVED Fri., March 12, 2004

Dear Editor:
   This week Washington-area sniper John Allen Muhammad was sentenced to death for murdering Dean Harold Meyers in Virginia.
   I cannot fathom why Mr. Muhammad committed this heinous act, but it might have something to do with the fact that he was trained and rewarded by the U.S. Defense Department for his ability to kill people as an expert marksman who served his country during the first Gulf War.
   After the war, he suffered the prevalent problem of reintegrating into civilian life. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, his mental and emotional dysfunctions festered and grew into a murderous rage.
   Far from being a victim, Mr. Muhammad is a murderer who must be punished. However, I firmly and passionately believe that putting him to death is not an option, because:
   1) The criminal justice system has sent innocent people to death row. Some may have been executed (James Beathard, executed Dec. 9, 1999, by the state of Texas; Gary Graham, aka Shaka Sankofa, executed June 22, 2000, also by the state of Texas).
   2) The death penalty is applied in a racially disparate fashion.
   3) The death penalty is applied to some of society's most vulnerable people (mentally retarded, mentally ill, and youthful offenders).
   4) In relying on the death penalty, the U.S. is out of step with much of the civilized world.
   Seventy-four countries have abolished the death penalty in all cases. Countries that continue to use the death penalty include: Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Syria, and the United States.
   I urge readers to contact Gov. Mark Warner and ask him to spare the life of John Allen Muhammad (www.governor.virginia.gov/Contact/email_form.html).
Sincerely,
Tony Velasco
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