Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wisconsin Death Penalty Debate Heats Up

When people are convicted of first degree murder in Wisconsin - do you believe they should be put to death for their crime? That's one of the questions you'll be asked to answer when you head to the polls in two weeks. The capital punishment referendum is drawing some strong arguments from both sides.

At one time Wisconsin did have the death penalty but in 1853 the state voted to abolish it. Now more than a 150 years later the question of capital punishment is back in the minds and hearts of Wisconsin residents.

"Killing the criminal neither restores life to the dead nor heals the living," says Bishop Jerome Listecki of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse. It was not your typical church gathering. Faith leaders ranging from a Catholic bishop to a Jewish rabbi put aside their differences on Monday (10/23). They are standing together against the death penalty in Wisconsin. And though they made religious statements, like only God has the power to kill. They also came prepared with secular arguments.

"The death penalty is implemented unfairly those who are racial minorities and poor are more often put to death than those that are white or who are of a higher economic status," says Rev. Karen Ebert of First United Methodist Church of Wausau.

"I don't think the death penalty is an affirmative action type of an issue quite frankly," said Senator Alan Lasee of De Pere in a phone interview. Senator Lasee, who pushed to get the question on the ballot, says capital punishment would be handed down to those who commit truly heinous crimes, no matter what ethnicity or background. He argues Wisconsin needs a stronger punishment for offenders. "I would say that 38 states have it and it's used very minimally. It's used in those cases...that cry out for a more appropriate punishment other than life in prison," says Senator Lasee.

It's a debate that is not likely to die down any time soon. Neither a 'yes' or 'no' vote on the referendum will directly change the law. The legislature and the Governor will still have the final say.

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