Europe Outraged Over Graham Execution

Europeans, who have mounted furious anti-death penalty campaigns, reacted with outrage but little surprise Friday to news that the state of Texas had executed death row inmate Gary Graham.

Opposition to the death penalty is unanimous among European governments, and the issue is increasingly one on which Europe has asserted its independence from America. Because Europeans feel they share so many values with the United States, they are even more perplexed that it won't abandon capital punishment.

"It does not fit: The United States presents itself on the one hand as the world police defending human rights, and on the other side it carries out the death penalty," said German lawmaker Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.

She called on the German government to "make this detestable topic the object of discussions with our American friends."

European anti-death penalty activists are pinning hopes for change in America on the presidential campaign that has made capital punishment a national debate. In the wake of the Graham case, presumptive GOP nominee and Texas Gov. George W. Bush was taking the brunt of their attacks.

Italy's Communist newspaper Il Manifesto took a direct swipe at Bush, featuring a photo covering a third of the front-page under the headline: "The executioner doesn't let up." The head of Italy's Democratic Left party, Walter Veltroni, called Bush "cold and bureaucratic" after the governor commented that "justice was done.

The outrage was amplified by a study published last week by Columbia University that found two-thirds of all death penalty appeals from 1973-95 were successful. The study's authors said that fact indicates serious flaws in the capital punishment system.

"It is an important step that this knowledge can't be set aside anymore, not even in Republican circles," said Sina Vogt, a spokeswoman in Germany for the European Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "We think it is absolutely necessary that Bush joins his colleague in Illinois in a moratorium on the death penalty while the system is reviewed. That is the first step."

While the opposition to Graham's execution was widely expressed on general principle, critics in Italy, Germany, Britain and at the United Nations said it also violated international law because Graham was 17, a minor, at the time of the crime for which he was sentenced to die.

Graham was found guilty of the 1981 murder of a man during a holdup outside a Houston supermarket. The state parole board and appeals courts rejected his arguments that he was convicted on shaky evidence from a single eyewitness and that his trial lawyer did a poor job.

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Excerpts from Texas Gov. George W. Bush's statement:

"When I was sworn in as governor of Texas, I took the oath to uphold the laws of our state, including the death penalty…This is a responsibility I take very seriously because the final determination of innocence and guilt is among the most profound and serious decisions a person can make.

…Over the last 19 years, Mr. Graham's case has been reviewed more than 20 times by state and federal courts. Thirty-three judges have heard and found his numerous claims to be without merit.

In addition to the extensive due process provided Mr. Graham through the courts, the Board of Pardons and Paroles has thoroughly reviewed the record of this case as well as all new claims raised by Mr. Graham's lawyers. Today the Board of Pardons and Paroles voted to allow Mr. Graham's execution to go forward. I support the board's decision.

Mr. Graham has had full and fair access to state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court.

After considering all the facts, I am confident justice is being done. May God bless the victims, the families of the victims, and may God bless Mr. Graham."

(Source: AP)

"It is a textbook example of how flawed the U.S. approach to the death penalty is," Amnesty International spokesman Rob Freer said in London. "The U.S. also flouted requirements of international law that an accused person should have adequate legal assistance throughout the process and that the penalty should not be imposed if there is a serious doubt about the person's guilt."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who had appealed directly to Bush for a stay of execution, said the execution "ran counter to widely accepted international principles."

Robinson said she "acknowledged the seriousness of Mr. Graham's crime," but contended that "abolition of the death penalty contributes to enhancement of human dignity and progressive development of human rights."

Graham promised to "fight like hell" against his executioners, but after a series of last-minute appeals and a struggle with death row attendants, that fight ended Thursday night when he was put to death by lethal injection at 9:49 p.m.

The Supreme Court, a federal judge and state appeals court turned down Graham's last-minute appeals, which delayed the execution—originally scheduled for 7 p.m. EDT—for more than two hours.

Graham spent his last moments continuing to proclaim his innocence."I die fighting for what I believed in," Graham said. "The truh will come out."

Speaking shortly before the death sentence was carried out, Bush said he supported the execution and pointed out that Graham's case had been reviewed by 33 state and federal judges.

"After considering all of the facts I am convinced justice is being done," Bush said after final appeals were denied. "May God bless the victim, the family of the victim, and may God bless Mr. Graham."

Texas has executed 135 inmates—133 men and two women—during Bush's five-and-a-half years in office. The state has put more people to death in the last two decades than any other state.

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