Springfield Journal Register

June 19, 2002

Congressional hearings focus on death penalty reform bills 


WASHINGTON ó Advocates of death penalty reform declared progress Tuesday as the issue was spotlighted in a pair of
House and Senate hearings on proposed legislation aimed at reducing the risk of executing innocent people.

Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., author of one of the bills, pledged to work with critics to ensure
some reform is enacted.

"Itís my intent to try to get enough consensus this year so we can move a bill," said Leahy, indicating heíll work with Sen. Arlen
Specter, R-Penn., who has introduced a separate reform measure. Leahy has 26 co-sponsors on his bill.

But Reps. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, and William Delahunt, D-Mass., co-authors of a House bill, face more significant obstacles.

Itís been slow going for their proposed legislation, the Innocence Protection Act, which was first introduced more than two
years ago.

The House and Senate bills are aimed at increasing protections for death row inmates by ensuring competent counsel and
access to DNA testing. Federal grants would offer state incentives for adopting competency standards for defense attorneys.

While they now have the support of more than half of the 435 House members ó enough to ensure House passage ó their bill
may never be brought up for a vote because they lack critical support from the House Republican leadership.

House crime subcommittee chair Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said he supports "the broad objectives" of the bill, but detailed
numerous concerns.

"DNA testing should be used as a tool to confirm innocence, not as a tool to undermine the broadly supported use of capital
punishment," Smith said.

Smith, along with Paul Logli, stateís attorney from Winnebago County in Illinois, said DNA testing should be limited to cases in
which the results will prove the actual innocence of a defendant and not serve as a diversionary tactic.

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project at New Yorkís Cordozo School of Law, said results that donít prove
innocence could lead to other evidence or help determine anotherís guilt.