Sheila Murphy offers perspectives on death penalty
Sheila Murphy, former presiding judge of Cook County, Ill., spoke Thursday in the Hesburgh Center Auditorium about her perspectives on capital punishment in America.
The lecture, "An American Paradox: A First Hand Account of Justice on Death Row," included Murphy's impressions of the death penalty and a retelling of her personal experiences related to capital punishment.
Murphy began her wide range of experience in the judicial system as a public defense lawyer when capital punishment was illegal in the United States. She represented several cases that called for capital punishment but, to her relief, none of them led to prosecution. She later became a Cook County judge and presided over many controversial cases involving capital punishment.
One of the most famous of these cases was that of Verneal Jimerson, an black man who faced the death penalty on charges of the rape and double murder of a young Chicago couple. Testimony against Jimerson was brought forth by a woman who, as it turns out, had been manipulated into presenting evidence to the court. Evidence against Jimerson mounted and, when the case was nearly closed, Murphy ordered a DNA test that eventually exonerated him.
Jimerson was a person of low income, low IQ and no prior criminal record — a racial and socio-economic profile suggestive, Murphy said, of the bias inherent to capital punishment cases. She said the majority of criminals on death row are either minorities or individuals from low-income backgrounds. Murphy said the unfairness of America's administration of the death penalty makes it "a fatal lottery," one that unjustly persecutes minorities and the poor.
"If you are poor, you will not be able, in most cases, to get a lawyer to represent your case well," she said.
Another argument Murphy cited against capital punishment was that many criminals have life-changing experiences as their execution date approaches. In many cases, she said that those executed by the state "were not the same people" as they were when they committed their crimes; their time on death row had "changed them for the better," she said.
Murphy concluded her speech by pointing out the progress that has been made in reversing America's stance on the death penalty. For instance, she said activism against capital punishment has inspired several of the nation's cities, such as Durham, N.C., to pass resolutions against the death penalty. Murphy challenged Notre Dame to become the first university in the country to call for a similar moratorium on capital punishment
All News Stories for Friday, November 22, 2002