Letter To The Georgia State Board Of Pardons And Paroles Advocating Clemency To Alexander Williams
February 15, 2002
Mr. Walter S. Ray, Chair
The State Board of Pardons and Paroles
Floyd Veterans Memorial Building
Balcony Level, East Tower
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, S.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30334-4909
Dear Mr. Ray:
On behalf on the Reform Jewish Movement, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,700 rabbis in North America, we urge you to commute the death sentence of Alexander Williams. His execution would represent a breach of American moral sensibilities, Jewish values, and international human rights treaties.
Jewish tradition, which in theory allows capital punishment, regulated its legal system so stringently in this area as to make it nonexistent. Many of the very concerns at stake in this case led the Rabbis to teach that a court that puts to death even one person in 70 years is considered to have blood on its hands. Our prophets teach that God does not seek vengeance but rather that the sinner should repent. Based on these values, we join in the myriad of American and international religious and political leaders in saying that, beyond our opposition to capital punishment generally, the execution of a person who committed a crime as a minor and/or suffered from mental illness in particularly abhorrent.
Alexander Williams was a minor when he committed his crime in 1986. Additionally, Mr. Williams had exhibited signs of mental illness. Mr. Williams' lawyer, however, failed to inform the jury of the severe physical and mental abuse that Mr. Williams had been subjected to as a child and the signs of mental illness he had displayed before the crime. Furthermore, his lawyer did not seek a psychiatric evaluation or present expert testimony on youth as a mitigating element. It is crucial to note that five of the original eight jurors have signed affidavits saying that if they had been presented with evidence of Alex Williams' mental condition and history of abuse they would not have voted for death. If any one of these jurors had voted for a life sentence at the 1986 trial, Mr. Williams would not have been sentenced to death.
Further, putting Alexander Williams to death would serve to isolate the United States among the community of nations. One hundred and ninety-one nations - all except the United States and Somalia - have ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. One of its articles prohibits the use of the death penalty against those under 18 years of age at the time of their crime. This overwhelming international consensus confirms the existence of international support for this provision and against this execution.
We do not minimize the seriousness of the crimes for which Mr. Williams was convicted, and we express our sympathy for the family and friends of Aleta Carol Bunch. The taking of human life cannot be justified. However, this includes the taking of human life by the government. The death penalty debases our entire penal system and brutalizes our human spirit. A life snuffed out by violence or by legalized lethal injection is still the destruction of a life. We urge you to grant clemency to Alexander Williams so that our society will not stain its own hands with blood.
Mark J. Pelavin
Associate Director, Religious Action
Center of Reform Judaism
cc: The Honorable Governor Roy E. Barnes