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Nation’s Largest Jewish Organization Urges Governor Bush to Commute Ms. Betty Lou Beets’ Death Sentence

Contact: Raanan Weintraub, (202) 387-2800 or Emily Grotta, (212) 650-4227

WASHINGTON February 26, 2000 — In a letter issued today, Rabbi David Sapersetin urged Governor George W. Bush to stay the execution of Ms. Betty Lou Beets.

The complete text of the letter to Governor Bush:

Dear Governor Bush:

On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, whose membership includes 895 congregations, and 1.5 million Reform Jews and the Central Conference of American Rabbis representing 1,700 Rabbis, I urge you to commute Ms. Betty Lou Beets' sentence of death.

In the most rational, ethical terms, capital punishment makes little sense. In order to prove a crime is wrong, capital punishment offers a crime in itself. Over and above our overarching concerns with the morality of the death penalty, this case raises special concerns.

Ms. Beets, who is both hearing impaired and learning disabled, was raised in extreme poverty by a violent and alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother. Throughout her life, Betty has endured repeated sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Neither this history, nor the abuse by her husband, were presented at her trial. Her original attorney has since admitted that he failed to investigate her background and made no effort to present expert testimony on her behalf.

The prophet Zechariah enjoins us: "See that justice is done." It is our solemn obligation not just to promote justice, but also to stand up and decry injustice when we witness it. We are, to be sure, opposed to the imposition of the death penalty, but we also believe that the system for administering capital punishment is seriously broken, to the disadvantage, too often, of poor and minority defendants who are unable to mount a defense which would result either in acquittal or in the imposition of a lesser sentence.

We do not seek to excuse and denigrate the suffering of the victim and their family. However, executions cheapen life. If we are ever to still the violence, we must take a lesson from our religious traditions and cherish life.


Rabbi David Saperstein
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing its 895 congregations across North America, whose membership includes 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the 1700 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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