Nation's Largest Jewish Organization Urges Texas Governor George W. Bush to Stay the Execution of Gary Graham
"[Mr. Graham] was convicted on the strength of testimony given by a single eyewitness, who had a poor view of the crime scene...Jewish tradition requires that with human life hanging in the balance, we must be doubly certain before imposing a death sentence."
Contact: Raanan Weintraub, (202) 387-2800
WASHINGTON June 16, 2000 — Leaders of the Reform Jewish movement today urged Texas Governor George Bush to stay the execution of Gary Graham, who is sentenced to die on June 22nd for a crime he allegedly committed as a minor. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center, joined Rabbi Lawrence Jackovsky, Director of the Southwest Region of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, in writing a letter to Governor Bush requesting the stay.
The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Governor Bush:
On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, whose membership includes over 895 congregations, and 1.5 million Reform Jews and the Central Conference of American Rabbis representing 1,700 Rabbis, we urge you to stay Gary Graham's 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.
Gary Graham was convicted of the murder of Robert Lambert, a crime he allegedly committed at the age of seventeen. The United States is one of only five countries in the world that currently imposes a sentence of death upon juveniles. In addition, Gary was convicted on the strength of testimony given by a single eyewitness, who had a poor view of the crime scene. While that witness, Bernadine Skillern, adamantly sticks to her testimony, she saw the killer for only a split-second from at least 30 feet away.
We believe our tradition provides a useful insight into this case. Jewish tradition requires that with human life hanging in the balance, we must be doubly certain before imposing a death sentence. To that effect, stringent procedural safeguards aimed at ensuring the accuracy of eyewitness testimony were imposed. The wisdom that established this level of certainty has stood up for a thousand years, and it is applicable today as it was in the earliest days of our faith.
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 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, of poor and minority defendants who are unable to mount a defense that would result either in acquittal or in the imposition of a lesser sentence.
We do not seek to discount and denigrate the suffering of the victim and his 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 and Counsel
Religious Action Center
Rabbi Lawrence I. Jackofsky
Director, Southwest Region
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
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.