I first met Harold Wilson in 2015. In 1988, a Philadelphia jury sentenced Harold to death for the hatchet and butcher-knife murders of three people. He was actually sentenced to death three times: once for each murder. But after spending over 17 years on death row, new DNA evidence emerged that proved his innocence — he was acquitted of all charges and set free. Harold’s story is by no means unique. At the time of his release he was actually the 122nd person freed from death row.
I have met Harold and dozens of other death row exonerees through the Philadelphia-based organization Witness to Innocence. These people endured years of wrongful punishment and awaited for their execution on death row while knowing they were innocent. Eventually they escaped the ultimate injustice, of dying for something they didn’t do, but how many others haven’t been acquitted early enough? How many lives have been taken by mistake?
So why does an EU Ambassador to the United States care about the plight of American death row inmates? As Europeans we believe fundamentally that the death penalty is incompatible with human dignity. It is inhuman and degrading, does not have a proven deterrent effect, and allows judicial errors to become fatal.
As a result, we strongly advocate for the abolition of capital punishment around the world, wherever it is still practiced, from the United States to China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
While we work quietly behind-the-scenes throughout the year on individual death row cases, each year on October 10th — the World and European Day against the Death Penalty — we speak out loudly against capital punishment. Because we cannot and will not remain silent.
Opinion polls in the U.S. show that support for the death penalty is declining. The EU is hopeful that the downward trend in executions will continue and ultimately lead to the complete abolition of capital punishment in the U.S. Putting an end to capital punishment calls for state leaders who are ready to take a stand for human dignity. Abolish the use of the death penalty, once and for all. Wrongful convictions are appalling in all circumstances. But capital punishment makes them irreversible. We cannot stand idly by while innocent lives are being taken by mistake.
To learn more, listen to our podcast “Back from Death Row” featuring death row exoneree Harold Wilson, watch the live stream of our death penalty event hosted at the EU Delegation on October 10th 2017, or read the EU’s joint press release on the occasion of the World and European Day against the Death Penalty.
Join the EU on October 12th in Philadelphia for a celebration of 20 years of Work to End the Death Penalty in Pennsylvania.