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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Heller presentation indicts the death penalty

Published: November 6, 2014
Section: News, Top Stories

The 30th Anniversary Joshua A. Guberman Lecture took place on Monday, Nov. 3, in the Glynn Amphitheater of the Heller School of Social Policy and Managment. About 75 people were in attendance, including undergraduate and graduate Brandeis University students, faculty members, and Millie Guberman, founder of the Guberman Lecture and retired Brandeis Professor Sal Touster.

The lecture was initially created to honor Joshua A. Guberman, a classmate of Touster, in 1984. As Touster, now 90 years old, described, Guberman was a man who valued justice in society, “studying society and the important moral and ethical issues.”

After a half-hour reception, the lecture began with an introduction by Professor Richard Gaskins, director of the Legal Studies program at Brandeis. He briefly discussed the “common ground that exists between the law… and the great broad approach to social policy and social welfare.” Then he introduced Touster and William J. Leahy, JD, the Guberman lecturer.

Upon arriving on the stage, Touster said, “One of the things I’ve learned in the eight, nine years I’ve been going on is that any time you are called upon to speak, make it short and return promptly to your seat.”

On a more serious note, Touster concluded, “With that, I leave this extraordinarily difficult, thought provoking and powerful theme that we are to hear tonight with a message that I wish…we might meet here again at the Guberman Lecture on another theme which will be always present to solve problems. Without it, the Heller School will not exist, because we have problem solvers here.”

After both Gaskins and Touster finished their introductions, Leahy began his lecture. Leahy, director of New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services, has focused a majority of his career on criminal justice and actively works to end the death penalty and improve the representation of low-income citizens in New York.

He began his lecture by introducing facts about the death penalty today. He noted that although the death penalty is still legal in 32 states, “five states have conducted over 65% of executions, a mere three states have killed a majority, 53%, and a single state has executed 518 people, more than 37% of the total.” Leahy then made the claim that America is divided into three camps regarding the death penalty, “10 states that to widely, varying degrees, actively kill, 18 states that prohibit executions entirely and about 22 states whose ambivalence is in accord with widely mixed public sentiment.”

In addition to discussing the death penalty, Leahy covered the casualties that often come along with targeted drone strikes. He concluded his speech by connecting the strikes and the death penalty. He said, “I see a world in which violence is becoming more acceptable… respect for every person is being eroded.” To get rid of the death penalty would be to decrease violence in society.

Following the lecture, the audience asked questions. One student asked if there would ever be an acceptable reason to kill a terrorist, Leahy responded that if he could prevent Bin Laden from sending out 20 suicide bombers with a drone, he would do it. Another student asked him if he considered “life-sentence without parole” equivalent to a death sentence, and he responded that in no way is a death sentence the same as a life-sentence without parole.

The lecture ended after about 45 minutes of questions. Brittany Wolfe ’18, a first-year in Introduction to Law, stated, “Professor Leahy provided an interesting perspective on capital punishment and helped me to not only develop a better understanding of the implications of the death penalty and use of drones, but of their heightened presence in our society.” She continued to say, “it was truly admirable to listen to such a profound speaker with both experience in the courtroom and in the classroom.”