During her first years as an attorney, Hillary Clinton worked to help save a man from the electric chair, but through the years her views have shifted to the point of once declaring her "unenthusiastic support" for the sentence.
Those words, coming in the heat of Clinton's race for the U.S. Senate back in 2000, drew ire from liberal Democrats, reports Politico
, and the former lawmaker and secretary of state, who gained a reputation as being tough on crime, hasn't discussed the issue publicly since.
Another item, though, that hasn't had much discussion is that when Clinton was head of the legal aid clinic at the University of Arkansas in 1976, her group kept convicted murderer Henry Giles, a mentally impaired African-American, from being executed.
But the death penalty issue is still a tough one, as her husband Bill, while governor of Arkansas, carried out many executions and was a loud defender of capital punishment while running for the presidency in 1992.
Times and public opinion on the death penalty are changing, though, and on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear another challenge
to the constitutionality of drugs used to carry out the punishment.
Bill Clinton now says that reforms are needed when it comes to criminal justice, reports Politico, and his wife is quoted in a book project by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, where she and other contenders share their views on justice, as showing a less-tough stance on crime.
In her essay, Clinton writes that she advocated for years in Arkansas for "prison inmates and poor families. I saw how our criminal justice system can be stacked against those who have the least power and are the most vulnerable."
Clinton also calls for a need to "restore balance" by reducing prison populations while building trust between communities and their police departments.
But she still does not talk about Giles, reports Politico, who remains behind bars in Arkansas.
Giles, then 20, was convicted in early 1975 of the murder of shoe store clerk Evelyn Drummond, and sentenced just a few weeks later by an all-white jury to death.
The Supreme Court's ruling against executing the mentally disabled did not come about until 2002, but the then-Hillary Rodham flagged the Giles sentence as being unconstitutional while working with the legal aid firm on the Cummins Prison Project. She and others were responsible for a brief on his behalf, setting a new precedent in Arkansas that jury forms must reflect a case's facts.
Giles' attorneys had also filed protests in the case, saying that he did not know the degree of the charges against him and the jury did not list mitigating circumstances, including his mental deficiencies, on the form in his case.
The motion that was filed on Giles' behalf, though, was not signed by Rodham, for reasons that remain unclear. But it was noted that a longtime friend of Bill Clinton — who was then running for the state's attorney general seat unopposed — that it could have been a problem for her to sign the paperwork. In addition, others in the firm said that it was common for her to advise lawyers, while not signing briefs that were written on behalf of projects.
But when the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on the case in April 1977, it cited Rodham as one of the attorneys of record for the Cummins Prison Project.
Her work on the behalf of Cummins' prisoners ended when she moved with Bill Clinton to Little Rock after he was elected as attorney general, and over the years, her profile became more subdued. Her husband commuted 70 sentences, including 40 for life, during his first term as governor, and friends of both at the time said they both opposed capital punishment.
But his record became an issue and when he returned as governor in 1982, he commuted only seven sentences in the next 10 years, and in 1990 oversaw his first two executions.
And in 1992, he'd set about 70 execution dates for 26 death row inmates and spoke often about the importance of tough sentencing, including saying capital punishment is appropriate in some situations.
While he was president, the couple's support of the death penalty stayed about the same, including in 1994, when Hillary lobbied for Congress to pass the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement act, creating even more federal crimes eligible for the death penalty.
Fast-forwarding to the current election, several of Clinton's likely opponents for the Democratic nomination, including Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley, are opposed to the death penalty, but she declined comment to Politico on her current position.
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