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Michigan has no death penalty - he's a big reason why

Eugene G. Wanger and boxes of documents from the Michigan Constitution
State of Michigan
Eugene G. Wanger penned the constitutional ban on the death penalty in Michigan

Eugene G. Wanger was a 28 year-old attorney when he became a delegate for Michigan's Constitutional Convention in 1961. The republican was a strong opponent of the death penalty and authored the section in today's state constitution that bans the practice.

Scott Davis wrote about Wanger's role in authoring portions of the state constitution in the Lansing State Journal. Wanger, who is now 76, said he had good reasons to oppose the death penalty:

"It's a bad idea. We make mistakes. We don't have a Bozo-filter on our government. Every once in a while, we elect a Bozo."

Michigan was the first state in the country to ban capital punishment in 1846. Wanger said he wanted to make sure the language was inserted in the constitution so there was no chance that someone would reverse the state's position.

Wanger wrote a paper titled "Why We Should Reject Capital Punishment" in 1976. In it, he argues that the death penalty should be opposed for five reasons:

  1. There is hope that even the worst killer can be reformed.
  2. There is no evidence that capital punishment deters potential murderers better than life imprisonment.
  3. There is no correlation between the ups and downs of the homicide rate and the presence or absence of the death penalty.
  4. The death penalty brings with it a number of severe utilitarian evils, i.e., it degrades the administration of justice, it is inflicted discriminatorily against nonwhites, it obstructs the certainty and swiftness of conviction and punishment, and it is occasionally exercised against innocent persons.
  5. There is no difference between retribution and revenge where the death penalty is concerned.

Wanger donated boxes and boxes of documents and notes from the state's last constitutional convention to the state archives. The LSJ article said he donated the documents because "so many scholars now debate the original intent of Founding Fathers... he wants to clear up any doubts about the intent of the 1960s delegates for future generations."

Mark Brush was the station's Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.