Death Penalty Support Rising Among Americans: Pew Study

After declining considerably in recent years, support for the death penalty in the US increased this year, fueled by an uptick in political independents backing the practice, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

After declining considerably in recent years, support for the death penalty in the US increased this year, fueled by an uptick in political independents backing the practice, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

A poll released Monday found that 54 percent of Americans favor capital punishment for people convicted of murder, up from the 49 percent the same survey found two years ago. Support is far below modern highs registered in the mid-1990s, when four out of five Americans backed the death penalty amid surging violent crime rates nationwide. Since then, capital punishment has grown far less popular and has been used much less frequently, with states imposing and carrying out fewer death sentences.

FULL methodology for the study is available here.

See also: For Some Conservatives the Death Penalty is Another Example of Big Government Failure

The increase in support for the death penalty that Pew is reporting comes as other polls have shown public backing for capital punishment dropping to modern lows, reports the Washington Post.A Pew survey in 2016 found that support for the death penalty had fallen below 50 percent for the first time since 1971.

Gallup reported last fall that its own poll registered 55 percent support, the lowest it had seen since 1972. A Gallup poll conducted last month found that 62 percent of Americans said the death penalty is morally acceptable, which is up from the 58 percent who felt that way last year.

Pew’s polls have found less support overall for the death penalty than some other public surveys, so the shift this year brings Pew’s findings more in line with Gallup’s. Nineteen states have abandoned capital punishment, and seven of them have done so since 2007, says the Death Penalty Information Center.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced a moratorium in 2015, citing the number of people sentenced to death who were later exonerated.

See also: For Some Conservatives the Death Penalty is Another Example of Big Government Failure

from https://thecrimereport.org

Death Penalty Is Becoming Rare in Georgia

The Georgia Supreme Court heard a death penalty appeal on Monday, it’s first such case in almost two years. It has been more than four years since a Georgia jury imposed a death sentence.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday did something it once did on a fairly routine basis but now hardly ever does: It heard a death-penalty appeal, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. It had been almost two years since the court heard such a case. It’s been more than four years since a Georgia jury imposed a death sentence. Last year, there were 39 death sentences nationwide, a dramatic drop from 295 in 1998, says the Death Penalty Information Center. Polls show the death penalty is losing public support, said Pete Skandalakis of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia. That’s because people are increasingly comfortable with the sentencing option of life in prison without the possibility of parole. “That has made a huge difference,” said Skandalakis, a former prosecutor. “And when you sit down with victims’ families and discuss the process of a death-penalty case with all the pretrial hearings, then the years of appeals that follow, I have found that families like the finality of life without parole. It lets them get on with their lives.”

On Monday, the court heard an appeal from Demetrius Willis, who was sentenced to death in 2008 for three murders. His attorney asked to strike down the death penalty in Georgia on grounds it is arbitrarily imposed. “It’s just not working,” Charles Henry Frier said. Fulton County prosecutor Kevin Armstrong said there was “no basis” for Frier’s claim. Last year, the two death cases tried in Georgia involved the murder of law enforcement officers; both resulted in life-without-parole terms. More often than not, district attorneys are allowing capital defendants to enter guilty pleas in exchange for life-without-parole sentences. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy,” Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said. “As more and more juries give fewer death sentences, prosecutors begin to think it’s not worth the effort.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Why Texas School Shooter Won’t Be Executed

Dimitrios Pagourtzis was charged as an adult, but he can’t be sentenced to death because of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In Texas, he can’t be sentenced to life without parole as the result of a 2013 law that banned the practice for minors.

The high school junior accused of gunning down 10 students and teachers in Santa Fe, Tx., faces a capital murder charge, but he never will be executed. Some day, he’ll be eligible for parole, the Houston Chronicle reports. Dimitrios Pagourtzis was charged as an adult, but he can’t be sentenced to death because of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In Texas, he can’t be sentenced to life without parole as the result of a 2013 law that banned the practice for minors. Amanda Marzullo of Texas Defender Services says the Supreme Court “has said that it is cruel and unusual to execute an individual who is under 18 at the time of the offense.”

Pagourtzis admitted to the mass shooting that killed 10 and wounded 10 others. For an adult, that sort of crime could lead to the death chamber. Murders involving multiple victims can be charged as capital offenses, and for adults that leaves two options: death or life without parole. The justices decided that the national consensus was against executing minors. Only a few states were still carrying out death sentences for those convicted of crimes committed as minors. “The court looked at teen offenders and said that juveniles are categorically different from adults in several very important ways,” said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center. Teens were more immature, more prone to peer pressure and more likely to have a shot at rehabilitation, the justices said. “The court was aware that some kids may do horrible things,” Dunham said. “And some individual kids might have sufficient moral culpability to be punished as adults. But as a class, the courts said, the distinctions between juveniles and adults were so significant that juveniles should not be subject to the death penalty.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Texas Holds Its Sixth Execution of The Year

Juan Castillo, 37, was put to death Wednesday evening for the 2003 robbery and murder of Tommy Garcia Jr. in San Antonio. The execution had been postponed three times since last May. It was the 11th execution in the U.S. this year.

Juan Castillo, 37, was put to death Wednesday evening for the 2003 robbery and murder of Tommy Garcia Jr. in San Antonio. The execution had been postponed three times since last May, including a rescheduling because of Hurricane Harvey, the Texas Tribune reports. Castillo’s advocates and attorneys had insisted on his innocence, pleading unsuccessfully for a last-minute 30-day stay of execution from Gov. Greg Abbott after his appeals were rejected in the courts. The Texas Defender Service, a capital defense group who had recently picked up Castillo’s case, asked for the delay to let its lawyers investigate claims they said discredited the prosecution’s evidence, including recanted statements and video of police interrogations that contradict testimony at trial.

With no action from the governor, Castillo was taken into the death chamber and injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital. Prosecutors said Castillo and three others lured Garcia to a secluded area in 2003 to rob him by promising him sex with one of Castillo’s female accomplices. When Garcia tried to run, Castillo shot him. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005. Castillo became the sixth person executed in Texas this year and the 11th in the U.S.

from https://thecrimereport.org

IL Gov. Rauner Seeks to Restore Death Penalty

In an election-year move, Gov. Bruce Rauner says capital punishment for mass killers and people who kill police officers is “very good policy.” The proposal faces long odds in the Democrat-controlled legislature.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed reinstating the death penalty for mass killers and people who slay law enforcement officers, injecting the idea into his re-election campaign by rewriting a gun control bill and sending it back to lawmakers, the Chicago Tribune reports. Death penalty objectors and the governor’s political opponents immediately accused Rauner of using capital punishment as a “political tool” to help his re-election. It faces long odds in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, which banned capital punishment earlier this decade. The Republican governor needs to cobble together support from conservatives and moderates ahead of the November election. “I don’t believe that this is anything other than very good policy, widely supported by the people of Illinois and I think by elected representatives, and I think it’s the right thing to do to pass this,” Rauner said Monday.

The governor was facing a deadline to act on a proposal to create a 72-hour “cooling-off” period to buy an assault weapon. Under current law, the waiting period to purchase military-style weapons is 24 hours. It’s 72 hours to buy a handgun. Rauner said he believes the 72-hour rule should apply to all gun purchases and that “if someone is potentially a dangerous person and they have violent acts in mind, that extra two days could make the difference between life and death.” Instead of signing or vetoing that bill, Rauner used his amendatory veto powers to add proposals, including the death penalty provision and a ban on bump stocks. His rewrite shows favor both to gun control measures pushed by liberals and moderates, and tough-on-crime policies sought by conservatives. None of it can become law without a fresh round of votes by the lawmakers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Justices Order New Trial in LA Death-Penalty Case

Robert McCoy of Louisiana did not get the “assistance of counsel” guaranteed by the Constitution when his own lawyer told a jury that he shot his estranged
wife’s mother, stepfather, and son to death. The high court divided 6-3, with Justice Samuel Alito arguing that McCoy’s lawyer didn’t admit that he was legally guilty. 

Robert McCoy of Louisiana did not get the “assistance of counsel” guaranteed in the Constitution when his own lawyer told a jury that he shot his estranged wife’s mother, stepfather, and son to death, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday by a 6-3 vote. The attorney, Larry English, hoped that acknowledging McCoy’s guilt would help him during the sentencing phase of the case. McCoy insisted that he was innocent. “Can we even call it assistance of counsel?” asked Justice Neil Gorsuch during arguments in the case. “Is that what it is when a lawyer overrides that person’s wishes?”

Ordering a new trial for McCoy in the death-penalty case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that, “The trial court’s allowance of English’s admission of McCoy’s guilt despite McCoy’s insistent objections was incompatible with the Sixth Amendment.” Gorsuch ended up joining the dissent in the case, in which Justice Samuel Alito said that English had admitted that McCoy had killed the three victims, but “English strenuously argued that petitioner was not guilty of first degree murder because he lacked the intent (the mens rea) required for the offense.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Nevada High Court OK’s First Execution in 12 Years

The state’s supreme court unanimously upholds plans for the execution of Scott Raymond Dozier. Nevada plans to use drugs that never have been used in lethal injections.

Nevada prison officials got the go-ahead Thursday to execute the state’s first inmate in 12 years, after the state Supreme Court ruled that defense lawyers and a rights group used the wrong process to stop the lethal injection, the Associated Press reports. Justices sidestepped the question of whether the state should use a never-before-tried combination of drugs that prison officials drew up for the execution of Scott Raymond Dozier. The protocol includes a powerful painkiller that is fueling much of the nation’s opioid epidemic and a paralyzing drug that could mask any signs of trouble. The American Civil Liberties Union said the drug is not legal to use for euthanizing pets in Nevada.

“Although we recognize the importance of this matter, both to Dozier and the citizens of the State of Nevada, the fact that this case has serious implications was all the more reason to follow established rules and procedures,” the court said. The unanimous order came just two days after the seven justices heard oral arguments. The ruling sent the case back to a Las Vegas judge who blocked the execution last November and orders her to issue a new warrant for Dozier’s execution. Dozier, 47, has been on death row since 2007 for convictions in separate murders in Phoenix and Las Vegas. He has said he wants to be put to death as soon as possible and doesn’t care what drugs are used. However, he allowed federal public defenders to challenge the three-drug protocol developed for his execution by the state’s top doctor and prison officials. None of the drugs the state was able to obtain — the sedative diazepam, the painkiller fentanyl and the paralytic cisatracurium — has been used for lethal injections before. Diazepam is commonly known as Valium. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that has been blamed for overdose deaths nationwide.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Using Nitrogen for Executions Called “Leap Into Unknown”

Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi have authorized nitrogen for executions but scientific data is lacking on its use. Critics fear that nitrogen will be as problematic as lethal injections.

Hamstrung by troubles with lethal injection, including botched attempts, legal battles and difficulty obtaining the drugs, states are looking for other ways to carry out the death penalty. High on the list for some is a method that has never been used before: inhaling nitrogen gas. Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi have authorized nitrogen for executions and are developing protocols to use it, which the New York Times calls “a leap into the unknown.” There are no scientific data on executing people with nitrogen, leading some experts to question whether states, in trying to solve old problems, may create new ones. “If and when states begin carrying out executions with nitrogen, it will amount to the same type of experimentation we see in the different variations of lethal injection,” said Jen Moreno of the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic. There are 2,750 inmates on death row in 31 states and in federal and military prisons.

The process of finding a vein to infuse for lethal injections can be excruciating. In February, Alabama gave up after trying for two hours on an inmate whose blood vessels had been damaged by chemotherapy and drug abuse. Lethal injection also involves drugs that, if given incorrectly, can result in suffering. Barbiturates were used for sedation, but manufacturers began refusing to sell them for executions. Nebraska and Nevada hope to use the opioid fentanyl as a sedative. Oklahoma’s attorney general, Mike Hunter, says using nitrogen is “the safest, the best and the most effective method available.” There is scant scientific data to back that up. What little is known about human death by nitrogen comes from industrial and medical accidents and its use in suicide. Someone who inhales nitrogen with no air will pass out quickly and die soon after — from lack of oxygen.

from https://thecrimereport.org

GA Re-Schedules Execution After Rare Delay

The state reset Robert Butts’ execution for killing an off-duty prison guard for Friday night after the state Board of Pardons and Paroles delayed the execution for reasons it did not explain.

Robert Earl Butts, a Georgia prisoner convicted of killing an off-duty prison guard, is set to die by lethal injection Friday night, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The state Board of Pardons and Paroles on Wednesday delayed Butts’ execution to consider new information from the death row inmate’s lawyer. On Thursday — just 18 hours later — the five-member panel lifted the stay and denied Butts’ appeal for clemency. State corrections officials reset the execution for Friday at 7 p.m.

The pardon board’s action is rare. The last time it stayed an execution was in 2012, when it eventually commuted Daniel Greene’s death sentence to life without parole. It’s unknown specifically what the board wanted to consider. “Knowing the gravity of its decisions, the board extended deliberations in order to consider supplemental information submitted during the meeting that members had not previously reviewed,” said spokesman Steve Hayes. Butts was convicted of murdering Donovan Corey Parks, an off-duty corrections officer, in 1996. Butts, then 18, and Marion “Murdock” Wilson were sentenced for shooting Parks in the back of the head with a sawed-off shotgun and then taking his 1992 Acura with hopes of selling it for parts. Unless the courts intervene, Butts will be the second person in Georgia executed this year.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Supreme Court to Hear Missouri Death Penalty Case

The high court on Monday agreed hear the appeal of a Missouri man on death row who argues the state’s death penalty procedures will cause him immense suffering, Russell Bucklew argues that his execution would cause him needless suffering because of a rare disease.

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed hear the appeal of a Missouri man on death row who argues the state’s death penalty procedures will cause him immense suffering, reports The Hill. Russell Bucklew was scheduled to be executed on March 20, but the court agreed to stay his execution while it considers his appeal. Bucklew’s attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union argue the state’s method of execution would likely cause him needless suffering because of a rare disease he has known as cavernous hemangioma. The disease causes unstable, blood-filled tumors to grow in Bucklew’s head, neck and throat that can easily rupture and block his airway.

His lawyers said in court briefs the state’s lethal injection process will cause Bucklew’s throat tumor to rupture and bleed, forcing him to choke on his own blood. Bucklew is asking the court to rule that inmates with rare and severe medical conditions challenging their execution aren’t required under the Eighth Amendment to propose with an adequate alternative method of execution that reduces their risk of pain.

from https://thecrimereport.org