Monday, September 27, 2004

More evidence we're winning

The Daily Oklahoman is one of two metropolitan dailies in Oklahoma. It serves Oklahoma City. (The other metro daily is the Tulsa World.)

The Tulsa World is kindof conservative, but the Daily Oklahoman is extremely to the right. It also is one of the two most pro-death penalty newspapers in the U.S. (The other, somewhat defensively, is the tiny Huntsville Item down in Texas.)

So it was quite a shock to read an editorial in the Daily Oklahoman, which basically stated that the death penalty is on its way out. I paste the editorial in its entirety here, not of course because I agree with its pro-DP stance but because it offers more evidence that the other side is simply giving up:

Death Penalty Is Wasting Away

IF capital punishment dies on the vine in Oklahoma, which is a distinct possibility over the next 10 or so years, its end will come with a whimper and not a bang.

Small steps are being taken to curtail or end the death penalty in this state and elsewhere. One is occurring in the rooms where jurors decide on punishment for the guilty. The Death Penalty Information Center says death sentences being given by juries are in steep decline, dropping 52 % in Oklahoma during the past decade.

A most egregious example of a killer being allowed to live is Terry Nichols. He was sent back to a federal prison when a McAlester jury failed to reach a consensus on the death penalty for a man the same jurors had convicted of killing 160 men, women and children.

This case spotlights the unease among more and more jurors as they try capital crimes. And if such a heinous crime as the bombing failed to convince two juries (Nichols was earlier convicted in federal court) that the defendant must be executed, how can others vote to execute a man convicted of killing "just" one victim?

Slowly but surely, support for capital punishment is being eroded by doubt, frustration, confusion and concerns over delays and costs. Most Americans still support capital punishment. But evidence suggests that juries are finding it increasingly difficult to impose this penalty.

One reason is the existence of an alternative. The "life without the possibility of parole" sentence is a powerful tool in the hands of defense attorneys. Nichols was already under such a sentence after his federal trial; he now has a state life-without-parole sentence as well.

Doubt plays a role when citizens hear of death row inmates being exonerated by scientific evidence not available at the time of trial.
Owing perhaps to the popularity of TV crime dramas, jurors know prosecutors have more means than ever to prove guilt conclusively. Thus, cases based more on circumstantial evidence than on DNA testing introduce doubt into a juror's mind. A defendant might still be convicted, but he may escape the needle because of this doubt.

Court decisions are also speeding up capital punishment's death march. The list of exemptions from the death penalty is growing. The age of the defendant at the time of the crime, his mental capacity -- even his nationality -- have reduced the number of defendants headed for death rows.

As this list grows, more citizens will likely turn their frustration over the application of the death penalty into a kind of grudging resignation.
A majority may conclude that while most killers deserve to die for what they did, the system for executing them is too complicated, too costly and too conflicting to justify active and continued support.

No single court decision is likely to end capital punishment in the way Roe v. Wade ended a ban on abortion. Step by step, though, this ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime seems headed for its own death chamber.

We hope our projected timetable for capital punishment's demise is off the mark. But the operative question has become when instead of if.


Anonymous said...

I really believe that the death penalty in America is on it's way into the dustbin of history. We've still got some quite powerful opponents though, don't we?

Ashcroft Wants More Death Penalties,1,371644.story

"Despite waning jury support, the attorney general wants more federal death penalties."

whole article here:,1,371644.story


Anonymous said...

Until the American people stand up
together to fight our Government
Politicans to abolish the death penalty it will remain. This cruel
and in humane punishment is wrong.
The Attorney General's across the nation worry more about their political reputations instead of worrying about someone's life.