CI: The Demise of Death???

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal InJustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

The Demise of Death ??? by Nancy A Heitzeg

"The struggle for justice doesn't end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me..." ~ Troy Anthony Davis, lynched by the State of Georgia, 11:00 PM Sept 21, 2011

In spite of the recent execution of Troy Davis (or perhaps in part, because of it?), the year marked a steady decline in both the application and public appeal of the death penalty. The Death Penalty Information Center's Annual Report (pdf) note that executions fell to the lowest point since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Richard Dieter, DPIC* Executive Director:

"This year, the use of the death penalty continued to decline by almost every measure. Executions, death sentences, public support, the number of states with the death penalty all dropped from previous years. Whether it’s concerns about unfairness, executing the innocent, the high costs of the death penalty, or the general feeling that the government just can’t get it right, Americans moved further away from capital punishment in 2011."

The year has been a noteworthy one with political victories for aboltionists and high -profile cases ( including the decision by Philadelphia prosecutors to end their pursuit of the death penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal). As the DPIC notes, the declining numbers occurred in the context of three significant developments in the evolution of capital punishment this year:

~ Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation to repeal the death penalty, making Illinois the fourth state in four years to abandon capital punishment. A commission reported that the state had spent $100 million on assisting counties with death penalty prosecutions while the state’s deficit grew to one of the country’s largest.

~ Many Americans were shocked to learn that a man, Troy Davis in Georgia, could be executed in spite of strong doubts about his guilt. Several key witnesses recanted their testimony against Davis, causing even death penalty supporters like former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr to state: “Imposing a death sentence on the skimpiest of evidence does not serve the interest of justice.”

~ Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber stopped a pending execution and ordered that no others would occur during his term. Governor Kitzhaber, who oversaw two executions in the 1990s, urged citizens to “find a better solution” to a system that he said is arbitrary, expensive and “fails to meet basic standards of justice.”

In the year ahead, the death penalty will continue to face challenges as lethal injection protocols, drug shortages and costs force several states to consider repeal.

Nearly 20 years ago, Blackmun was right - "the death penalty experiment has failed."

Governor Quinn sums it all up :

It is time - long past time - to abandon capital punishment completely and refuse to continue "tinker[ing] with the machinery of death."

Until that day, I am Troy Davis.

We all are.

*Death Penalty Information Center is a non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment. DPIC was founded in 1990 and prepares in-depth reports, issues press releases, conducts briefings for the media, and serves as a resource to those working on this issue. DPIC is widely quoted and consulted by all those concerned with the death penalty.
† © Copyright 2010-2011, Nancy A. Heitzeg, Kay Whitlock, and Seeta Persaud of CMP. All rights reserved. All articles and posts published by Criminal Injustice may not be distributed, re-published or cross-posted in any format, including print or electronic format, without express and explicit written permission from the copyright holders, including CI editors (Nancy Heitzeg and Kay Whitlock) and criticalmassprogress.com.