By Eliott C. McLaughlin
Charisse Coleman has no real compassion for the man who walked into the Thrifty Liquor Store in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1995 and put three bullets in her brother, Russell.
But she doesn't want Bobby Lee Hampton -- one of more than seven dozen killers on Louisiana's death row -- executed, either.
"My opposition to the death penalty has nothing to do with Bobby Lee Hampton," Coleman said. "He's a bad dude. He's never going to be a good dude. If I got a call that said Bobby Lee Hampton dropped dead in his cell last night, I don't think it would create a ripple in my pond."
She added, though, "I will be goddamned if I will let Bobby Lee Hampton make me a victim, too, by taking me down that road of bitterness and revenge."
Coleman, 50, is among the most unlikely opponents of the death penalty, people who lost loved ones to unspeakable violence yet believe executing the killer will do nothing for family members or society.
Their stance is backed by groups like Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, and their reasons aren't as religious or political as one might think. Some feel so strongly they've spoken against the death penalty even when it wasn't an option in their loved one's case.
There's no denying most Americans are pro-death penalty. They have been since 1967, according to Gallup, which regularly conducts polls asking whether Americans are for or against capital punishment in murder cases. Support reached as high as 80% in 1994 and declined to 61% in a poll this month -- the lowest since 1972, the year the Supreme Court temporarily halted executions.
Add a little nuance, though, and sentiments shift. When asked to choose between the death penalty and life in prison, 50% of respondents in a recent CNN/ORC International Poll said they favored a life sentence, compared to 48% who preferred the death penalty.
Two executions, two views
Perhaps the split in opinion was most evident on September 21, when two executions were met with vastly different reactions.
Thousands of people -- including entertainers, dignitaries, Amnesty International and the pope -- denounced the execution of Troy Davis. Some said they believed Davis was innocent in the slaying of a Georgia police officer. Others said there was too much doubt to execute him. (The officer's family, like the relatives of many victims, had no qualms about seeing the person convicted of their loved one's murder put to death.)
Meanwhile in Texas, the lethal injection of Lawrence Brewer, who took part in the racially charged dragging death of James Byrd Jr., barely elicited a whisper.
Byrd's son, Ross, voiced the loudest protest, saying, "You can't fight murder with murder," but to no avail.
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