Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Death Penalty on the Wane: Dallas Morning News


JANUARY 2, 2012 -- found posted on Dr. Rick Halperin's News & Updates


Use of the death penalty is losing favor with more and more Americans, and for good reasons, those undeniably being (a) shaken confidence in the system and (b) the alternative of life-without-parole sentencing.

Lethal punishment is also being sought less often by Texas prosecutors and handed out less often by Texas juries, probably for the same reasons.

The year-end snapshot of Death Row, USA, offers more upsides, from the perspective of this newspaper’s opposition to the death penalty.

The number of executions continued to slide nationwide, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. And one more state, Illinois, joined the list of 16 non-death-penalty states and became the fourth to repeal the punishment since 2004.

The number of executions continued to wane in Texas, but this state held on to its position of ignominious prominence: Texas executed, by far, the most people of the 13 states that used the death penalty this year. Thirteen prisoners were put to death in Texas, 30 % of the 43 who died in the nation’s death chambers in 2011.

Texas’ distinction as the No. 1 death-penalty state remains in unseemly juxtaposition to the embarrassing developments throughout our criminal justice system.

For a 2nd straight year, a Texas murder case unraveled in spectacular fashion, this one freeing Michael Morton of Williamson County, who spent almost 25 years in prison of a life sentence for his wife’s bludgeoning murder. The case against Morton ignored evidence that pointed elsewhere and, it appears from DNA tests, allowed the real killer to roam and kill again. Morton’s exoneration produced serious charges of prosecutorial misconduct this month.

The year before — when Texas executed 17 of the 46 nationwide — the Anthony Graves murder case unraveled, freeing a man who was sent to death row in another instance of alleged prosecutorial mischief.

Add to that the continuing parade of DNA exonerations across the state, and it’s evident why people have become squeamish about the death penalty. Supporters attest to the certainty of the court system, with its many steps of review, but it so often has taken volunteer lawyers and university workshops to pry free the truth.

Are there cases where innocent people have slipped through that sieve and gone to their deaths in Texas? None have been proven, but there’s no justification for taking the chance. The justice system will never be foolproof, and, therefore, use of the death penalty is never justified.

That sentiment seems to be taking hold nationally, with a Gallup Poll showing the lowest level of support in almost 40 years, with 61 % in favor. That compares with 80 percent in 1994. A CNN poll found more support for life without parole than death for murderers.

Qualms about how the death penalty is applied caused the governor of Oregon to call a moratorium and the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court to convene a study commission.

In Texas, there are ample arguments for both of the above.

A welcome decline

New death sentences and executions in Texas:

2003: 28, 24

2004: 24, 23

2005: 14, 19

2006: 11, 24

2007: 14, 26

2008: 12, 18

2009: 9, 24

2010: 8, 17

2011: 8, 13

NOTE: In 2011, Dallas County sentenced no one to death for the first time in five years. The execution record since resumption in 1982 was 40, in 2000.

[sources: Texas Departments of Criminal Justice, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty]

(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)

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