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Support for Capital Punishment Continues to Erode

Use of capital punishment and support for the death penalty is gradually falling across the U.S. Credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
Use of capital punishment and support for the death penalty is gradually falling across the U.S. Credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
November 3, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. – According to opinion polls, the death penalty is in a long, slow decline across the country, and is being used less and less.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, says surveys show support for the death sentence is at a 40-year low, and last year saw the lowest number of executions in two decades.

Dunham says the costs involved and botched executions are among the reasons. There also has been what he calls "an innocence revolution," with a wave of death row inmates later proven not guilty.

"DNA has shown people have gone to death row who clearly didn't commit the offense," he says. "Innocent people are being convicted. There are false confessions. There are fabricated confessions. That's causing people concern."

In the 31 states where the death penalty is legal, including Kentucky, supporters argue harsh justice is a deterrent to crime. The last time a death sentence was carried out in Kentucky was seven years ago this month, when Marco Chapman was executed by lethal injection at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville.

While the Kentucky General Assembly has repeatedly rejected bills that would make life without parole the maximum sentence, the idea is picking up more support among social and political conservatives. Andrew Vandiver has helped organize a network of conservatives in Northern Kentucky opposed to the death penalty.

"There's not really clear results it deters crime," he says. "So we have to ask ourselves, 'is this really something that we should be pouring millions of dollars into?'"

Dunham says FBI figures, backed up by several studies, confirm that capital punishment does not deter crime.

"There actually is no demonstrable effect at all," he says. "In fact, murder rates are higher in states that have the death penalty than in states that don't have the death penalty."

Kentucky's murder rate was 3.6 people per 100,000 last year, higher than in 12 of the 19 states that don't have the death penalty.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY