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Report: U.S. Support for Death Penalty Wanes to Historic Low

Capital punishment isn't being carried out in some states even though they have the death penalty on the books, according to a new report. (Adobe Stock)
Capital punishment isn't being carried out in some states even though they have the death penalty on the books, according to a new report. (Adobe Stock)
December 23, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS -- Despite President Donald Trump's efforts this summer to resurrect federal executions, support for the death penalty is at a 47-year low, according to a new year-end report.

Robert Dunham is executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which released the report. He said it shows there were fewer than 30 executions and 50 death sentences nationwide for the fifth year in a row, marking a national decline in support for capital punishment.

"The American public has moved away from capital punishment," Dunham said. "Support for the death penalty as a whole has dropped from 80% in the 1990s to slightly above 50% today."

He said major reasons for the diminished support include a growing public preference for life imprisonment over the death penalty in murder cases, and the high legal costs for states associated with death sentences and executions. Twenty-one states have now abolished the death penalty.

The report said 11 death-penalty states, including Indiana, have marked a decade since they've had an execution. In December 2009, Indiana put Matthew Eric Wrinkles to death by lethal injection for committing multiple murders in the 1990s.

Dunham said there are many factors at play in why Indiana has declined to act on capital cases recently. One factor is that the state has made life without the possibility of parole an option for prosecutors.

"Part of it is also because the American public, and people in Indiana, have lost their appetite for the death penalty," he said. "The death penalty isn't being imposed, isn't being carried out. And that's something we've seen more and more across the entire Midwest."

He said in the past decade, Indiana and other states - along with the federal government - have struggled to obtain the drugs needed to carry out an execution, because many pharmaceutical manufacturers don't want to be associated with putting people to death.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - IN