January 14, 2007
MSM figuring out death penalty is dying
Though I have been talking about the slow death of the death penalty for more than two years (see here and here for early buzzing), the mainstream media is now finally starting to cover the story extensively. On Friday, ABC News had this piece focused mostly on lethal injection issues entitled, "Death Knell for the Death Penalty?" And today, the Washington Post has this intriguing piece entitled "Dead End -- Capital Punishment: At a Crossroads, or Is This the Exit?"
The provocative Post piece provides a look at these issues in a way that should really appeal to law-and-literature types. It also includes these notable insight:
Americans (including the president) do support the death penalty. They do so at 67 percent, though their betters -- newspaper editorial writers, the French -- tell them they shouldn't. The United States is one of four countries that account for about 95 percent of the world's executions (the others being China, Saudi Arabia and Iran).
Americans support it three decades after all of Western Europe stopped, calling it outdated, unfair and barbaric. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch -- oh, you know. Opponents generally portray it as being on its way out, though that is hardly clear.
Two months ago, voters in Wisconsin asked to reinstate the death penalty -- 153 years after abolishing it. The non-binding referendum, which said the penalty would be used only for vicious crimes where DNA evidence proved guilt, passed at nearly 56 percent. "It passed in 71 of 72 counties, and in some counties the vote was at 68 percent," said state Sen. Alan Lasee (R), who pushed the bill.
This despite the patchwork nature of capital punishment, the fact that there is really little rhyme nor much reason as to who gets executed, and why. (A man is executed in North Carolina for killing his stepdaughter, but the BTK Killer in Kansas and the Green River Killer in Washington get life in prison.) It is so seldom used (56 times last year) that it has long since stopped being a working part of the criminal justice system. In the past 20 years, prosecutors and supporters have begun saying it is needed because it "brings closure" to victims' families, but they can't possibly mean that, because that would imply that 99 percent of the families of victims never get closure. The system is filled with what Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun once called "arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice and mistake."