Across the U.S., the death penalty is on the run

01/31/2013 3:09 PM

01/31/2013 3:10 PM

The death penalty is actually on the decline in America. And that’s as it should be.

The imposition of the death penalty is rife with corruption, incompetence, race and class bias and human error. Often, the innocent are killed.

Last year, when Damon Thibodeaux was released from Louisiana’s death row at Angola after spending 15 years awaiting his own murder, he became the 300th innocent person freed from a U.S. prison based on DNA testing.

Executions are not taking place nearly as often as they used to in America. Last year, 43 people were executed in the United States.According to the Death Penalty Information Center, three-quarters of the 43 executions in 2012 took place in only four states – Texas, Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma.And of the 78 death sentences last year – a 20-year low – almost two-thirds took place in Florida, California, Texas and Alabama.

Although on the books in 33 states, only nine states made use of the death penalty in 2012. Throughout the nation, states are having second thoughts about capital punishment. On Jan. 15, the actual birthday of Martin Luther King, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced his plan to eliminate the death penalty in his state.

“Every dollar we choose to spend on an ineffective death penalty is a dollar we’re not spending on crime-fighting technologies and tools that actually work,” said O’Malley. “Investing in law enforcement, data-driven policing, performance measurement, strengthening partnerships, investing in the latest crime fighting technologies, DNA analysis – these are the ways we drive down crime.”

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe recently stated he would sign a death penalty ban if the legislature sent him a bill. Beebe remarked that signing his first death warrant changed his mind about the death penalty. “The awesome burden of being the last person to have to sign one of those things sobers you differently than talking about it in the abstract,” Beebe said.

In Oregon, a death penalty repeal bill is being prepared, over a year after Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium for the rest of his tenure.

Europe, Canada, Australia and nearly the entire Western world forbids executions. But when the U.N. General Assembly recently passed a nonbinding resolution for a worldwide death penalty moratorium, the United States voted against it.

The United States joins China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq as the world’s top five executioners. That’s quite an axis of execution.

Love is the executive director of Witness to Innocence, a national organization of exonerated former death row prisoners and their families.

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