Death Penalty

Christopher Valen in Salon:

Ronnie Lee Gardner’s death by firing squad last Friday was the first time in 14 years that an American inmate was executed by firing squad — a method Gardner choose over lethal injection. Utah essentially banned firing squads in 2004 but allowed Gardner to choose his method of execution since he was sentenced before the state ban. Gardner was the third man to die by firing squad since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. He was sentenced to death in 1985 for fatally shooting an attorney during a failed escape attempt from a Salt Lake City courthouse. At the time, he was facing a 1984 murder charge for the shooting death of a bartender.

Interestingly, the attorney’s family opposed the death penalty and asked for Gardner’s life to be spared. Relatives of the bartender lobbied the parole board to reject Gardner’s request for clemency and a reduced sentence. Those opposing points of view regarding the death penalty are reflected in polling data.

According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans in favor of the death penalty has fluctuated significantly since 1936, ranging from a low of 42% in 1966, to a high of 80% in 1994, though public opinion has stabilized in recent years with 65% supporting the death penalty in October 2009.

Given that roughly 2/3 of the country currently supports it, one would assume that the prospect of receiving a death sentence would deter would-be murderers from committing such offenses.  In fact, the murder rate in states that do not have the death penalty is consistently lower than in states with the death penalty.  The South, which carries out over 80% of the executions in the U. S., has the highest murder rate of the four regions. Research conducted by the Death Penalty Information Center from data supplied by the FBI, found that murder rates in death penalty states in 2007 was 42% higher than in non-death penalty states. Statistics from the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report also found that regions of the country that use the death penalty the least are the safest for police officers.

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