A recent paper based on the Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life reveals that support for the death penalty among Catholics is strongly shaped by the opinion of their parish priest. After examining Catholic opinions regarding capital punishment, sociologists Michael Welch of Notre Dame and Thoroddur Bjarnason of the University of Albany-SUNY discovered that Catholics are less likely to support the death penalty when their parish priest strongly opposes it. The study also found that parishioners who were devout and active in parish life were more likely to oppose the death penalty.
In a decision reluctantly allowing a federal capital murder case against Gary Lee Sampson to proceed, Judge Mark L. Wolf of the Federal District Court in Boston expressed reservations about the accuracy of the death penalty and appeared to criticize the Justice Department's zealous approach to seeking the capital convictions. He noted:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has rejected an appeal filed on behalf of North Carolina death row inmate Kenneth Rouse. Without disputing the merits of his claim, the court ruled that it would not hear the case because the motion was filed one day after an appeal deadline established by a 1996 federal law. In its ruling, the court wrote that the fact that Rouse faces the death penalty is no reason to give leeway in meeting the federal deadline.
A recent Pew Research Center poll revealed a significant decline in support for the death penalty as 64% of respondents supported the punishment compared to 78% in 1996. In addition, the poll found that fewer respondents who favored capital punishment felt strongly about their support (28% today compared to 43% in 1996), while a growing number of Americans are voicing opposition to the punishment altogether (30% today compared to 18% in 1996).
Other Pew Research Center polling results include:
Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, recently praised the decision of Armenian President Robert Kocharyan to commute all remaining death sentences in the nation to life in prison. "I am delighted that President Kocharyan has taken such a positive and commendable step forward. The death penalty is an affront to all notions of dignity and human rights, and has no place in the Europe of today," Schwimmer said.
In "Why Do White Americans Support the Death Penalty?," American University researchers Joe Soss, Laura Langbein, and Alan Metelko examined whether racial attitudes play a role in white support for the death penalty. The researchers found that white support for the death penalty in the United States has strong ties to anti-black prejudice, and in some geographic areas racial prejudice emerges as the strongest predictor of white death penalty support. Soss, Joe, et al.: "Why Do White Americans Support the Death Penalty? "; 65 The Journal of Politics 397 (2003).
In an op-ed that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on the day Indiana death row inmate Darnell Williams received a stay of execution to allow testing of crucial DNA evidence that could save his life, the prosecutor from the case, Thomas Vanes, expressed second thoughts about seeking the death penalty. He wrote:
Legislation to bar doctors and nurses from participating in executions was recently signed into law by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on July 24, 2003.
A recent article in Time looks at the career of Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. The article traces Earle's evolving opinion on the death penalty since he was first elected D.A. in Texas in 1976, the year the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. Among other concerns, questions of innocence have caused Earle to grow increasingly skeptical about the death penalty. The article notes:
Baltimore County Judge Dana M. Levitz recently sentenced a man convicted of murder to two life terms without parole, in part because of its possible effects on the victims' families. Levitz said, "The devastating effect that this unending litigation has on the innocent families of the victims is incalculable. By imposing a death sentence, I ensure that the victim's families will be subjected to many more years of appeals." Family members also noted that the decision gave them the peace of mind they have been searching for.