UPDATED: The death penalty in the news

The death penalty has been in the news a lot over the last few weeks—here are some updates:

  • This week the Supreme Court announced it will hear a case that could help clarify the standards for determining when someone is ineligible for capital punishment due to mental disability. In 2002 the court declared it is cruel and unusual punishment to execute someone with profound mental disability, but for the most part left it up to the states to determine the criteria for considering someone disabled. In Florida, death row inmate Freddie Hall killed two people in 1978, and the judge who sentenced him at the time declared him mentally disabled. Three years ago, he scored a 71 IQ, but Florida’s cutoff for determining mental disability is a score of 70. Will a single IQ point mean the difference between this man’s life and his execution by the state? 
  • Georgia, one of the states with the harshest death penalty laws, announced it will review its law that puts the burden of proving mental disability on the defendant.
  • The state of Ohio has convened a task force to review its administration of the death penalty, and three exonerated inmates are giving a series of talks to help point out the flaws in the system, as well as to gain support for the abolition of the death penalty. “I do what I do,” freed inmate Damon Thibodeaux said, “because I don’t want to see this happen to somebody else. And I don’t want to see the next execution of an innocent man.” One of the people instrumental in clearing the name of Joe D’Ambrosio was Father Neil Kookoothe, a priest from Cleveland. “If it wasn’t for Father Neil they would have executed me 10 years ago,” D’Ambrosio said.
  • Earlier this month, bishops in South Dakota have called for a stay of all executions within their state as well as the abolition of the death penalty. An execution is scheduled for October 28, which would be South Dakota’s third since the death penalty was reinstated as constitutional in 1976. (The second occurred October 15.) "We call for a system of justice and reconciliation that is worthy of the values of the people of South Dakota," a statement by the bishops read. “We are all gifted by God with life and reason and, therefore,are called to a higher standard. Violence in response to violence does not relieve personal anguish or result in societal protection."
  • New Hampshire has launched a coalition to end the death penalty, as the state's supreme court will rule soon on an appeal for New Hampshire's only death row inmate. "I think New Hampshire has come to the conclusion that New Hampshire can live without the death penalty,’’ State Representative Renny Cushing said. Cushing’s father was murdered in 1988.

For more information and latest news, check out Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty.

UPDATE: Gallup has released a new poll showing that support for the death penalty is the lowest it has been in more than 40 years, with 60 percent of Americans indicating that they favor captial punishment. Since 1994, support has gradually decreased from a peak of 80 percent in favor. Since 2006, six states have outlawed the death penalty, bringing the total to 18 states in all.

About the author

Elizabeth Lefebvre

Elizabeth Lefebvre is a writer living in Chicago.