Death Penalty in America Divides Country

Legal experts say public support for the death penalty in the U.S. will become more emotionally divided after thousands stood up this week to protest Georgia’s execution of Troy Davis. Others now say capital punishment must be phased out completely.

Analysts believe the execution of Davis has started a new debate over America’s legal system using issues of race, poverty and geographical influences more than discussions about actual crime and punishment.

Statistics now show that about half the country now prefers sentencing convicted murderers to life without parole as the best punishment, rather than invoking the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Moreover, a growing number of states are executing fewer prisoners, which is fueling the debate about whether or not America should keep the death penalty in place.

Some say capital punishment cases are diminishing because juries are more leery about sentencing criminal defendants to die unless there is what some experts call the “CSI Effect,” according to statistics from the Death Penalty Information Center.

The center reported that juries delivered 114 death sentences in 2010, which is slightly higher than the 112 death sentences in 2009. What shocked most experts is that this is about 50 percent fewer than the 1990s. There is also more availability of life without parole sentences for juries in capital cases.

Post Mortem, an investigation by NPR, PBS Frontline and ProPublica, recently exposed how death investigation in America is nothing like what you see on TV. Many prosecutors complain that shows like CSI make their job harder, as jurors demand ultra high-tech tests to convict suspects.

While the issue of race was huge during the Troy Davis case, it is not the first time and experts see the trend of race defining death penalty cases, and predict the trend will continue in years to come.

Legal experts say a black man convicted of murdering a white police officer, even if there is no evidence of the crime, “will most likely see the death penalty.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 15 white defendants have been executed for the murder of black victims, but 246 African-Americans have been executed for killing whites.

At the same time Davis was executed, there was an execution in Texas of a white supremacist for the highly-publicized dragging death of an African-American 13 years ago, which did not receive as much publicity as the Georgia execution.

Also moving into the public arena is the debate about poor people that cannot afford a stellar defense. Some say these people could easily be sent to death row in shackles for a crime they possibly did not commit.

“There is no way of knowing how many innocent people are behind bars, but even if only one percent of the over two million Americans behind bars were innocent, that would mean 20,000 people are serving time for crimes they didn’t commit.”

Studies suggest that the percentage of wrongfully convicted may be much higher. In 2010, the Innocence Project received 3,120 new requests for assistance from prisoners with claims of innocence.

Southern Baptist seminary president Albert Mohler announced on Thursday that according to the Bible, capital punishment is pro-life. Mohler predicts the death penalty will become more and more controversial in the years ahead because the “general trend of secularization and moral confusion has undermined the kind of moral and cultural consensus that makes the death penalty make sense.”

"It seems that even those who oppose the death penalty outright believe there are some cases that ought to be opposed more than others,” Mohler said in a podcast recorded by the Baptist Press.

“And even those who support the death penalty almost always support the death penalty within certain, very clear, parameters. Even if those parameters are not defined by policy, they are defined by moral intuition."

He says there is something within all people that "cries out for the fact that murder must be punished and that the lives of the innocent, in terms of being the victims of these crimes, must indeed be vindicated.”

To comment on this news story email R. Leigh Coleman at

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