By every measure the death penalty is in decline, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC)’s 2015 Year End Report. Executions, death sentences, public support, and the number of jurisdictions participating in the death penalty were all at historic lows. Even Texas only sentenced two people to death in 2015.
DPIC’s report went national, with hundreds of news outlets publishing articles about the year’s figures. It seemed that no one was ignoring what is likely to be the death penalty’s last breath.
Two of the country’s most read newspapers published scathing editorials, reiterating their long-held positions that the death penalty should be repealed. The Washington Post’s editorial board exclaimed that “The death penalty’s demise cannot come soon enough,” while the Los Angeles Times declared “Abolition is the direction of the future, and the U.S. should join.”
State and regional newspapers in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and California also published editorials or opinion pieces citing DPIC’s report, the growing movement away from the death penalty, and the conclusion that the death penalty is broken beyond repair as reasons to get rid of it once and for all. In Pennsylvania, the Reading Eagle reversed its longstanding support for the death penalty, deciding that alternative sentences are sufficient, especially considering problems with legal representation in the state, cases of innocence, financial costs, and the death penalty racially bias administration – all of which they had explored in a recent in-depth series on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.
In Nebraska, members of the Associated Press announced that the state’s repeal of the death penalty in May was the top story in 2015.
The Economist took a long, hard look at the death penalty’s downturn. They tried to identify the one factor, among the dozens, that would be responsible for the death penalty’s ultimate demise – a ‘whodunit’ of sorts. They concluded that the death penalty would have no fault but its own:
“Juries; exonerees; prosecutors, both incompetent and pragmatic; improving defence lawyers; stingy taxpayers; exhausted victims; media-savvy drugmakers: in the strange case of the death penalty, there is a superabundance of suspects. And, rather as in “Murder on the Orient Express”, in a way, they all did it. But in a deeper sense, all these are merely accomplices. In truth capital punishment is expiring because of its own contradictions. As decades of litigation attest—and as the rest of the Western world has resolved—killing prisoners is fundamentally inconsistent with the precepts of a law-governed, civilised society. In the final verdict, America’s death penalty has killed itself.”