Last week, Florida State’s Attorney Aramis Ayala announced that she will not seek any death sentences during her tenure as the prosecutor in the 9th district (serving Orange and Osceola Counties). This is welcome news given that Orange County has historically been one of the leading death penalty counties in America.
There are good reasons to eschew capital punishment. It costs millions more than its alternatives, doesn’t protect society, and can harm murder victims’ families. Most importantly, it risks innocent lives because the criminal justice system is dangerously fallible.
Consider the recent report from the University of California Irvine, where researchers found that more people were exonerated of various crimes in 2016 than in any other year – a total of at least 166 people from only the 25 states that were studied. The same fallibility that led to these wrongful convictions also affects capital cases, and as such, Ayala should be commended for her decision to avoid death sentences during her term.
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At a time when the world – and the country, especially – is so polarized, many are looking for leaders that can build bridges and cross the divide. EJUSA has been building these bridges for over 20 years, among law enforcement, crime survivors, Evangelicals, conservatives, and more.
This month’s Harper’s Magazine takes an in-depth look at some of that work, sharing the story of EJUSA’s project, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. In profiling several staff and highlighting our values of finding and forging common ground, the story gives hope that we can make progress when we build relationships and work together on the issues we care about.
Late last month, after serving several years on Delaware’s death row, Isaiah McCoy was released and acquitted of the murder for which he was originally convicted. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and the testimonies that were used against him were inconsistent. Despite this, McCoy was sentenced to die, but after receiving a new trial, he was acquitted of murder. Upon hearing the news, McCoy wept and said that he plans on spending the coming days with his daughters. McCoy is the 157th person to be released from death row due to a wrongful conviction.
Last year, Georgia led the nation in executions with nine, which was the most in the Peach State’s history. While executions are at record levels, no one has been sentenced to die in Georgia in nearly three years, which suggests that its death penalty is slowly dying. However, there are many in Georgia who wish to hasten its demise. Just last week, a group of conservatives and libertarians came together to launch the Georgia Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty (GA CCATDP) group and call on the state legislature to reexamine capital punishment. The press event was attended by a conservative state representative, former Republican Party official, think tank leader, and activists from across the state who described in detail why capital punishment is inconsistent with their values.
Republican State Representative and press conference participant, Brett Harrell, said, “I like to make sure that government is as efficient, effective, and small as possible,” but when speaking about the death penalty, “the government has failed to provide an efficient, effective, accurate system.”
If you missed the press conference, you can watch it here.
Georgia Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, a network of conservatives questioning the alignment of capital punishment with their conservative principles, officially launched last week with a news conference at the Georgia State Capitol.
“Georgia may have led the nation in executions in 2016, but our state is actually moving away from the death penalty,” said Marc Hyden, EJUSA’s National Coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty and a longtime Georgia resident. “Georgia conservatives stand for life, fiscal responsibility, and limited government, but the death penalty violates these core conservative tenets.”
Marc was joined on stage by a current state legislator, a former congressional district chairperson for the GOP, the COO and Chairperson of two local conservative think tanks, the former president of a local pro-life organizations, and the past chair of a local college Republicans group.
The death penalty remains in steep decline across the United States, and a recently released report (PDF) illustrates how capital punishment is falling out of favor even in Texas. According to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, this year the Lone Star State sentenced the fewest number of people to die since 1976. Furthermore, Texas has executed seven people in 2016, which represents a 20-year low. This is incredibly encouraging and demonstrates the hard work of many people in Texas. It also underscores what we’ve known for years: the death penalty is dying.
The United States is slowly turning against the death penalty. Its end seems inevitable, but unfortunately, there were a few setbacks this year. Ballot initiatives in California and Nebraska fell short of passing. Despite this, I feel incredibly encouraged for several reasons.
A recent Pew poll showed that support for the death penalty is at the lowest point since 1972, and there was a seven-point drop in support in just the last year. There are other metrics that portend the death penalty’s eventual demise. So far this year, 18 people have been executed nationwide, and if this trend continues, then 2016 will have the fewest executions since 1991. Death sentences are also in decline. Last year, there were less than 50 across the country, which was the fewest since 1976. While there is still considerable work to do, the great news is polls are demonstrating that opposition to the death penalty is growing and states are slowly abandoning its use. Continue Reading →
Florida’s death penalty has remained in the national spotlight as of late. In January, the Sunshine State’s capital sentencing scheme was ruled unconstitutional because it gave judges, rather than jurors, too much power in the death penalty sentencing process. As a result, Florida’s legislature passed a bill requiring at least a 10-2 jury vote in order to sentence someone to die, but this statute was quickly deemed unconstitutional by a Miami-Dade judge.
However, the courts didn’t settle the matter until recently when the decision was appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, which agreed that Florida’s sentencing statute was a constitutional violation. Until the legislature addresses this issue, Florida is effectively without a death penalty, which should be a welcome hiatus given the state’s poor record with capital punishment.
The latest sign that the death penalty is falling out of favor comes from Delaware, where earlier this month, the State Supreme Court struck down Delaware’s capital punishment statute as unconstitutional. The Court found that judges rather than juries wielded far too much power in determining who received a death sentence. The Delaware Attorney General has announced that his office will not appeal the ruling, which makes Delaware the latest in a growing number of states to scrap capital punishment.
Support for the death penalty is also shrinking across the United States. Two recently released polls show how unpopular capital punishment is becoming. According to the surveys, around 72% of Kentuckians and 53% of Oklahomans prefer alternatives to the death penalty.
Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty was featured in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post. The article’s author, Marin Cogan, interviewed CCATDP’s Heather Beaudoin and myself, and Cogan highlighted why conservatives are increasingly changing their views on the death penalty. She wrote,
Beaudoin reaches out to evangelical and other faith-based leaders and gets them talking about policy; her colleague Marc Hyden, the group’s national advocacy coordinator, works with movement conservatives, college Republicans, tea party activists and libertarians.