The surety of the death penalty proponent’s is a major issue as aside from Jesus, no one has ever come back from the dead after an execution. This is sad commentary on a vengeful, biased system and for a variety of reasons; first among them is the inescapable fact that it could never compensate for a family’s loss. There are other reasons the death penalty should be abolished asides from its hit or miss nature; and, most prominent among them is racism.[1] New research shows that at least 4.1 percent of defendants sentenced to death in the United States are innocent.[2]

A Change of Heart

In 1976, just six months after he joined the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens voted to reinstate capital punishment. In 2008, two years before he announced his retirement, Justice Stevens reversed course and in a concurrence said that he now believed the death penalty to be unconstitutional.[3] After more than three decades on the court and some 1,100 executions, Justice Stevens wrote that personnel changes on the court, coupled with “regrettable judicial activism,” had created a system of capital punishment shot through with racism, skewed toward conviction, infected with politics, and tinged with hysteria.[4]

Surely Goodness and Mercy

That absolvent character of Jesus appears nonexistent among many of his followers today. Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs Survey, conducted each May, shows that 66 percent of Americans find the death penalty “morally acceptable.” Among conservatives, those favoring the death penalty jumps to 81 percent, a number matched only by Republican Party members.[5]

In the United States, Christians are overwhelmingly in favor of the death penalty, which seems strangely incongruent in an overwhelmingly Christian country. Nearly 70 percent of Americans favor the death penalty despite its uncertain application.[6] Only 59 percent of Americans favored it in 1937 when Gallup first asked Americans about the death penalty.

States of Righteousness

In the past ten years, the number of executions in the U.S. has decreased while the murder rate has declined. Some observers argue the murder rate dropped because of the increase in executions; yet, during this decade, the murder rate in non-death penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in states with the death penalty.

For example, in 2007 the homicide rate in states with active death penalty statutes was 42 percent higher than that of non-death-penalty states.[7] For 2010, the average murder rate of death penalty states was 4.6 per 100,000 people while the average rate for states without the death penalty was 2.9.[8]

Louisiana leads the nation in murder rates at 11.2 per 100,000 residents, a position it has held for more than a decade and almost three times the national average despite having the death penalty. Following Louisiana are Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, New Mexico, Arizona, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Alabama, which all have the death penalty. Of the states with the highest murder rates, 16 of the top twenty are in the states of the old Confederacy or “Red” states.

Since 1976, the most religious region of the country, the South, executed more than 200 times the prisoners as the Northeast; yet, the murder rate in the South is 25 percent higher.[9] The South executed 1,057 prisoners while the Northeast only put four to death.[10] By region, the South ranks first in murder rates at 5.6 while the Northeast, the least religious region of the United States, the Northeast is tied for last at 4.2 with the West, another portion of the country with low religious participation.[11]

Currently, over two-thirds of the countries in the world—139—have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. In 2008, 93 percent of all known executions took place in just five countries—China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the United States.

Capital Punishment

While some research in the 1970s claimed to find deterrent effects in the death penalty, the studies received exhaustive criticism and ultimately discredited. A panel set up by the National Academy of Sciences and chaired by Nobel Laureate Lawrence R. Klein also examined the studies. The panel concluded “the available studies provide no useful evidence on the deterrent effect of capital punishment” and “research on the deterrent effects of capital sanctions is not likely to provide results that will or should have much influence on policy makers.”[12]

In a 1985 Gallup Poll, 62 percent of the respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Do you feel that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to the commitment of murder, that it lowers the murder rate, or not?” By 2004, the proportion of respondents who stated that the death penalty was not a deterrent doubled from 31% to 62%.[13]

Oops! Exonerations

On April 7, 2009, the Innocence Project of Texas was successful in obtaining the exoneration of Timothy Cole, the first person in Texas history formally cleared of a crime after his death. Cole died in prison while serving a 25-year sentence for rape. He maintained his innocence until the end, hoping that one day he would receive vindication and a pardon from the Texas Governor.

Cole’s case is unique in the annals of Texas legal history. Not only was it the first posthumous exoneration, it was also the first time a “Court of Inquiry” worked to seek justice for an innocent person. In addition, thanks to the bravery and compassion of the crime victim, Cole’s exoneration marked one of the greatest examples of a victim joining in the effort to exonerate someone falsely convicted of a crime in Texas.[14]

Since 1973, across the country 144 death row inmates escaped death after being exonerated of their crimes. It might seem that even one wrongful death would be enough to at least suspend the death penalty or scrap it entirely, but it hasn’t.

Out of 26 current and former death penalty states, five states account for more than with “red states” leading the pack with 56 exonerations. Those five states account for 53% of exonerations, which totals more than 21 remaining states.[15]

The Dirty 2%

Contrary to the assumption that the death penalty is widely practiced across the country, it is actually the domain of a small percentage of U.S. counties in a handful of states. Only 2% of the counties in the U.S. have been responsible for the majority of cases leading to executions since 1976. To put it another way, all of the state executions since the death penalty was reinstated stem from cases in just 15% of the counties in the U.S. [16] Out of more than 200 counties in Texas nine counties accounted 314 executions with Harris County accounting for 116 or nearly 40 percent of all the executions in the state since 1976.[17],[18]

Something to Hide?

Since 1973, 144 death row inmates were exonerated with the most recent occurring March 11, 2014.[19] Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Texas alone has accounted for nearly 40% of the nation’s executions. Just four states (Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida) have been responsible for almost 60% of the executions. The South has carried out 82% of the executions, the Northeast, less than 1%.[20]

Denomination and the Death Penalty

American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.—Since 1982, the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. has opposed capital punishment in the United States.[21]

Catholicism—U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeatedly called for the abolition of capital punishment in the United States in all circumstances.[22]

Episcopal Church—Since the 1958 General Convention, U.S. Episcopal bishops have maintained a position against the death penalty.[23]

Judaism—All of the major Jewish movements in the United States either advocate for the abolition of the death penalty or have called for at least a temporary moratorium on its use. [24]

National Council of Churches—The National Council of Churches, which represents 35 mainstream Protestant and Orthodox churches, has advocated for the abolition of the death penalty since 1968.[25]

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)—Since its first official statement on the issue in 1959, reaffirmed again in 1977 and 1978, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has opposed the death penalty.[26]

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations—The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has called for a moratorium on executions since 1961.[27]

United Methodist Church—In 2000, the United Methodist Church declared its opposition to the death penalty and encouraged its membership to advocate for the abolition of capital punishment.[28]

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod—In 1976, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod asserted, “that capital punishment is in accord with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.”[29]

National Association of Evangelicals—Since its 1972 and 1973 resolutions on the issue, the National Association of Evangelicals has continued to support the use of capital punishment in cases involving premeditated murder as well as crimes like hijacking and kidnapping where people are physically harmed.[30]

Southern Baptist Convention—In 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution in support of the fair and equitable use of capital punishment.[31]


[1] National Statistics on the Death Penalty and Race, Death Penalty Information Center, March 23, 2012,

[2] Samuel Gross, Rate of False Conviction of Criminal Defendants who are Sentenced t..., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 28, 2014

[3] Adam Liptak,  Ex-Justice Criticizes Death Penalty, New York Times,  November 27, 2010,

[4] Adam Liptak,  Ex-Justice Criticizes Death Penalty, New York Times,  November 27, 2010,

[5] Frank Newport, Sixty-Nine Percent of Americans Support Death Penalty, Gallup News Service, October 12, 2007,

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] Regional Murder Rates, 2001 – 2010, 2012 Death Penalty Information Center,

[9] ibid

[10] ibid

[11] ibid

[12] Michael L. Radelet & Traci L. Lacock, Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates?: The Views Of Leading Criminologists, The Journal Of Criminal Law & Criminology, Vol. 99, No. 2,2009

[13] ibid

[14] Timothy Cole: A Tragic Story Begets Hope for the Future, The Innocence Project of Texas,

[16] Death Penalty Information Center,

[17], Death Penalty Information Center,

[19] Kenneth England, The Innocence List, Death Penalty Information Center,

[20] Kenneth England, The Innocence List, Death Penalty Information Center,

[21] ibid

[22] ibid

[23] ibid

[24] ibid

[25] ibid

[26] ibid

[27] ibid

[28] ibid

[29] Religious Groups' Official Positions on the Death Penalty, The Barna Group, November 4, 2009,

[30] ibid

[31] ibid


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Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 6, 2014 at 1:29pm
Pat--you are right on the money and it isn't callous. It's real. If nothing, it would seem the money hangers would change direction. Of course lawyers get most of if. By prisoners go through the appeal process millions have been spent. I recall Republican Governor Ryan saying that the system in Illinois was little more than a "crap shoot." He caught a lot of grief for being sensible when he placed a moratorium on capital punishment. Globally, his response was praised.
Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 6, 2014 at 1:18pm
Joan--This was a piece of research from a long essay. Interestingly, you bring in the Bible. You are certainly right as a moral guide, I think Attila the Hun could be more beneficial. I don't know about you but it has always been difficult to reconcile Christianity and its followers with their behavior.
Comment by Luara on May 6, 2014 at 12:36pm

Here's a Gallup poll on support for capital punishment.  Women and nonwhites are less likely to support it than males and whites.  About religion, they say

Gallup finds virtually no difference in support for it on the basis of respondents' religious background. Two-thirds of Protestants and Catholics, alike, are in favor of the death penalty as a punishment for murder, as are at least six in 10 adults regardless of whether they attend church weekly, monthly, or less often. Only among those who say they have no religious preference, which would include atheists and agnostics, is there a difference, with a slightly smaller 56% in favor of the death penalty.

It's strange that all those religions have official positions against the death penalty, but the rank-and-file religious overwhelmingly support it. 

One thing to notice about the frequent exonerations is that it's actually very difficult to get a wrongful conviction reversed.  Probably many more people condemned to death, are actually innocent but don't have the strong evidence required to prove it or get the conviction reversed

I started a thread on wrongful convictions and the death penalty. a few months ago.  

Comment by Pat on May 6, 2014 at 12:18pm

I work in the legal system of a State that recently abolished the death penalty - Illinois. In fact, I was in the minority of attorneys in Illinois that was certified to handle a capital murder case.  A moratorium was initially placed on its use by former Gov. George Ryan, and then abolished by the legislature in 2011. I think the primary reason for its abolition in Illinois was the error rate of wrongful convictions. Reason enough to get rid of it.

As to deterrence justifying an execution, I've always found this to be a specious argument. If it really deterred anyone (other than the killer), murders would have ceased after the first recorded stoning in the bronze age. Or, shortly thereafter.

One argument against the death penalty, which may sound callous on its face, and which I rarely ever hear, is economics. An average death penalty case (including incarceration, appeals, etc.) cost taxpayers about $3 million.  The average cost of incarcerating a prisoner is $31,000.00.  This means the cost of one execution is the same as housing one prisoner for slightly over 96 years. No one lives in prison for 96 years. It's a complete and total waste of taxpayer money. Money which could be used for drug treatment facilities and mental health treatment, thereby reducing prison population in the first place. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on May 6, 2014 at 11:14am

Just more pieces of evidence that the bible and religious teachings do not provide the moral and ethical guidance that can overcome the problems as defined by Justice Stevens who "wrote that personnel changes on the court, coupled with 'regrettable judicial activism,' had created a system of capital punishment shot through with racism, skewed toward conviction, infected with politics, and tinged with hysteria.[4]"

Donald, powerfully written, clear, concrete, and rationally thought through position. Add to that the feelings of abhorrence in the thought that politics and prejudice play roles in the decision to execute, only add to the challenge to those who find justice in executions. 


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