Scrap the death penalty?

Is it time America's death penalty died its own death?

U.S. Death Penalty Support at 60%

Story Highlights

  • Gallup has not found a lower level of support since 57% in 1972

  • Support peaked at 80% in 1994

  • Less than half of Democrats now favor the death penalty

PRINCETON, N.J. -- As voters in several states prepare to vote on death penalty initiatives, 60% of Americans say they are in favor of the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. This figure is similar to the 61% average since 2011 but down from 66% support between 2000 and 2010 and the all-time high of 80% in 1994.

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Scrap the death penalty?

The American death penalty is under scrutiny again, after the state of Arkansas unveiled plans to execute eight prisoners in the space of just 11 days.

Arkansas had not put a death row prisoner to death for 12 years. However, the decision to execute the eight men was made after state officials discovered that one of its execution drugs, Midazolam, was set to expire at the end of April.

The first of the 11 executions was planned for Sunday, April 17, but on Saturday, April 18 a federal judge in Arkansas issued an injunction halting the executions, saying the prisoners were likely to succeed in demonstrating that the state's proposed method of execution was unconstitutional.

Midazolam caused controversy in 2014 after it was used in the execution of murderer Clayton Lockett. The drug was supposed to sedate Lockett, however he went into seizure. The execution had to be aborted 24 minutes later, and Lockett died of eventual heart failure an hour after the drugs were administered.

Additional criticisms have also been levelled at Arkansas. The governor has reportedly received a letter, written by 23 former corrections officials warning that participating in executions can exact a 'severe toll on corrections officers’ well-being.'

The death penalty has a long lineage in America. The process was completely public until 1834, when Pennsylvania became the first state to move it into an indoor correctional facility.

Michigan became the first state to abolish it for all crimes except treason in 1846.

In the 1930s executions reached their highest levels across the USA, averaging 137 a year.

In 1972, the Supreme Court suspended the death penalty all together, voiding 40 pending cases. However, it was reinstated in 1976 following the case of Gregg vs Georgia.

In 1977 Oklahoma became the first state to employ lethal injection as a means of execution, as opposed to gas or hanging.

In more recent history, New York dropped the death penalty in 2004. The year after, Florida Governor Jeb Bush suspended the death penalty after prisoner Angel Diaz had to be given two injections and took more than 30 minutes to die.

New Mexico and Nebraska abolished the death penalty in 2009 and 2015, respectively.

Today, capital punishment is still legal in 31 states, although the majority of executions take place in four states; Texas, Florida, Georgia and Missouri.

The Death Penalty Information Centre estimates that there are currently around 2,900 inmates on death row across the country.

Should they all face the lethal injection? Or is it time America's capital punishment died its own death?

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Arkansas' planned murder spree: Everything that makes the death penalty in America gruesome and wrong, in one place

State prosecutors battle in court to kill seven convicts in 11 days - before their execution drugs go bad

In the summer of 1999, Clayton Lockett and two accomplices , including a man named Shawn Mathis, were burglarizing a home when they were interrupted by 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman as she dropped off her friend, who happened to live there.

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