Despite Timothy McVeigh execution, public support is declining for capital punishment
By Tony Staley
Despite the execution Monday of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy
McVeigh, popular support for the death penalty is declining,
reported The Wall Street Journal (5/22/01) in a front page story.
The Journal noted that the change has come despite public support
for the execution of McVeigh and the election of George W. Bush.
In calling Pres. Bush "an enthusiastic proponent of capital
punishment," it noted that he presided over 152 executions, more
than any other governor in the last 25 years. (It should be noted
that Bush's opponent, Al Gore, also supported the death penalty.)
It gave as reasons for changing attitudes: declining rates of
violent crime; advances in DNA testing that has resulted in
reversals of several guilty verdicts; and incidents of scandal in
the prosecution of several major cases.
The number of executions is also falling, going from a high of
319 in 1994 and 1995, to 272 in 1999, the latest year for which
statistics are available.
The public also may be disturbed in some cases by who receives
the death sentence. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court last
month banned the execution of a mentally retarded man in Texas.
Recent awareness of problems in capital cases, such as executing
people wrongly convicted, has led to an unusual alliance of death
penalty friends and foes seeking stricter standards on who can be
executed, The Journal reported. For example, Oklahoma Gov. Frank
Keating, a strong death penalty advocate, favors requiring a
higher standard of proof in death penalty cases, even if it makes
the death penalty harder to obtain, The Journal said.
The foes hope stronger standards will decrease the number of
executions, while supporters are willing to accept stricter
standards if they will end the erosion in public support for the
death penalty and thus keep it legal.
Both Pope John Paul and the U.S. Catholic bishops have taken
strong positions opposing capital punishment, both in general and
in their requests for clemency in specific cases.
Beyond that, we can look to the Bible, but not the Old
Testament's "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Instead,
as Christians, we need to consult the story of the woman caught
in adultery (Jn 8:1-11). In saving her from execution by public
stoning, Jesus told the people, "Let the one among you who is
without sin cast the first stone." Notice, he did not say the
first stone could be cast by someone who has never committed
adultery, but rather by someone "without sin." That's the
standard we need to follow.