How the execution of a mentally ill man who saved his last meal dessert "for later" delivered Bill Clinton into the Oval Office

The Death of Ricky Ray Rector Ricky Ray Rector grew up in Conway, Arkansas, just an hour’s drive from Bill Clinton’s own hometown of Hot Springs. From the very earliest days of his life, Ricky was considered different and strange. He had few friends, and while other children were out running around, Ricky sat under a tree playing alone with sticks. Those who saw him said he was dreamy and detached, “as if he were locked into some private daze of withdrawal.”

Why Support For The Death Penalty In America Is Plunging

A Gallup poll found this week that support for the death penalty in America is the lowest it's been in 40 years and has dropped sharply since its peak at 80% in 1994.

These days, roughly 60% of Americans support the death penalty for convicted killers, the lowest level of support since 1972 when 57% of people were in favor.

We spoke to death penalty expert Douglas Berman, who attributed the drop in support to three big factors: high-profile exonerations of death row inmates; the disappearance of "tough on crime" attitudes popular in the '80s and '90s; and the successful repeal of the death penalty in a number of U.S. states.

"Really over the last decade there has been a growing awareness of mistakes in the context of death row prosecutions and exonerations that tend to be very high-profile," said Berman, a law professor at The Ohio State University and founder of the Sentencing and Law Policy blog.

A total of 142 death row prisoners in America have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. These exonerees sometimes become outspoken opponents of the death penalty and can be very compelling in swaying public opinion.

The public is also less enamored of "tough on crime" policies than it used to, partly because America has gotten much safer in the past 20 years. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1988, was a vocal opponent of the death penalty and famously got hammered for being "soft on crime."

These days, Berman said, "Crime is much less salient of a political issue."

There's also little evidence that the death penalty does anything to deter crime anyway. Currently 18 states have banned capital punishment. "There's not a lot of evidence that crime spikes up dramatically" when a state stops executing people, Berman said. (In fact, the region with the most executions - the South - is also the most violent part of the country.)

Anti-death penalty advocates in states that have banned the death penalty have also successfully highlighted problems with capial punishment, such as high costs and the difficulty in administering it fairly. These arguments have been particularly successful at swaying independent voters, Berman noted.

It may be surprising then that liberal California rejected an attempt to repeal the death penalty last year. The loss for death penalty opponents came even as people in the state grew concerned about the costs of capital punishment, the Associated Press noted.

"It remains the case that, even in a blue state," Berman said, "there is still this general support for the death penalty at least on the books as kind of a symbolism of being tough on the worst offenders."

Source: Business Insider, October 30, 2013

European Union Financing Efforts to End Death Penalty in U.S.; Giving millions of dollars in grants to American nonprofits

The European Union is financing efforts to abolish the death penalty in the United States through millions of dollars in grants to American nonprofits, EU records show.

The EU's European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) has disbursed grants worth millions of dollars to a host of U.S.-based groups for campaigns aimed at ending or eroding support for capital punishment.

Experts say the expenditures raise concerns about the influence of foreign governments on American policy.

The EU is flatly opposed to capital punishment. "Its abolition is a key objective for the union's human rights policy," the union's website states.

EIDHR doles out millions of euros each year to groups that oppose the death penalty.

Those grants are "aimed at promoting the restrictive use of, the establishment of a moratorium on, and the abolition of the death penalty."

EIDHR gave 495,000 euros to Equal Justice USA in fiscal year 2012 for a project called "Breaking Barriers: Engaging New Voices to Abolish the Death Penalty in the United States."

EJUSA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, meaning its work must focus on education, rather than advocacy. But a EU description of the Breaking Barriers program says one of its purposes is to "advocate for abolition."

Shari Silberstein, EJUSA's executive director, said the group acts within all applicable legal constraints, including the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).

FARA requires groups to file disclosures with the Justice Department if it conducts advocacy work on behalf of a foreign government.

"We determined with our attorneys that it did not apply to us," Silberstein explained in an email. "EJUSA does engage in some lobbying (as allowed within our legal limits), but no EU funds are used for those activities."

The roughly $680,000 the group received from the EIDHR made up a large portion of its revenue. According to EJUSA's website, its fiscal year 2012 budget was "just over $1 million."

Silberstein said her group received the EIDHR grant for "public education and outreach activities" involving "the creation and dissemination of public education materials, media, conference attendance, and networking."

Luke Coffey, a Margaret Thatcher fellow at the Heritage Foundation, balked at the EU's campaign, saying decisions about the death penalty are made at the state - not federal or international - level.

"The EU is a very undemocratic organization which is suffering from very low popularity right now," Coffey said. "They have bigger problems to worry about."

The EU has given out more than 3.5 million euros ($4.8 million) since 2009 to 7 groups for efforts to combat the death penalty in the United States.

Other recipient organizations include the American Bar Association's Fund for Justice and Education and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Both are also 501(c)(3) groups.

While support for capital punishment has declined in recent years, a Gallup poll released this week shows that a large majority of Americans continue to support the practice.

Source: Washington Free Beacon, October 30, 2013

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