FEATURED POST

Anthony Ray Hinton Spent Almost 30 Years on Death Row. Now He Has a Message for White America.

Image
Anthony Ray Hinton was mowing the lawn at his mother's house in 1985 when Alabama police came to arrest him for 2 murders he did not commit. One took place when he was working the night shift at a Birmingham warehouse. Yet the state won a death sentence, based on 2 bullets it falsely claimed matched a gun found at his mother's home. In his powerful new memoir, "The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row," Hinton describes how racism and a system stacked against the poor were the driving forces behind his conviction. He also writes about the unique and unexpected bonds that can form on death row, and in particular about his relationship with Henry Hays, a former Klansman sentenced to death for a notorious lynching in 1981. Hays died in the electric chair in 1997 - 1 of 54 people executed in Alabama while Hinton was on death row.
After almost 30 years, Hinton was finally exonerated in 2015, thanks to the Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI. On April 27…

U.S.: Death penalty support no longer a given in red states

Almost exactly a year ago, we watched Nebraska become the 1st Republican-controlled state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty. At the time, we wondered this: Are conservatives starting to eschew the death penalty?

A year later, we have more of an answer: maybe. At least, there's increasing evidence to suggest Nebraska's move to drop the death penalty was not an anomaly in conservative circles but rather the start of a trend.

So far this legislative session, GOP state lawmakers in 10 states -- an unprecedented number -- sponsored or co-sponsored legislation to repeal the death penalty, including in perhaps the reddest state in the nation, Utah. None of them passed, but some got further than even their supporters expected. In Utah, a repeal bill passed the state Senate and a House committee. For the 1st time in decades, Missouri's full state Senate debated the issue. A Kentucky legislative committee held a hearing on repealing the death penalty for the 1st time since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1976 (even though it failed 9 to 8).

There's more evidence outside legislative circles. This fall, the National Association of Evangelicals changed its 40-year position of exclusive support for the death penalty to make room for evangelical Christians to take an alternative position on the death penalty. And in Georgia, anti-death-penalty advocates point out that last year no jury there handed out a death sentence for crimes that were eligible for it.

Kansas Republicans are the latest group of conservatives to question the death penalty. 2 years ago, the state GOP party switched its platform from supportive to neutral on the issue to make room for the growing number of Republicans who didn't back it. Then, at their state convention over the weekend, they batted down an attempt to put the death penalty back on their platform. The debate got so contentious that they cast secret ballots and eventually voted 90 to 75 to keep their position on the death penalty neutral.

There are just too many Republicans in the state who oppose the death penalty to have it on their platform, explained Ed O'Brien, a vice chairman of the Kansas Republican Party -- plus, Republican politicians and voters just aren't as focused on the death penalty as they used to be.

"If I was advising a candidate running for office, I'd say: If you want to make that an issue, go ahead. But there's other things that need to be addressed," he said.

It's possible that silence is giving conservatives who oppose the death penalty the opportunity to be heard. And from Kansas to Utah, conservatives are presenting their colleagues some pretty compelling -- and conservative -- reasons to abolish the death penalty.

Their reasoning generally falls under 1 of 3 arguments: 1) It's not moral and not consistent with conservatives' antiabortion (that is "pro-life") beliefs. 2) It's not fiscally sound and not consistent with conservatives' small-government policies. 3) Life in prison without parole is bad enough.

"I'm thinking that it's wrong for government to be in business in killing its own citizens," Utah state Sen. Steve Urquhart (R), who sponsored the repeal bill there, told me in February. "That cheapens life."

Former Kansas College Republicans president Dalton Glasscock said it's a generational issue, too. This summer, the group voted to oppose the death penalty on its official platform.

"My generation is looking for consistency on issues," he said. "I believe if we say we're pro-life, we need to be truly pro-life, from conception to death."

Of course, this is far from a settled issue on the right, and the opposition is still far outnumbered and still fighting to get a foothold. Nebraska's death penalty repeal is on hold and will be put to voters this November in a ballot measure that was funded in part by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), who vetoed the original repeal last year. (The legislature then overrode it.)

Similarly, in Oklahoma, voters will decide this November whether to enshrine the death penalty in the state's constitution.

And when pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced Friday it would keep its drugs from being used in lethal injections, some conservative groups criticized the decision. David Muhlhausen, a criminal justice expert with the Heritage Foundation, told the New York Times that Pfizer's move to get out of the death penalty market is not "in the public interest" because he believes research shows the death penalty can deter crimes.

More broadly speaking, there's evidence to suggest that elected Republicans are increasingly amenable to having a larger conversation on criminal justice reform, an issue traditionally owned by Democrats. As I wrote last year:

Alabama's Republican governor is calling for a $541 million tax package in part to offset overstuffed prisons, for instance. States like South Carolina and Georgia have also passed their own justice reform packages changing who gets sent to prison and for how long.

"When states in the Deep South, which have long had some of the country's harshest penal systems, make significant sentencing and prison reforms, you know something has changed," the New York Times's editorial board wrote in 2015.

As for why this is happening in isolated instances now, it's unclear. Turning to public opinion polling doesn't give us much clarity.

The Pew Research Center has found support for the death penalty is on a downward trend, but it credits that drop to Democrats backing away from it, not Republicans.

And Gallup has pegged support for the death penalty at a stable 60 %.

The bottom line: It's not like anyone can claim a groundswell of support on the right for dropping the death penalty. But it's notable that a year after we wondered whether Nebraska was an anomaly or the start of a trend, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that conservative opposition to the death penalty may indeed be a trend -- a small but growing one.

Source: Washington Post, Amber Phillips, May 18, 2016

- Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com - Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

After 21 Years on Death Row, Darlie Routier Still Says She's Innocent of Murdering Her Young Sons

Florida seeks death penalty for Miami mom whose baby died from scalding bath

Oklahoma: Death row inmate in Tulsa bank teller's murder found dead at state penitentiary

Alabama prison system sees steep rise in suicides

Texas: White supremacist gang members sentenced to death for killing fellow supremacist inmate

Kentucky Supreme Court rules death penalty IQ law is unconstitutional

California: Jury recommends death penalty for serial killer

Belarus: Unprecedented Supreme Court decision to suspend death sentences

Iran: Six executions in one day

Texas: Gustavo Tijerina-Sandoval formally sentenced to death for murder of Border Patrol agent