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The Spectacle Doesn't Change the Facts

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Ronnie Lee Gardner's death by a Utah firing squad is an anomaly. Despite the curiosity generated by the high-profile manner of imposing the punishment, the death penalty is on the wane in America.

A new Rasmussen poll released June 8 shows that public support for the death penalty has declined. Three-quarters of Americans are concerned that some individuals are executed for crimes they did not commit, including 40% who are "very concerned."

So it is no small wonder that the death penalty is increasingly falling into disuse. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty less often, and jurors are returning death sentences less often as well. The active use of the death penalty is confined to a handful of states. Even in Utah, despite this splashy appearance on the executing stage, executions are very rare, with less than a dozen people on death row.

And the legal foundation upon which the system of capital punishment was built is crumbling. The American Law Institute played a pivotal role in the effort to design a capital sentencing scheme that comported with constitutional norms of due process and equal protection through its Model Penal Code. Tellingly, the ALI withdrew the Model Penal Code provision for capital punishment, citing its belief that the intractable problems of arbitrariness, bias and unfairness in the system could not be fixed.

We as a society need to learn to recognize the devastation and lifelong effect of homicides on families of murder victims and our communities. We need to find a response that better serves affected communities.

For our part, we will continue to tell the truth about the way in which capital punishment undermines and degrades our system of justice. We will encourage and support citizens in getting involved in the fight for abolition. We will continue to move forward our programming through Rachel's Fund to build bridges to find common ground to enhance our communal response to homicide.

We have no doubt that given the facts, the public will make the wise choice. It is not now a question of whether, but instead when capital punishment will end.