A recent statehouse vote provides yet more evidence that capital punishment is in decline in the United States.
The New Hampshire House of Representatives on March 12 repealed the death penalty, moving the Granite State one step closer to abolition. A vote in the state Senate could end executions in New Hampshire, by law, forever.
New Hampshire is not the only state considering dismantling the machinery of death. The Delaware Senate has also recently voted to revoke capital punishment in the First State, with a vote in the House hoped for in this session.
Over the past some years, New Jersey (2007), New York (2007), New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012) and Maryland (2013) have repealed their death penalty laws. In 2011, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a death penalty moratorium, as did Washington Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year.
In 2013, when Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill outlawing capital punishment in his state, I was happy to be there with death row survivors Kirk Bloodsworth and Shujaa Graham to witness history in the making. O’Malley and other lawmakers across the nation have come to understand that the death penalty is wrong, part of a broken system that kills innocent people.
For the 1,369 executions since 1976, 144 innocent men and women have been released from death rows across America. If a factory bungled every 10th product coming off the assembly line, that plant would be shut down immediately.
The latest death row survivor, Glenn Ford, was released on March 11 from Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana, a former slave plantation, after spending nearly 30 years awaiting execution. Ford, who is African-American, was convicted by an all-white jury, in a case marred by suppression of evidence, incompetent defense counsel, and an unidentified informant who admitted to the murder.
The death penalty is unevenly and unfairly applied. Only 2 percent of counties in the United States have accounted for a majority of the death sentences and executions since 1976. Further, executions are a punishment for the poor and racial minorities, while the murder victims are nearly exclusively white.
A few states are attempting to stand against the winds of change. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has signed the Timely Justice Act, a law that expedites executions in the state with the most exonerated death row inmates. Initiatives in Alabama, California and Kansas would also shorten the appeals process and risk sending innocent people to death. Some state lawmakers have even called for a return to the gas chamber, the electric chamber and the firing squad.
With the European Union embargo on export of lethal injection chemicals to this country, states are facing a shortage of execution drugs. In an act of desperation, some of them have switched to unapproved, untested drugs.
Nevertheless, these measures are paltry attempts to delay the inevitable. With state after state repealing the death penalty, support for the practice is at a 60-year low.
America needs to break the cycle of violence now. The New Hampshire vote is a welcome step in the right direction.
David A. Love is the executive director of Witness to Innocence, a national organization of exonerated former death row prisoners and their families. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.