The last state other than Tennessee to carry out an execution by electrocution was Virginia in , according to Death Penalty Information Centre data.
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West was found guilty of the kidnapping and stabbing deaths of year-old Wanda Romines and her year-old daughter Sheila Romines. In a clemency plea to Governor Bill Lee, lawyers for West wrote that his thenyear-old accomplice Ronnie Martin actually killed both victims. Their cases were separated, and while West was sentenced to death, Martin pleaded guilty as a juvenile and received a life sentence with the possibility of parole in In a court filing, the state said West brutally stabbed the victims to death.
But a state Supreme Court opinion rejected the recording as uncorroborated hearsay that would not have exonerated West.
Tennessee has put two inmates to death by lethal injection since August Condemned inmates in the state whose crimes occurred before can opt for the electric chair. Even Texas is down to its last drop, and with the American Pharmacists Association telling members this week they should refuse to supply drugs that could be used in executions there don't appear to be any new supplies coming soon.
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California, meanwhile, has only executed 13 convicts since , but now has a staggering inmates on death row - so many that Governor Jerry Brown had to propose emergency measures to open more cells to death row inmates. It has been nearly a decade since California has executed anyone. The state, like a growing portion of America, is comfortable imposing a death sentence, but not carrying it out. The difficulties that these states are facing reflect a growing shift of public attitudes towards the death penalty over the last 20 years, fueled by concerns over wrongful convictions, botched executions and the exorbitant cost of administering the system.
The sheer number of wrongful convictions has been the most powerful force driving a steady erosion of support for the death penalty from 80 per cent 20 years ago, to 63 per cent today according to Gallup. But even that apparently still-healthy support is flakier than it first appears. Two more wrongful conviction cases emerged this week to deepen the disquiet.
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In the first Debra Milke spent 22 years on death row in Arizona after being convicted of conspiring to murder her son on the evidence of a police officer whose track-record of lying under oath was concealed from the court. Photo: Alamy. It is not just the number of such cases, but their growing frequency that has undermined public confidence in the death penalty, according to Professor Michael Radelet of the University of Colorado whose six books have made him one of the most influential voices in the death penalty debate.
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Since some death row inmates have been exonerated — after spending an average of 11 years wrongly imprisoned - but nearly half of these have come since , as the combination of DNA evidence and rising awareness of the fallibility of the system has become more publicly accepted. Prof Radelet has traced the evolution of US public opinion from the mids - when a majority of Americans were briefly against the death penalty - to the peak of its support in the s, before falling back over the last two decades.
At its most extreme, that meant actually reveling in the cruelty of the punishment, as happened in when Pedro Medina, a Florida murderer who stabbed his former teacher, caught fire in the electric chair, flames shooting from his mask.
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But the worm turned in the late s, according to Prof Radelet, partly because of high-profile wrongful convictions, but also because the obvious flaws in the system these mistakes exposed opened the floodgates to other persuasive arguments. Suddenly it was no longer just liberals objecting on principle that the state should not stoop to killing, but conservatives on the Right complaining that the state was simply making an expensive mess of things.
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It is perhaps surprising that Nebraska — a state not known for its liberalism — is currently debating a law that would abolish the death penalty in favour of life without parole, and that that initiative is supported by several Republicans in the state legislature. The cost of prosecuting capital cases has tripled in recent years, according one recent study, and is constantly rising as the Supreme Court continues to load conditions and obligations onto death penalty cases.
And as regulation increases, for ideological conservatives with an instinctive distrust of government, the state appears to run the execution business the same way it runs any business — badly. The measurable result of all this is that despite the headline grabbing determination of hardcore death penalty states like Texas and Utah, the use of capital punishment is on the wane in the US, with only 35 inmates executed in - the smallest number for two decades.