More than 10,000 homicides last year--only 72 death sentences
“I think we need to kill more people,” said Dale Cox, a prosecutor in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, according to Robert J. Smith an assistant professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in column in Slate.
Cox was responding to questions about the release of Glenn Ford, a man with Stage 4 lung cancer who spent nearly three decades on death row for a crime he did not commit. Cox acknowledged that the execution of an innocent person would be a “horrible injustice.” Still, he maintained of the death penalty: “We need it more now than ever.”
Cox means what he says. He has personally secured half of the death sentences in Louisiana since 2010. Cox recently secured a death sentence against a father convicted of killing his infant son, despite the medical examiner’s uncertainty that the death was a homicide. Rather than exercising caution in the face of doubt, Cox told the jury that, when it comes to a person who harms a child, Jesus demands his disciples kill the abuser by placing a millstone around his neck and throwing him into the sea.
The nation suffered more than 10,000 homicides last year, yet only 72 people received death sentences—the lowest number in the modern era of capital punishment. The numbers have been steadily declining for the better part of a decade. Most states are abandoning the practice in droves. Even in states that continue its use, capital prosecutions are being pursued in only a few isolated counties.
Cox is one of them. Jeannette Gallagher of Maricopa County, Arizona, is another. She and two colleagues are responsible for more than one-third of the capital cases—20 of 59—that the Arizona Supreme Court reviewed statewide between 2007 and 2013. Gallagher recently sent a 19-year-old with depression to death row even though he had tried to commit suicide the day before the murder, sought treatment, and was turned away. She also obtained a death sentence against a 21-year-old man with a low IQ who was sexually abused as a child, addicted to drugs and alcohol from a young age, and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She then sent a U.S. military veteran with paranoid schizophrenia to death row. Her response to these harrowing mitigating circumstances has not been to exercise restraint, but rather to accuse each of these defendants of simply faking his symptoms.
Meanwhile, in Duval County, Florida, Bernie de la Rionda has personally obtained 10 death sentences since 2008.
Not surprisingly, death sentences drop precipitously after these prosecutors leave office. Bob Macy sent 54 people to Oklahoma’s death row before retiring in 2001. Over the past five years, Oklahoma County has had only one death sentence. Lynne Abraham secured 45 death sentences as the Philadelphia district attorney. Since she retired in 2010, the new district attorney has obtained only three death sentences.
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