Sunday, July 31, 2016

GateHouse: The death penalty promises to make a splash in campaign 2016

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
July 20, 2016

The death penalty just became a whole lot more interesting with Hillary Clinton’s choice of running mate. By selecting Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate, Hillary Clinton chose one of the few Democratic governors who, like her husband Bill Clinton, put people to death.

Clinton has said she “would breathe a sigh of relief if either the Supreme Court or the states themselves began to eliminate the death penalty.” According to Think Progress, Clinton was signaling for the first time that she would support a court ruling eliminating capital punishment.

With that said, Clinton supports the death penalty being an option for the federal government.

If Clinton’s stance on capital punishment seems awkward wait until you get a load of Kaine’s position. Kaine is opposed to the death penalty, yet he presided over 11 executions as governor of Virginia. The New York Times reported that Kaine’s handling of capital punishment shows that he recognizes — and expediently bends — to the reality of the Democratic Party and the state he represented.

Some death penalty opponents cast his decisions as political survival and ambition. “Tim is a politician,” Jack Payden-Travers, who ran Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, told the Times.

The machinations of the death penalty have the nation’s political parties abandoning their traditional stances on the ultimate punishment. For instance, in Ohio, with a GOP governor who was the last man standing in opposition to Donald Trump, the evolution of the death penalty has been nothing short of astonishing.

A little more than five years ago, Ohio was second only to Texas with 10 executions in a single year. This year, Ohio has not carried out a single execution. With GOP John Kasich as governor the state has not executed an inmate since Jan. 16, 2014.

Executions are not the only thing plummeting in Ohio. The number of capital murder indictments filed across the state since 2010 has dropped by 77 percent — just 19 capital indictments were brought in 2015, reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

However, that is not entirely surprising. Cuyahoga County — Cleveland’s home and the site of the Republican National Convention — had the second most capital convictions in the state, but there has been a changing of the guard.

In 2013, Cuyahoga County elected a new prosecutor. Tim McGinty is not only less likely to seek the death penalty but has written to the parole board on behalf of a condemned inmate declaring that under his leadership the office changed its approach to capital punishment.

Not unexpectedly, Donald Trump supports the death penalty. He made it clear he will expand the death penalty to those who kill police officers. His pick for vice-president Indiana Governor Mike Pence also supports the death penalty.

Where does America stand?

Nationally, a Gallup Poll conducted last fall found that 61 percent of the public still supports the death penalty although executions are at a 25-year low.

A number of states — Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Nebraska — have recently abandoned capital punishment. The governors of four other states — Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington — have imposed execution moratoriums.

As lethal injection drugs become more and more scarce, some states are looking for alternatives to lethal injection. Utah is considering bringing back the firing squad and Oklahoma allows for the use of a firing squad if lethal injection is unavailable.

Missouri is considering the gas chamber, and the electric chair is still available in eight states and has been used recently in Virginia and Florida. Pennsylvania apparently has an ample supply of execution drugs, although the state hasn’t involuntarily executed an inmate in over 50 years.

The death penalty — rarely imposed and even more rarely carried out — might just be an issue in 2016.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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