WASHINGTON (CNS) — As 2006 came to an end, capital punishment was making headlines for what it is not doing: overall declining use, waning support and recent challenges at the state levels about how it is conducted.
Shifting public support for capital punishment is a “ray of good news” for Frank McNeirney, co-founder of Catholics Against Capital Punishment, who said he hopes the trend continues.

Death penalty statistics in a year-end report from the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington offered reasons for optimism among opponents of capital punishment. For starters, the group noted the results of a newly released Gallup Poll showing that more Americans support alternative sentences of life without parole over the death penalty as punishment for murder.

The center also reported that U.S. death sentences are the lowest they have been in 30 years; executions have sharply declined and the number of people on death row has decreased. During 2006, 53 people were executed, down from 60 in 2005 and 98 in 1999, the report said.

McNeirney, who founded Catholics Against Capital Punishment with his wife, Ellen, 14 years ago in their Maryland home, said the change in attitude against the death penalty has been developing over recent years as more people, and jury members in particular, have become aware of the availability of life without parole sentences. Only Alaska and New Mexico currently do not have life without parole sentences, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The 2006 Gallup Poll shows that two-thirds of Americans still support the death penalty, but for the first time in two decades it found that Americans by a 1 percent margin — 48 percent to 47 percent — prefer life without parole over capital punishment.

The slim difference in opinion is more of a shift when compared with figures from the 2005 Gallup Poll which showed that 56 percent of Americans preferred the death penalty and only 39 percent supported life without parole.

Catholic News Serices