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Death of the American Death Penalty

States Still Leading the Way

Larry W. Koch

Publication Year: 2012

The death penalty has largely disappeared as a national legislative issue and the Supreme Court has mainly bowed out, leaving the states at the cutting edge of abolition politics. This essential guide presents and explains the changing political and cultural challenges to capital punishment at the state level.

As with their previous volume, America Without the Death Penalty (Northeastern, 2002), the authors of this completely new volume concentrate on the local and regional relationships between death penalty abolition and numerous empirical factors, such as economic conditions; public sentiment; the roles of social, political, and economic elites; the mass media; and population diversity. They highlight the recent abolition of the practice in New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois; the near misses in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, and Nebraska; the Kansas rollercoaster rides; and the surprising recent decline of the death penalty even in the deep South.

Abolition of the death penalty in the United States is a piecemeal process, with one state after another peeling off from the pack until none is left and the tragic institution finally is no more. This book tells you how, and why, that will likely happen.

Published by: Northeastern University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

A decade beyond the midpoint of the twentieth century, the death penalty appeared headed for the dustbins of history in Western Europe and North America. In 1981 France, under President Mitterrand, became the last European country to abolish the death penalty. The French last executed someone in 1977.1 ...

I | Abolition

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1 | Death Penalty Debates in Traditional Abolitionist Jurisdictions

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pp. 3-21

Efforts to reinstate capital punishment in traditional abolition jurisdictions is an ongoing legislative phenomenon. A successful citizens’ advisory petition in Wisconsin to reinstate the death penalty and the tendency of federal prosecutors appointed by President George W. Bush to seek death sentences in abolition states ...

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2 | The New York State Death Penalty Debate

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pp. 22-37

On January 24, 2004, New York joined the ranks of abolitionist states. The journey from the US Supreme Court’s rejection of New York’s pre-Furman death statute through legislative reestablishment of the death penalty in 1995 to the ruling by the New York Court of Appeals that the reestablished statute was unconstitutional demonstrates that the issue was highly contested along the way. ...

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3 | The Abolition of Capital Punishment in New Jersey

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pp. 38-49

New Jersey was the first state since 1965 to legislatively abolish the death penalty.1 On December 10, 2007, the New Jersey Senate voted to abolish capital punishment. Three days later, the New Jersey Assembly followed the Senate’s lead. Voting in both legislative houses did not totally reflect party affiliation. ...

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4 | The Abolition of Capital Punishment in New Mexico

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pp. 50-61

Just over a year after New Jersey’s historic change, New Mexico abolished its death penalty law,1 becoming the second state to legislatively abandon capital punishment since 1965. On 11 February 2009, the New Mexico House voted forty to twenty-eight to repeal capital punishment, and on 13 March, the Senate concurred, ...

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5 | The Abolition of Capital Punishment in Illinois

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pp. 62-68

Prior to 1976, Illinois executed 348 prisoners, 81 of whom were black.1 Since 1976, Illinois had fifteen prisoners on death row and had executed twelve prisoners. In 2000, the Nation reported that 49 percent of the death sentences imposed in Illinois had been reversed by the state’s Supreme Court, pending retrial or resentencing. ...

II | Quasi-Abolition

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6 | The Recurring Life and Death of Death Penalty Legislation in Kansas

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pp. 71-88

Previous chapters have considered the process of abolition in New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois. This chapter examines the unanticipated reestablishment and maintenance of the death penalty in Kansas, a state with a lengthy abolition tradition. ...

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7 | Death Penalty Near Misses in New England: New Hampshire and Connecticut

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pp. 89-105

Since 1976, no region in the United States has been less likely to execute people convicted of first-degree murder than the Northeast. Only four post-Furman executions have occurred there, one in Connecticut and three in Pennsylvania between 1995 and 1999.1 In all four cases, the inmates rescinded their appellate rights and essentially volunteered for execution. ...

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8 | Recent Abolition Near Misses: Nebraska and Maryland

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pp. 106-120

Maryland and Nebraska became unlikely participants in the abolition movement of the post-Furman era more by the legislative skill and charisma of core actors than by the structural foundations of the states. Execution levels in Nebraska—with its western-leaning geography, economy, and culture—reflected those in agrarian, sparsely populated, highly homogeneous western states. ...

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9 | De Facto Abolition States

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pp. 121-136

Our information on executions and death row populations in this chapter was taken from the Death Penalty Information Center website. We began by comparing the total number of executions between 17 January 1977 (when Gary Gilmore was executed in Utah) and 4 July 2010 with the total number of death row inmates. ...

III | The South

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10 | Opposition to Capital Punishment in the South and Texas

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pp. 139-155

The high levels of executions in the southern region of the United States compared to other areas are not surprising. A cursory examination of southern history finds a social structure bound together by substantial amounts of state-condoned violence, fueled by local politics and white populist candidates. ...

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11 | Summary and Conclusion: The Death Penalty on a Downhill Slope

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pp. 156-172

We have presented a discussion of the length of commitment to abolition in various states. We began with long-term abolition states such as Michigan and Wisconsin and continued with other states, starting with Maine and ending with Washington, D.C. After this came New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois. ...


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pp. 173-232


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pp. 233-242

E-ISBN-13: 9781555537821
E-ISBN-10: 1555537820
Print-ISBN-13: 9781555537807

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012