Public support for the death penalty has been the focus of polls here in the U.S. and internationally for decades. At least twice each year, opposition groups announce that American support is dropping, usually citing a variation in responses to the commonly used polling question ie: "which punishment do you support for murderers, life in prison with no possibility of parole or the death penalty." More recently we have been told that a drop in support is evidenced by the fact that juries are recommending fewer death sentences. The cause for the drop in death sentences may be as simple as the fact that there are far fewer murders today than there were 10 years ago, in part because many states adopted extended terms for repeat felons, taking the most likely capital defendants off the streets before they killed someone. The polling question, which puts the issue in the abstract and infers that all murders are capital offenses, invites a soft response. When the facts surrounding an aggravated murder are known to the public, support for a death sentence increases dramatically. A story by Kenton Robinson on theday.com makes this point.
He reports that in Connecticut, a state which has executed only one murderer since 1976, voters responded to the abstract question two years ago with only 37% supporting the death penalty and 49% supporting life without parole. When asked about Michael Ross, a Connecticut man convicted of the rape and murder of eight young women and girls, 70% of those who had favored the life sentence said Ross should die. The story suggests that the public is equally supportive of death sentences for the two habitual criminals facing charges for the home invasion murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters. As per usual, an abolitionist found it unusual that no one has called for a death sentence for whoever killed two black teenaged boys in Hartford two weeks ago, suggesting for the umteenth time that the death penalty is "race based," discriminating against black murder victims. If this were true, it is a poor argument for abolishing the death penalty, and a compelling one for taking steps to assure that those who murder blacks receive death sentences proportionate with the murderers of other races. The Boston Herald reported that the two boys appear to have been murdered during a botched robbery. The fact that they were wearing masks when they were killed has led investigators to conclude they were trying to rob someone when they were shot, according to the Hartford Police Chief. One of the boys had a prison record. Not really a good comparison to the Petit murders.