Capital Punishment Losing Support in U.S.

Cardinal Keeler Says, «We Are No Longer a Minority»

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NEW YORK, JULY 11, 2002 ( Support for capital punishment in the United States is dropping, says the archbishop of Baltimore, Cardinal William Keeler.

Three years ago, 98 people were executed in the country. Last year, that figure fell to 66.

«Clearly, public opinion is taking a new direction and the number of those who do not accept the death penalty is continually growing,» the cardinal told the Italian newspaper Avvenire. «At last, we are no longer a minority.»

According to surveys quoted by Cardinal Keeler, 80% of the population supported the death penalty in 1980, whereas support now stands at 65%.

«What has struck the conscience of Americans are the cases where the death penalty has been inflicted unjustly, based on social or racial prejudices,» the cardinal explained.

«The sense of equity, of giving everyone the same opportunity to defend themselves, is very strong in the United States,» he said. «Over the last years, instead, it has been discovered that dozens of accused had been condemned to death only because they could not have a serious defender or because they were too ignorant to claim their own rights.»

«Moreover, the greater reliability of the DNA examination has offered adequate scientific means to reopen old cases and prove the innocence of many people,» the cardinal added. «In face of the discovery of such failures in the judicial system, the authorities have been obliged to reconsider the death penalty.»

Another sign of hope for the cardinal is that the «doubts on the legitimacy of the death penalty no longer come from below, but also from government forces.»

«Two states have already suspended executions; two sentences of the Supreme Court have limited the application, and a decision of a New York court has declared it unconstitutional,» the cardinal added. «There are enough elements to hope that we will go further.»

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