Why is the US still executing people

Death Penalty - The US's ongoing conflict issue

It is repeatedly asserted across the board and often criticized from outside. In the US, it is said, there is still the death penalty. Human rights organizations in particular have a huge problem with this. However you look at it, the blanket claim that the death penalty still exists in United States law is wrong.

Table of Contents
Politically motivated convictions | A decade without the death penalty

In Western democracies, the death penalty is considered inhuman and also uncultivated. It is true that the death penalty exists in the majority of US states. In contrast, it has now been abolished in almost 20 countries. The issue of the death penalty is still the hot topic of discussion in the United States - both by supporters and opponents.

The draconian punishment has a long history in America. Unpleasant people were executed there long before the USA declared itself an independent country. The British made short work of traitors in their young colonies. Captain George Kendall involuntarily went down in history in 1608. He is the first man in the New World to be served the death penalty. The charge at the time was espionage for Spain and the execution was staged as a public spectacle.

This relapse into the Middle Ages lasted a remarkably long time. It was not until 1834 that the public began to be excluded from executions. But there is no general statement on this point either. After all, a young man was hanged in public in Owensboro, Kentucky, in mid-August 1936. After all, around 20,000 spectators attended this last gruesome spectacle. For a long time there was only one alternative to death by hanging, death by shooting. The electric chair, almost always associated with the death penalty in the United States today, was first used in 1888. It would then take almost another 50 years before another killing method made a name for itself. In some states, the gas chamber was introduced as a killing instrument in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Politically motivated convictions

While fascism was on the rise in Europe and the Second World War was casting its first shadow, the political climate in the USA was also changing. Suddenly there were prisoners on death row who were no longer violent criminals, but whose convictions were politically motivated. Against this, however, public resistance began to stir. Famous examples of this are the two anarchists Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The two Italian immigrants were tried for robbing a shoe factory in South Braintree, Massachusetts. Two men died in the attack; Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for this murder on August 23, 1927. Doubts about the perpetrators of the two arose during the trial. The suspicion arose that Sacco and Vanzetti should only be moved out of the way because of their political convictions. The trial went through mercilessly, as were the executions. Since then, there have been repeated attempts to clear the names of the two of all guilt. The last attempt so far was made in 1977. Officially, the case file has not yet been closed.

The Sacco and Vanzetti case, like that of the married couple Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, ensured that public opinion was increasingly directed against the death penalty. The Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953 for allegedly leaking information about the construction of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union at the time. While Julius Rosenberg's guilt has now been proven, the role of his wife is still unclear. It's entirely possible that she was wrongly forced to end up in the electric chair.

If that were the case, Ethel Rosenberg wouldn't be the only one to whom this happened. Years ago, the human rights organization Amnesty International published a list according to which between 1900 and 1985 in the United States alone, 350 people were sentenced to death who subsequently turned out to be innocent. For some, the truth came too late; they had already been executed when the error was found.

A decade without the death penalty

For almost a decade, from July 1967 to December 1976 to be precise, no death sentences were carried out anywhere in the United States. America was not only under pressure domestically at the time. The Western allies, all of whom have since abolished the death penalty themselves, also exerted a corresponding influence on the White House. However, none of this had any fundamental success. In early 1977 there was finally another execution, it took place in Utah State Prison. Only five years later, the death penalty was once more "modernized" and lethal injection was used as a death instrument for the first time. More than 1,000 people are said to have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated. Several thousand men and women have been sentenced and are on death row.

The death penalty is not only hotly debated in the US, it is also an immense cost factor. The state of California alone is said to have incurred staggering additional costs since the reintroduction of the death penalty. The talk is of no less than four billion US dollars. That would mean that each execution costs more than $ 300 million on average.

Since the US did not allow itself to be put under pressure by its Western allies on the death penalty, the European Union has chosen a different path. In 2010 she pushed through an agreement according to which prisoners are only extradited from the EU to the USA if they are not threatened with the death penalty there.

Although many US states have abolished the death penalty, people are still on death row. That sounds like a contradiction at first, but it is understandable. The death penalty has been abolished, but not retrospectively. So it happens that in Connecticut since April 2012 it has been illegal to impose the death penalty. At the same time, however, more than ten people are still waiting for the execution. They were all sentenced before April 2012. Perhaps that will increase their chances of rehabilitation. Sometimes new examination methods ensure that an innocence turns out. For example, when DNA analysis was invented, many cases were resumed. The new possibilities have meant that 15 people sentenced to death were able to prove their innocence in good time before the execution.