EXECUTION No1000; Evidence Goneandno DNA - Yet Lovitt Faces Lethal Penalty

Article excerpt

Byline: By Richard Elias

THIS Wednesday, Robin Lovitt is due to make the final decision of his life.

Lovitt will be asked if he wishes to die in the electric chair or by lethal injection.

Barring last-minute appeals, the convicted killer will then become the 1000th person to be executed in the United States since the death penalty was re-introduced almost 30 years ago.

But how long the so-called "legalised murder" is allowed to continue is now a major debate in the US.

And cases such as Lovitt's just add to the controversy.

His fate was pretty much sealed before his murder trial even began.

The fact he was poor and black did not help, nor that one of the jury members trying him lived five doors away from the victim.

There was no DNA evidence to link Lovitt to the crime scene.

Almost all the testimony against him came for inmates who shared a cell with him while on remand waiting trial.

And a key witness who identified him as the man who stabbed Clayton Dicks to death during a robbery in Arlington County, Virginia, in 1998, has admitted he could bewrong A website set up in America to mark the 1000th execution says: "More and more people understand that the death penalty makes mistakes, disproportionately affects the poor and people of colour, doesn't deter crime and is expensive, arbitrary and immoral."

The American public's attitude to the death penalty is changing. It is estimated that 64 per cent of them now support capital punishment, compared with 80 per cent in 1994.

The death sentence was reintroduced in the US in 1976, following a four-year ban. The first man to be executed subsequently was Gary Gilmore, who was killed in Utah on January 17, 1977.

President George Bush is one of the death penalty's strongest supporters.

Before taking over atthe White House, Bush was governor of Texas. During his six years in charge from 1994 to 2000, he was nicknamed The Texecutioner after presiding over 152 executions. That remains a record for a single American governor.

Executions are so common in the States, they barely make the inside pages of local newspapers.

Only high-profile cases such as multiple murderer Ted Bundy or serial killer Aileen Wuornos - one of 11 women to be executed since 1976 - force the issue back into the spotlight.

Electrocution, hanging and gassing are among the execution methods used since 1976.

These days, lethal injection is the preferred choice for most prisoners.

Opponents of the death penalty point out that capital punishment does not reduce murder rates.

Texas, where more inmates are executed than in any other US state, has a murder rate of 6.1 per 100,000 people.

North Carolina, which also has the death penalty, has a 6.2 murder rate.

By contrast, the rates in New York state and Wisconin, who don't pass the death sentence, are 4.6 and 2.8 respectively.

Scientific advances have also swayed people's opinions by helping to prove the innocence of convicted killers. …