Capital Punishment in the United States: A Documentary History

By Bryan Vila ; Cynthia Morris | Go to book overview

Part VI
The Death Penalty in the 1990s: Contemporary Issues

CAPITAL POLITICS

The procedural abuses Justice Powell and many others had criticized (Document 71) were under serious attack during the 1990s. Public and political support for procedural reform was spurred on by dramatic examples of execution delays involving undisputedly guilty convicted murderers. Appeals and collateral review after sentencing delayed the execution of John Wayne Gacy, who murdered twenty-seven young boys, for fourteen years; they delayed Robert Alton Harris's execution for thirteen years; and they delayed the execution of Los Angeles-area "freeway killer" William Bonin for fourteen years.

In spite of abolitionists' efforts, the political power of public sentiment was demonstrated vividly in 1995 when New York once again instituted the death penalty (Document 109). As Los Angeles Times columnist Dana Parsons wryly noted:

It's almost required that major political figures support the death penalty, regardless of how seldom the officeholder actually confronts the issue. . . . It's . . . a no-lose proposition for a politician. No political harm can come from supporting executions, unless you make the mistake of being consistent or nonarbitrary in your support. For example, where was the chorus of support for O. J. Simpson facing a possible death sentence for the double murders he is accused of committing? ( 1996)

The political assault on habeas corpus associated with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 was a striking example of the profound potential for fallout from the capital punishment debate to affect fundamental constitutional guarantees. In a rush to develop

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