Capital Punishment in the Courts, 1960-1976
Although earlier eras discussed in this book were much longer and the detail of information available about them today is much coarser than with contemporary issues and information technology, it seems safe to say that the capital punishment debate became as heated and robust during the period between 1960 and 1976 as at any time in U.S. history. This renewed focus on the death penalty was fueled by a number of factors, which are discussed below.
The 1960s opened with the execution of convicted kidnapper Caryl Chessman (see Document 43), whose eleven-year string of appeals and best-selling books written from death row brought the issue of. capital punishment to center stage ( Schwed 1983:68-69).
At the same time, intense social unrest appears to have increased people's receptiveness to anti-capital punishment arguments -- at least during the early to mid-1960s. For example, as Schwed ( 1983:95) pointed out, the civil rights movement and its focus on equality for black Americans "spurred recognition of the death penalty as one instrument of repression of blacks and minorities." Moreover, the protests against the Vietnam war and the draft that began in the mid-1960s may have contributed to the concurrent waning of support for capital punishment by heightening many people's "moral sensitivity to killing in general" and leading them to question the government's rationale for doing so, either in war or in the execution chamber ( Schwed 1983:94).
Along with these changes, which challenged long-established ways of doing things, traumatic events such as the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator