National support for death penalty at 40-year low

Published: Sunday, Jan. 5 2014 5:00 p.m. MST

Handy said he was reading about states that had done away with the death penalty — some of them pointing to the cost — and began to wonder about the cost of the death penalty in Utah.

"No one had asked that question before and no one knew," he said. "It was a very difficult thing to get our arms around."

The final estimate from the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Office was that it cost $1.6 million more than housing someone for life. Handy said there was little public response to the finding.

"There isn't a huge groundswell," he said. "As I got through the process, it became pretty clear to me that taxpayers for the most part are comfortable with the current policy."

A 2010 Deseret News/KSL poll found 79 percent of Utahns supported the death penalty. Handy said he believes the U.S. will "come around."

"It's an extremely critical important public policy issue," he said. "We don't think about it because it's rarely used, but the next time we have an execution or get close to an execution, that's when emotions and feelings (come). We need that consciousness to come out of the woodwork."

Dellapiana said he believes that if the downward trend continues, the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually find that death sentences are carried out so rarely that they are cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment.

"It's like being struck by lightning," he said.

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Death penalty in 2013

• The number of death sentences in 2013 (80) represents a 75 percent decline from the peak of the mid-1990s. In 1996, there were 315 death sentences handed down.

• At 39, the number of executions in 2013 decreased 10 percent from 2012, when 43 people were executed. Fifty-nine percent of the executions took place in Texas, which had 16, and Florida, which carried out seven.

• Maryland repealed the death penalty in 2013, becoming the sixth state in six years to do so. Capital punishment remains an option in 32 states.

• The total population on death row has decreased every year since 2001.

• As of April 1, there were 3,108 inmates on death row nationwide. There are eight men on death row in Utah.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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