Conservatives Bring Fresh Energy to Death Penalty Debate

The Clayton Lockett botched execution in Oklahoma stands as a seminal moment in the 21st century death penalty debate. While the responses to the execution were legion, one interesting development was the national media’s focus on conservative voices opposed to the death penalty. This emerging number of conservatives presents an opportunity for new, broader coalitions on abolishing the death penalty than perhaps any other moment in U.S. history.

Notably, conservative stalwart Oliver North has voiced in a recent interview his concerns about the death penalty on grounds of innocence and whether or not it actually deters violent crime. North’s name recognition holds great sway within his political party, and his support signals how the issue is no longer the radioactive position it once may have been for conservatives.

Even Newsweek has taken note of this trending movement on the political landscape, featuring Marc Hyden of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty in a recent article. Hyden’s work can be felt throughout the nation, the fruits of which help produce editorials such as this one from North Carolina Conservatives Concerned member and the chairman of the Nash County Republican Party, Mark Edwards.

Even retiring Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who is also a physician, expressed that while he believes the death penalty is a deterrent (without citing any research), he admitted, “I don’t like it. I wish we put everybody that had such a history as this gentleman [Lockett] behind bars working and doing things that would help them.” Coburn’s tepid support for the death penalty reveals the potential for substantial gains for death penalty organizations.

The national conversation is ripe for bipartisan people, who seek common ground upon which to end a practice that is unfairly applied, radically expensive, and too often, does not shield the innocent from prosecutorial mistakes. This same spirit of cooperation is taking hold in Tennessee, and we at TADP eagerly seek out new partners in this work.


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