Ghost in the death penalty debate? You bet ...

To understand this post, you will need to see the photo that accompanied the USA Today news feature that ran under an A1 headline stating: "Shifts detected in support for death penalty." I cannot show GetReligion readers that Associated Press photo, obviously, because of copyright issues.

Thus, click here and go see the photo (and read the story while you are at it).

OK, you're back? We can proceed.

Meanwhile, the cutline for that photo offers this helpful info:

Connecticut religious leaders who oppose the death penalty stop for a prayer during a march to the state Capitol in Hartford on April 3.

If you follow death-penalty debates closely (as I do, since I am one of those pro-life Democrat fanatics), you will not be surprised to know that there is a strong religious element to this story. There are religious liberals who oppose the death penalty and there are religious conservatives in this movement, too. It's very hard to avoid the faith content in this debate.

In terms of the journalistic realities, I don't think that I have ever interviewed a conservative or a moderate citizen who opposed the death penalty who did not root her or his stance, in large part, in religious convictions. If, as the USA Today headline states, significant numbers of Americans have changed their beliefs on this issue -- toward an anti-death-penalty stance -- it is highly likely that, for many of those folks, religion has played a role in the shift.

The anti-death penalty camp already has the Mennonites and lots of Catholics. The question is whether there are more Catholics, Jewish conservatives, evangelicals, Orthodox Christians and others gathered in those candlelight prayer vigils.

So how is this reflected in that USA Today story, the one with the photo of (yet another) prayer vigil for the cause?

Here's a representative sample:

Capital punishment proponents say the general decline in death sentences and executions in recent years is merely a reflection of the sustained drop in violent crime, but some lawmakers and legal analysts say the numbers underscore a growing wariness of wrongful convictions.

In Texas, Dallas County alone has uncovered 30 wrongful convictions since 2001, the most of any county in the country. Former Texas governor Mark White, a Democrat, said he continues to support the death penalty "only in a select number of cases," yet he says he believes that a "national reassessment" is now warranted given the stream of recent exonerations.

"I have been a proponent of the death penalty, but convicting people who didn't commit the crime has to stop," White said.

Amen. But, but, but ...

"There is an inherent unfairness in the system," said Former Los Angeles County district attorney Gil Garcetti, a Democrat. He added that he was "especially troubled" by mounting numbers of wrongful convictions.

A recent convert to the California anti-death-penalty campaign, Garcetti said the current system has become "obscenely expensive" and forces victims to often wait years for death row appeals to run their course. In the past 34 years in California, just 13 people have been executed as part of a system that costs $184 million per year to maintain.

"Replacing capital punishment will give victims legal finality," Garcetti said.

In other words, there is no religious angle in the USA Today story. None at all.

The religion angle is only in the photo and, of course, in the subject material itself, if one is actually attempting to cover this issue in the United States of America. Politics and law are part of this story, OF COURSE. But so are religious convictions, on both sides of the debate.

We call that a ghost, around here.

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