IN THE NEWS #480 - Death Penalty

By Paul Thompson

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Arguments are increasing in the United States both for and against sentencing convicted criminals to die. The death penalty debate is caused by the planned execution of convicted murderer Timothy McVeigh. He is to be the first person executed by the federal government since Nineteen-Sixty-Three.

Thirty-eight states permit a convicted criminal to be sentenced to death. Last year eighty-five people were executed in the United States.

McVeigh placed a powerful bomb near a federal government building in Oklahoma City in Nineteen-Ninety-Five. The explosion killed one-hundred-sixty-eight people, including nineteen children.

McVeigh has admitted he is guilty of murdering the most people in American history. His execution by injection of chemicals was set for next week. However, on Friday, Attorney General John Ashcroft postponed the execution until June eleventh. The Justice Department announced Thursday that thousands of pages of evidence had been found. The F-B-I should have given defense lawyers these documents before McVeigh's trial. Mr. Ashcroft ordered an investigation, but said McVeigh was still guilty.

Recent public opinion studies show more than seventy-five percent of Americans support McVeigh's execution. These include many Americans who usually oppose death sentences.

Kent Scheidegger is with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in California. It is a victims' rights organization that supports the death penalty. Mr. Scheidegger says McVeigh is a perfect example of why there is a need for a federal death penalty. He says anything less than the death of McVeigh would show a complete lack of justice.

Groups opposed to the death penalty say the approval of the execution of McVeigh does not show an increase in general public support for the death penalty. Opinion studies show that support for the death penalty has decreased. Studies show seventy-seven percent of Americans supported it five years ago. Now about sixty-three percent do.

Ajamu Baraka directs an anti-death penalty program for Amnesty International in the United States. He says the death of McVeigh will do little to change the debate. However, he expects a strong international reaction to the McVeigh execution that could help death penalty opponents.

Opponents of the death penalty have always argued that it was unfair. They say poor people who can not pay for good legal help receive the death penalty more often than others. And they say courts order the death penalty more often when the accused is member of a racial minority group.

Former President Bill Clinton called for a government study of the issue before he left office. The results of the study are expected to be released soon. Nineteen more federal prisoners are sentenced to be executed.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Paul Thompson. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English