By Rebecca Stokem, National News Writer
A 61-year-old Texas man, James Bigby, was executed by lethal injection on the evening of Tuesday, March 14. The prison reported his time of death at 6:31 PM CDT. He was convicted in 1991 of the 1987 killing of four people, including an infant whom he drowned. After repeatedly fighting with the police and the court officials, Bigby eventually apologized to the victims’ families in a sentencing statement. His lawyers later asked to delay his execution, claiming his mental illness was not taken into enough consideration during his trial, but an appeal was not granted.
Bigby’s execution is the 542nd in Texas since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, which is the highest number in the country. Reuters reported that of the six executions carried out so far this year in the United States, four have been in Texas. Despite these numbers, however, support for the death penalty is declining. In fact, less than half of U.S. citizens currently support the death penalty, according to the Washington Post. This number is the lowest it has been in 50 years. The divide over capital punishment tends to fall on party lines; Republicans are more in favor of the death penalty, while more Democrats are opposed. In addition, men show more support than women, and older citizens show more support than those between 18-29 years of age.
There is a variety of reasons for the decline in support of the death penalty, including complications with the drug cocktail and the number of individuals found innocent posthumously.
The drugs administered during a lethal injection are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Various court rulings have made them more difficult to procure and there have been a number of botched executions when substitute drugs have been used. States have been trying to obtain new and safer drugs, but this has proven difficult. Ohio, for example, has placed a three-year hold on lethal injections while it tries to find better drugs to use on death row inmates.
Certain officials are speaking out against the death penalty as well. New Florida state prosecutor Aramis D. Ayala stated on Thursday, March 16 that her office would no longer seek the death penalty. She said that, while she understands that capital punishment is a controversial issue, the death penalty has not been an effective deterrent from crime. Ayala was replaced the following morning due to these comments.
The Supreme Court has also taken issue with a death penalty sentence recently, citing racial prejudice. During Duane Buck’s trial in Texas, a psychologist testified that black defendants are more dangerous than white ones, and insinuated that Buck was more deserving of the death penalty due to his race. Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his statement for the majority, “Our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are,” and that “dispensing punishment on the basis of an immutable characteristic flatly contravenes this guiding principle.”
According to Justice Roberts, since Buck’s acts of violence had been romantic in nature – he was convicted in 1995 of murdering his former girlfriend – it would be unlikely that he would have a similar situation arise if he had simply been sentenced to life in prison, and that while other facets of the situation could have been different, Buck would always be black. Despite these complications, there is still a solid support system for capital punishment. Hundreds of inmates currently sit on death row, awaiting execution.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 21st print edition.
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