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Trump Administration's Change To Capital Punishment Policy Worries Some

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Conservatives Against - I'm sorry - Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty - Hannah Cox is the national manager, and she joins us on the line from Greenville, S.C. Thanks so much for being with us.

HANNAH COX: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Donald Trump as a candidate, as - in the White House, had talked about his support for capital punishment. So did this come as a surprise for you, or were you expecting this?

COX: Not as a total surprise. We knew that this was a possibility for some time now. But I think we're severely disappointed, and we really feel like this is a move that is in stark contrast to where the majority the nation is moving on this issue and where conservatives are as well.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about that because as you note, polling shows that support for capital punishment is steadily declining over the past 45 years or so. But a majority of Americans still support it. And in our latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, which is out just this week, 84% of Republicans still support the death penalty. So the numbers appear to be weighted against you still.

COX: I think that if you look at polls, they're almost always going to be high. And I don't think they tell the full picture. In reality, what we're seeing across the country is a growing trend, with Republican state lawmakers introducing legislation to repeal the death penalty. This year we had 11 states alone with Republican sponsored bills. One of those was successful. One of those was almost successful in Wyoming. And so we're seeing a real growth in that.

Additionally, we're seeing a decline in the actual usage of it. And I think that shows a better picture of where the public actually is in wanting to participate in this. New death sentences are down 60% since 2000. Last year was the fourth in a row the country carried out fewer than 30 executions. And all of those were in only eight states, with more than half in Texas alone.

So even though people might have a knee-jerk reaction to this policy and say that they're in support of it in a poll, when it comes to actually getting involved with it, the vast majority are turning against it.

MARTIN: How will this change your strategy, though, as an organization that lobbies to eliminate the death penalty?

COX: Well, we've been severely focused on the states for many years. And as a whole, that's where I think this decision mostly should lie. But I think that we'll have to, of course, begin to look at the federal system as well and talk to lawmakers at that level, as well as the general public on a national scale and make sure that they're aware of the same things we're preaching throughout the states, which are that the government is a failed big government program that doesn't meet the values of conservatism, which are limited government, belief in fiscal responsibility and protecting the sanctity of human life.

MARTIN: So I'd like you - those are kind of your - they're your analytical points. But I'd like you to respond to the tape we heard from earlier, the families of victims - horrible crimes these people committed. How do you respond to those family members who support the death penalty, who see it as justice for a crime that ended with the life of their loved one gone?

COX: Sure, and we work with a lot of murder victims. We have members across the country. And I always say we can't speak for all victims, and there's so much nuance to how people feel. And so my first instinct is just to be really respectful and listen to their opinions.

But I can tell you that we work with a large contingent of murder victims' family members who are opposed to this. And some of them are opposed to it from the beginning because of religious beliefs or other ethical concerns, but others become opposed to it after going through the system and realizing that this isn't something that produces the closure that they're often promised by prosecutors or law enforcement.

And so after having worked with so many of them and seeing the end result, I think there's much better services that we could offer victims and things we could do to help them rebuild their lives that the death penalty is not doing.

MARTIN: Hannah Cox, national manager of Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty, thank you very much for your time this morning.

COX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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