Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Furman vs. Georgia, which overturned the death penalty nationwide. The ruling called the penalty, as it then existed, “arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory.” Four years later, the court reversed itself, ruling in Gregg vs. Georgia that the death penalty, having been revised in many states, was once more constitutional.
Professor John J. Donohue questions how much has changed:
“Four decades later, there is plenty of evidence that the death penalty continues to be applied in an unfair manner and not a shred of evidence that the death penalty deters.”
Cases like Carlos De Luna’s, featured in At the Death House Door, certainly support his conclusion. Evidence uncovered by Chicago Tribune reporters showed that De Luna’s case was shockingly mishandled by investigators. Despite pointing investigators to the guilty man, De Luna was sent to his death based on little more than faulty and wrongly-administered eye-witness identifications. The execution, itself, was botched. The case would turn Carroll Pickett, the death house chaplain who counseled De Luna on the eve of his execution and stayed with him until the deed was done, into a fierce opponent of the death penalty.