A new Gallup Poll shows that support for the death penalty in the United States remains high, but down to 61 percent from 80 percent in 1994. Part of the reason is the possibility of innocent inmates being put to death and the release of others after new evidence cleared them. Several men saved from execution are now telling their stories to the public.
Ron Keine was convicted of murder in the southwestern state of New Mexico and was just days away from his scheduled execution when the man who had really committed the crime confessed to a preacher.
"Of course, the preacher said, 'I cannot absolve you, you have to go and do the right thing.' And the guy said, 'Yeah, I know.' At that time I was nine days from execution," recalled Keine.
After the truth came out, Keine gained his freedom and joined the effort to abolish capital punishment.
New Mexico has now abolished the death penalty. But Keine says most of the men he met on death row should remain in prison.
"These people are dangerous killers and they should not be out on the streets," Keine explained. "I don't want those guys out, but I do not believe in killing anybody. I believe they should be put in prison for the rest of their lives without any chance of parole."
Studies show one out of every eight condemned inmates could be innocent. And lawyers representing death penalty convicts often uncover evidence of prosecution abuses in the original trial.
Clarence Brandley was on death row in Texas until he won such an appeal.
"It has been proven and shown over and over again that Texas has executed innocent people," he said.
Brandley says many poor black men are sent to the death row facility near Livingston, Texas, because they lacked the money to mount an effective defense.
Iranian immigrant Hooman Hedayati, who is with a group called "Witness to Innocence," organized a tour of Texas cities by exonerated prisoners.
"Several studies have shown that innocence is one of the most important factors in people deciding whether they are for or against the death penalty and what we are doing is giving a face to innocence, where people get firsthand to experience people who have been wrongfully convicted," Hedayati explained.
Another argument against the death penalty is that it is ineffective, says Dorothy McClellan, who teaches at Texas A & M University at Corpus Christi.
"It does not accomplish what it sets out to do. It seeks to get revenge, but it is inefficient, it does not, in fact, deter," she said.
But many Americans believe the death penalty dissuades people from committing grisly murders, and, at the very least, guarantees they will not kill again.
Opponents try to counter that notion by showing that, in some cases, the person being executed is not the one who committed the crime.