Polls showing the growth of support for life-without-parole sentences over the death penalty hint at changing attitudes that have likely had an effect on other high-profile cases. That includes the decision by Pennsylvania prosecutors this month to decline a new capital sentencing hearing for Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. Instead of facing execution, Mr. Abu-Jamal, who has steadfastly declared his innocence, will remain in prison for the rest of his life.
California meanwhile, is in the middle of a debate over abolishing the practice in part because of its cost. The state, which is expected to hold a referendum on the issue next year, has spent $4 billion on its death row system and has executed 13 people since 1978.
In California, housing death row inmates is almost twice as expensive as housing someone in the general prison population, and trial costs can run up to $1 million per case, up to 20 times the cost of a murder trial where prosecutors are not asking for the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
A declining murder rate and growing numbers of life-without-parole sentences for the most violent criminals may be playing more of a role in the death penalty decreases than changes in public sentiment, prosecutors and victims' advocates say.