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Starting in 1974, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a series of increasingly strong statements in opposition to capital punishment,∑∏ but the church’s position received relatively little attention until 1999. On January 28 of that year Governor Mel Carnahan of Missouri commuted the death sentence of a man who was scheduled to be executed two weeks later, after Pope John Paul II, on a pastoral visit to St. Louis, condemned the death penalty in strong 53. Y. Times, Jan. 1, 1998, at a1.

By the mid-1980s executions were regular events; by the mid-1990s they were common. But public opinion did not turn against capital punishment; quite the opposite. In addition, several studies have shown that few death-penalty supporters change their minds when given factual infor111. S. 238, 361 (1972). 112. Id. at 362. 113. Id. at 369 (footnote omitted). 114. Id. 145. ∞∞∑ And, as we have mentioned, surveys repeatedly show that many Americans believe that the death penalty does not deter murder, that it is administered unfairly, and that it is used in a manner that discriminates against minorities and poor people—but they support it nonetheless.

On one side, advocates of capital punishment point to specific examples of terrible murders to generate support for the death penalty. ∞∞π Several years later, mounting experience with the death penalty in operation has shown that these tragic errors are far more common than most people would have believed. The same could be said for other problems in the administration of capital punishment. ∞≤≠ Those issues, however, are inherently abstract. 115. See Ellsworth and Gross, supra note 1, at 33–35.

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