Poll contradicts Armstrong Williams's speculation about public opinion on juvenile death penalty


In a column criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision striking down the death penalty for minors, radio host and syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams opined that "a majority of Americans would find it acceptable" to execute juvenile criminals like Lee Boyd Malvo, convicted of murder in the 2002 Washington, D.C.-area sniper killings, and Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. In fact, public polling has revealed that clear majorities of Americans favor life imprisonment for these criminals rather than death.

A December 2003 ABC News poll found that although 56 percent of respondents favored the death penalty for Malvo when no other option was presented, 52 percent chose "life in prison with no chance of parole" when it was offered as an alternative, while the percentage favoring the death penalty dropped to 37 percent. The poll also showed that 49 percent of respondents were generally opposed to the death penalty for minors, compared to 26 percent who supported it and 23 percent who said it "depends." Asked specifically to choose between "the death penalty" for juvenile criminals in general and "life in prison with no chance of parole," 62 percent chose life imprisonment compared to only 21 percent who chose the death penalty.

As for the Columbine shooters, only one of them was a minor when the 1999 shootings occurred; Klebold was 17, but Harris was 18. Their shooting spree ended when both shooters killed themselves. Media Matters for America did not find polls asking respondents if they would have favored the death penalty in this particular case.

From Williams's March 7 syndicated column:

Do you think a majority of Americans would have supported the death penalty for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, after they stalked through the halls of Columbine High murdering classmates? What about for DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo? He was 17 years old when he participated in a shooting spree that left ten people dead. Are these the whimsical acts of a minor? Or are they calculated acts of brutality deserving the full extension of criminal punishment? I think a majority of Americans would find it acceptable to punish these juveniles to the full extent of the law. I think they would do so because that's what these criminals deserve. Somehow the Supreme Court missed this point.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Death Penalty
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