One more point. I have no doubt that Lewis in sincere when he says his support for capital punishment is contingent on cleaning up the criminal justice system, fixing the mistakes we’ve discovered and ensuring that only the most vicious killers are executed, and in only the cases where guilt is an absolute certainty. If Lewis is up for prodding his ideological fellow travelers to support policies such as requiring a heightened burden of proof in capital cases, or restricting death penalty cases to a very narrow class of exceptionally horrific crimes (as a task force in Ohio recently recommended after a series of exonorations), that at least would be a good start.
The problem is that the politicians he and other conservatives support — the (mostly) Republican officials and legislators in states like Tennessee, Missouri, California, Florida and Arizona, among others — are expanding the number of crimes for which prosecutors can seek the death penalty and looking to speed up the rate at which they execute people. (In Ohio, prosecutors and conservative politicians have rejected the task force’s recommendations.) They’re doing this even as we’re still discovering wrongful convictions in those states and before they’ve bothered to pass meaningful reforms to address the problems that led to those convictions. In fact, in many cases, they’re rejecting reform at the same time that they’re trying to churn out more executions. Even low-cost, common-sense reforms such as recording police interrogations or ensuring double-blind eyewitness lineups are tough to get by Republican politicians. (Democrats aren’t much better, but that’s a separate discussion.) In other words, Lewis’s position is defensible in the abstract. But that isn’t the way things are playing out on the ground.