USA TODAY US Edition
IS THE DEATH PENALTY DYING?
The ultimate punishment has become more elusive than at any time since Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976
First of two parts.
MIDLAND, TEXAS If there is such a thing as a lock for the death penalty, the case against Daniel Higgins appeared to be just that.
Already sought for sexually assaulting a child, Higgins killed Sheriff ’s Sgt. Michael Naylor last October with a point-blank shot to the head, making him the only deputy slain in the department’s 130-year history. “I wanted him dead,” Sheriff Gary Painter says of the murderer.
But Naylor’s widow, Denise Davis, said she couldn’t bear the likely rounds of appeals that could stretch on for decades. Hig- gins was allowed to plead guilty and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
The death penalty in America may be living on borrowed time.
The emotional and financial toll of prosecuting a single capital case to its conclusion, along with the increased availability of life without parole and continuing court challenges to execution methods, have made the ultimate punishment more elusive than at any time since its reinstatement in 1976.
Prosecutors, judges and juries also are being influenced by capital punishment’s myriad afflictions: racial and ethnic discrimination, geographic disparities, decades spent on death