Students weigh in on death penalty

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June 10th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – Nebraska’s first execution in 14 years, and the first by lethal injection, was scheduled for next week but has been put on hold by the Nebraska Supreme Court. The planned execution, though, has fueled continued debate over capital punishment.

It can be a simple yes or no question: do you favor the death penalty? Recent polls show that about two-thirds of Americans support capital punishment for convicted murderers. But feelings and opinions on this subject run much deeper than just support or opposition as we found out from a group of Omaha teenagers.

Benson high school students ranged in opinions on the death penalty issue. (Photo credit Wikimedia Commons)

For this story, we gave Alexandrea O’Donnell, a junior-to-be journalism student at Omaha Benson High School, an audio recorder and an assignment: talk to Benson classmates with a range of opinions about the death penalty, and find out why they feel the way they do. Katie Ryan, who will be a senior at Benson next fall, also helped with the project.

First, Alexandrea talked with Cherish Harbour, a junior who strongly supports the death penalty.

What causes you to have this belief?

I think it’s just the fact that in my life I’ve been through some things and some deaths in the family, and I feel as if the people who’ve killed my family members should go through the same thing. You kill a person you should be killed.

What do you think of Nebraska’s change from using the electric chair to lethal injection?

Um, I think it’s definitely more humane. To be there for your loved one and see them get electrocuted like that. I think that’s wrong.

So even though they committed a heinous crime you still think they should be like killed, humanely?

Yes, because they still have family members. Even though they committed a crime, they still have family or someone that loves them. And they do reserve respect. I understand you may not respect someone, but at some point we don’t have to, you know, be that cruel person.

Like many people, senior Ashley Meier struggles with this issue. Here is some of Alexandrea’s interview.

Do you believe there should be a death penalty?

I fall back and forth on the issue, but I think there, I don’t think there should be one. I’m between, but I’m more, there shouldn’t be.

Why?

They kill people who kill other people to show killing is wrong? Like it’s kinda contradictory, maybe. I would rather see someone live with what they’ve done.

Does your religion or faith influence your stand on this issue?

In a way it does. I have grown up Catholic. You know I have like super conservative like Republican family members. They all say that killing is wrong. And I guess, in a way, it is. It depends on which way you look at it. I form my own opinions, but it has a lot to do with it.

Finally, Alexandrea talked with senior Brian Richard, a young man strongly in favor of capital punishment.

Why [do you favor capital punishment]?

Well if you kill someone, or something to that aspect, you should be punished in a equal manner.

How important is the death penalty issue is to you?

Pretty important. If like one of my family members would die, and it was like murder, I would want it properly taken care of.

A couple observations from student journalist Alexandrea O’Donnell after doing these interviews. She said many motivations, like parents and faith, influence how her fellow students feel about capital punishment. And she said many teens she talked to weren’t well-versed on the subject or didn’t have an opinion, but the opinions she found were strong.

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