Amnesty International poll says Americans' support for death penalty is soft

American public support for the death penalty may be a lot less solid than previously thought, according to initial findings of a poll commissioned by Amnesty International (AI). Opinions on the death penalty are ``neither as simplistic nor as singularly held as they are supposed to be,'' says pollster Patrick Caddell, who is conducting the poll for the London-based human rights organization.

Although the poll is not yet complete, some findings were announced here last weekend at a three-day annual meeting of the United States section of Amnesty International (AIUSA).

Rather than asking a yes or no, point-blank opinion on the death penalty as a single abstract issue, the AI poll broke the death-penalty issue into parts, Mr. Caddell says.

``The real thing that will defeat the death penalty is the attack that it represents on peoples' ideas of decency and fairness and justice under the law,'' Caddell says.

By the end of the polling process, ``they turn and question the fact of it.''

Charles Fulwood, Anti-Death Penalty Coordinator for AIUSA, says he hoped the poll would help the organization develop strategy by indicating where public support for the death penalty crumbles.

``We are trying to connect with people that share our values, such as due process and fairness, and respect for human rights,'' he says.

Of particular concern, Mr. Fulwood says, are legal developments in the wake of the Walker spy case.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska recently introduced a bill allowing for nationally televised public hangings in cases where classified secrets are sold for money.

Attorney General Edwin Meese III also says the death penalty can be constitutional as long as it is not administered arbitrarily.

Abolition of the death penalty is a part of Amnesty International's mandate.

Founded in 1961, AI seeks the release of prisoners of conscience, fair and prompt trials for all political prisoners, and the abolition of torture and executions.

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