Brandon L. Garrett


On his book End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice

Cover Interview of October 08, 2017

In a nutshell

End of its Rope explores why the death penalty in America unexpectedly faded away.

Twenty years ago, death sentencing was at its modern height. Across the Southern “death belt,” death sentences and executions were common. The death penalty was popular, as opinion polls showed, and politicians understood well.

Suddenly, this cycle of punishment began to slow down. The story of this great decline of death penalties in America teaches important lessons for all involved in the effort to reduce mass incarceration.

In 2016, just thirty-one people were sentenced to death in the entire country. If you look back at the mid-1990s, by way of contrast, several hundred people were sentenced to death in as many as two hundred counties per year. Executions are fading fast too. Only twenty people were executed in 2016.

In this book, I explain what changed. I draw on death penalty trials across the country, from high-profile cases like the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting trial, to small-town trials in Virginia and North Carolina that only made local news.

Increasingly, juries are rejecting the death penalty, even in cases of serious murders. Increasingly, they are hearing mental health evidence and background evidence that causes them to vote for mercy for convicted murderers. Those decisions have changed the shape of the American death penalty and represent a sea change in our attitudes towards criminal punishment.