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.
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 teenagers 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.
Below are portions of O'Donnell's conversations with several of her Benson classmates.
Cherish Harbour, a junior who strongly supports the death penalty.
O'Donnell: What causes you to have this belief?
Harbour: 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.
O'Donnell: What do you think of Nebraska's change from using the electric chair to lethal injection?
Harbour: 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.
O'Donnell: So even though they committed a heinous crime you still think they should be like killed, humanely?
Harbour: 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.
Senior Ashley Meier, who struggles with this issue.
O'Donnell: Do you believe there should be a death penalty?
Meier: 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.
Meier: 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.
O'Donnell: Does your religion or faith influence your stand on this issue?
Meier: 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.
Junior Troy Dunn, a death penalty opponent, on Nebraska's change to lethal injection.
Dunn: I don't think it's any better because it's harmful both really basically the same way. And I think it would be better if they just evaluated the person. But I don't think it's right really at all.
O'Donnell: So do you think that the death penalty is a deterrent to violent crime?
O'Donnell: So what do you think should be used as substitution to the death penalty, for people who commit those crimes?
Dunn: I think that they should just be in prison for like a long time.
O'Donnell: For life?
Junior Janaye Lovely also has mixed feelings on the issue.
Lovely: Because it depends on the crime. I think that they should suffer out of old age and they need to think about it for a long time. And I think that it is very crucial in a way, but some people do deserve it and some people don't.
O'Donnell: What type of crimes do you think the death penalty should be applied to?
Lovely: Murder. Child molestation, because that's just crazy.
O'Donnell: So especially heinous crimes, committed against other people and children?
O'Donnell: What alternatives do you think would be used for the death penalty?
Lovely: Long time in jail I guess.
O'Donnell: So a life sentence?
Senior Brian Richard, a young man strongly in favor of capital punishment.
Richard: Well if you kill someone, or something to that aspect, you should be punished in a equal manner.
O'Donnell: How important is the death penalty issue is to you?
Richard: Pretty important. If like one of my family members would die, and it was like murder, I would want it properly taken care of.