Robert Stott, a veteran prosecutor in the Salt Lake County (Utah) District Attorney’s Office, recently commented on why death sentences have declined. “What I have found,” he said, “is that since the statute was changed to offer life without the possibility of parole, it’s more difficult to get the death penalty. Jurors realize that instead of having to make that terrible decision (voting for the death penalty), they can vote to put someone in prison and ensure that defendant is no longer a harm to society. It makes it easier for them to return a verdict of life without the possibility of parole.” Stott said in the past 24 years, only two death penalty sentences have been returned by Salt Lake County juries. He said death penalty cases are the toughest cases to take on: “We have to prove every element beyond a reasonable doubt.” Public outrage at horrific crimes sometimes fades away as jurors struggle with the weight of ending another human life.

Stott said prosecutors consult with the victim’s family and weigh the value of a genuine life sentence versus a death sentence that can be appealed for more than 20 years. For some victims, such a delay prolongs their suffering and reopens the pain of their loss repeatedly through years of court hearings. He also noted that plea bargains are the norm in Utah for most criminal charges. “Just like every criminal case, most murder and aggravated murder cases are negotiated. If there is a plea, it almost always is to the murder or aggravated murder as charged, with the idea the defendant will be sentenced to life.”

(L. Thomson, “Prosecutor says capital murder cases are toughest,” Deseret News, May 21, 2010). See also New Voices and Life Without Parole.