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Most Still Favor Death Sentence for Colorado Theater Shooter

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Most Americans still think the man who killed 12 and wounded 70 in a Colorado theater mass shooting in 2012 should get the death penalty, but there’s less support for punishing a suspect who’s proven to be mentally ill.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 55% of American Adults still believe the suspect in the Aurora, Colorado shooting should receive the death penalty if convicted. But that’s down 11 points from 66% in July 2012 just after the incident occurred. Twenty-five percent (25%) now say the mass killer should not get the death penalty, unchanged from the earlier survey, but nearly as many (20%) are now undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Fifty-one percent (51%) think it’s likely that the Aurora suspect will receive the death penalty, but that includes only 19% who say it’s Very Likely. Twenty-seven percent (27%) consider a death sentence unlikely in this case, although just three percent (3%) feel it’s Not At All Likely. Twenty-two percent (22%) are not sure.

It’s been nearly three years since the mass killings occurred, but 76% of Likely U.S. Voters think, generally speaking, trials should be held closer to the time the alleged crime took place.

James Holmes, the alleged killer, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Thirty-six percent (36%) of adults now say that if a jury believes a suspected criminal is mentally ill, that suspect should be punished less severely than someone who is not mentally ill. Just as many (37%) disagree, but that’s down from 55% in July 2012. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are undecided.

Fifty-three percent (53%) think more action to treat mental health issues will do the most to reduce the number of mass murders like the one in Colorado. Just half as many (27%) believe stricter gun control laws will be the most effective deterrent, while 12% favor limits on violent movies and video games. This is consistent with past surveying following other mass shootings

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The survey of 800 American Adults was conducted on February 2-3, 2015 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3.5 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Americans tend to believe the media pay too much attention to mass murders and that their coverage prompts others to commit violent crimes

What a difference time and media coverage make. Eighty-six percent (86%) of Americans were closely following news reports about the theater shooting just after it happened. Just 36% are closely following recent news reports about the trial of the suspected shooter, with only eight percent (8%) who are following Very Closely.

Those who are following the trial Very Closely believe much more strongly that the suspect should receive the death penalty. They are also much more likely to think someone who is mentally ill should get a lesser sentence than someone who is not.

Men support the death penalty for the Aurora shooter more strongly than women do. Majorities of both, however, agree that more action to treat mental health issues is the best way to reduce the number of mass shootings.

Blacks are less supportive of the death penalty in this case than whites and other minority adults are.

Only 44% of those who think a mentally ill suspect should get a lighter sentence believe Holmes should receive the death penalty if convicted. That compares to 67% of those who don’t favor punishing a mentally ill suspect less severely.

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of all Americans trust a jury more than a judge to determine the guilt or innocence of someone accused of criminal behavior.

Most voters think the suspect in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing also should receive a death sentence if convicted.

Voters are evenly divided over whether the U.S. justice system is fair to most Americans.

Forty-four percent (44%) now think the United States needs stricter gun control laws.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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